Last one out of the SCIF, turn out the light

The cynic in me wants to laugh, but
is just sad

The National Security Agency is facing
significant budget shortfalls as the spy agency scrambles to respond
to a mounting electricity crisis, modernize its technology, maintain
current operations and add workspace, congressional and
intelligence officials say.

As a result, they say, the NSA has
slowed hiring, pared back upgrades in information technology, delayed
equipment purchases and shut offices.

Worth a full read.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it
again: planning beyond lunch is a skill that escapes most IC
“managers.” NSA is highlighted in this article, but you could
find similar stories from every agency. When they’re fighting for
their fiefdoms they forget about things like the laws of physics and
the reality of the world outside the SCIF. Massive hiring surge
without a corresponding increase in office space. Can you say “hot
desk?” I mean, they’re lowering the thermostat. I’m waiting for the
report about how they’re asking employees to bring in their own
coffee beans and condiments because they have to scale back the food
service contract. An IT heavy agency can’t afford to pay for
top-notch tech support and they’re running out of power and this
is a surprise?!

That they can’t keep audit-able books
is a major part of the problem. Forget internal manager panels
evaluating budget proposals; it is time clean house and get
legit. Not doing so will only ensure that these same issues will
continue to raise their heads again and again. You’re going to trust  a new budget system developed by the same people who have an
interest in keeping it screwed up?

Also time to dump old portfolios and
lesser includeds. Scrub programs for duplication – of which there is a disturbing amount – and watch the savings add up. Hard decisions? One of the many “top priority”
projects has to fall away. Can’t risk missing something? You’re
missing plenty NOW. You have that CSS for a reason, let them carry a
heavier load.

Finally, as the article mentions, pack
up what you can and send it away. Take a lesson from Google and park
yourself next to a hydroelectric dam. Hawaii, Germany, UK,
Washington, Texas, etc. would all welcome a boost in Congressional
funding and a larger tax base. You’re not just mitigating current
problems, you’re boosting long term survivability and resilience.

6 comments for “Last one out of the SCIF, turn out the light

  1. Mycroft
    January 20, 2007 at 11:39 PM

    I wasn’t suggesting that the redundancy was intentional, except perhaps by neglect, or that there’s much intelligent design going into the process. Just pointing out that people who wield axes on redundant projects should be discriminate in chopping.

  2. January 20, 2007 at 11:33 AM

    Crosspatch & AM (privately): I don’t mean to minimize the complexity and importance of the power thing. I expect that it will be difficult and expensive. My point is that this wasn’t something that could not have been easily foreseen, yet they waited until it reached a crisis point before taking any action. That happens waaaay too much.
    A157dogg: I don’t know about Goss efforts to decentralize, but you are right in that there is a strong pull to keep people where they are (capital investment and taxes). Its good politics but bad for people (quality of life) and survivability. If 9/11 had been about hitting Meade or Langley – both large buildings that stand out from the air at least as well as the Pentagon – we’d have been in a world of hurt.

  3. January 19, 2007 at 8:35 PM

    Wasn’t Goss run out of the CIA for trying to ship everything away from Langley and decentralize the agency? I would imagine there would be MASSIVE bureaucratic pressures to keep things centralized around the DC area.

  4. January 19, 2007 at 8:19 PM

    “Take a lesson from Google and park yourself next to a hydroelectric dam.”
    I was going to say that the difficulties presented are not much different than those faced by the large dot-coms. Electric power is the new “bandwidth” bottleneck. Commercial data centers are now partially empty because the existing installed base has used up all available electic power capacity. Also, every watt of power shipped in as electricity has to be dumped out as heat so if you increase the electrical service, you have to increase the air handling infrastructure too.
    They could probably do well to have Westinghouse build one of the AP1000 plants somewhere out near Harpers Ferry and reserve it for official use only. (and I am only half joking)
    Data centers built on top of arctic gas fields might not be a bad idea, free power and no air conditioning worries. Staff them with IC “leakers” retrained as IT support.
    Bottom line is that it is the same challenge being faced by just about everyone inside and outside the govt. You have an unending demand for product with a finite set of resources. The way industry usually handles it is to do more of what works and less of what doesn’t and when you run out of the latter, you innovate and try to find something that works even better.

  5. January 19, 2007 at 10:46 AM

    I would buy that if there were any sort of over-arching strategy to the process, which has not been my experience. Even if there was (maybe I wasn’t paying close enough attention), where is the wisdom of letting two or more programs that are identical (or nearly so) continue to exist when modest adjustments could allow for fusion and associated savings?
    I am of the opinion that it has become too large an organization to effectively manage and that has probably been the case for some time. Span of control is out of control, and as smart as Alexander is, he’s still at the mercy of people who have no intention of lightening their rice bowls.

  6. Mycroft
    January 18, 2007 at 9:20 PM

    I’m going to remark that, historically, a certain amount of project duplication was a pretty good idea, since projects often fail for reasons having nothing to do with the premise, and everything to do with management and the like.
    If a project is truly mission-critical, you want to have multiple backups in case one team messes it up.

Leave a Reply