Friday, May 10, 2013

Organizational centralization vs. organizational decentralization - another look at Richard Spires

As I previously mentioned, Richard Spires did not announce his reasons for resigning his position as Chief Information Officer at the Department of Homeland Security.

But that hasn't stopped people from speculating about his reasons.

One such speculator was Larry Allen, who shared his speculation almost a month ago:

Spires wanted greater central control over the acquisition and management of DHS’ IT resources. [DHS Secretary Janet] Napolitano, however, deferred to individual agencies inside DHS that wanted to maintain their own flexibility.

Allen goes on to state:

In this case, Napolitano essentially acknowledged the obvious: Her agency’s IT needs cannot be met by a “one size fits all” solution. DHS is not one customer, but many different components.

Uh, but wait a minute. This isn't what we were told over a decade ago.

The National Strategy for Homeland Security and the Homeland Security Act of 2002 called for the formation of the DHS, which was established to provide a unifying agency for the many national organizations that serve to secure the United States.

Back in 2002, when people objected to yanking all of these little agencies from their respective departments and putting them into this new department, the argument was that these organizations needed to be unified and working together as one.

But now, a little over ten years later, the reported attempt to have the agencies be unified and work together as one in information technology - something that the DHS itself argues is critical to security - has reportedly met with opposition. "These agencies are really really different," the opponents say. "You can't expect the Secret Service to use the same software as the Coast Guard, can you?"

Those who are surprised by this reaction are, in a word, clueless.

Those who expected the creation of the DHS to result in a single unified organization do not understand anything about how organizations work.

The DHS is not a single organization. The Secret Service is not a single organization. The Birmingham, Alabama field office of the Secret Service thinks that the Montgomery, Alabama office is a bunch of bozos. However, both field offices agree that the Secret Service headquarters is a bunch of bozos. And everyone in the Secret Service agrees that the Coast Guard is a bunch of bozos. But the Secret Service and the Coast Guard agree that the DHS central staff - and its CIO - are a bunch of bozos.

And guess what? When Janet Napolitano hears from a bunch of people in her constituent agencies, and when Napolitano hears something different from a single person - her own CIO - she's probably going to listen to the people out in the agencies.

Now perhaps Richard Nixon, who loved centralized control, would do things differently - "inside" people such as Haldeman, Erlichman, and Kissinger had more power than Secretary of State William Rogers and House Minority Leader Gerald Ford. But it's quite obvious that Richard Nixon is not running the Department of Homeland Security. And even Nixon's attempts to impose his will on a countless number of different agencies were doomed to failure.

A bunch of different agencies will only cooperate when it's in their best interests to do so. And it seems likely that the agencies did not see any advantage in yielding power to a central DHS CIO.
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