Fresh Start

DNI McConnell starts his second full day on the job today, and the former intelligence experts interviewed in the Baltimore Sun say that he must “restore faith, unite agencies.” I agree on both points, though I’d like to respectfully suggest that he follow different tacks than the other old hands suggest.

Restore Faith

This is actually a two pronged effort: restore faith in the intelligence services and restore the faith of those working in the services.

The first part of the remedy involves setting new expectations across the board. People on the job need to be allowed to take more risks, challenge the status quo, and come up with new ways of operating; our legislative overseers need to realize that intelligence work can be messy, dangerous, and inadequate. Oversight should be a check-and-balance not a check-and-burden. When people know they won’t be hung out to dry for coming up short, they’re more apt to shine; when decision-makers understand that intelligence isn’t a silver bullet they should be less likely to abuse it.

As you craft your introductory speech to the workforce let me say that they don’t need reminding of why they are on the job or the consequences of failure. They need to see your words backed up by action. You ran NSA so you know how it works; DIRNSAs come and go, but the staff is forever. Bold moves now will set the tone for the future and do more to revitalize the workforce than any pep talk. Otherwise you’re just another guy they have to survive.

Unite Agencies

The goal here should focus less on centralizing management – span of control is already far too wide – and more on centralizing functions. That there is a great deal of duplication of effort in the IC is well known, but to date no one has done anything about it. With a scrub of the budget should come a scrub of missions and functions. Dealing with current and future threats requires minds as well as money and continuing to allow individual agencies to perpetuate mini-me versions of rival programs saps our ability to provide both. Everyone has “equities” but some are more relevant than others. Agencies are going to have to take some lumps in some areas so that they can get a boost in others. It’s the price we have to pay for the intelligence community we want to have. If consolidation is not a path you want to go down, this is the next best thing.

Clean House

I covered this issue recently and will not abuse a dead equine in your presence; suffice it to say that you’re not going to blaze a path to the future with the people who are stuck in the past. Everyone knows who the leaders are and who the functionaries are, but if you insist on conducting a survey or some such thing, don’t talk to anyone over GS-14. Have them “vote” for their own dream leadership team and when the survey results don’t match up to the current org chart you’ll know who needs to go. You’ll also have a much better handle on what sort of folks (and requisite skills) it is going to take to lead your workforce of the future.

That’s all I’m giving away for free, Mr. Director. Good luck. 😉

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