Posts Tagged ‘Government Bureacracy’

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Dennis Blair the Intel HR Mistake

May 24, 2010

“Blair arrived at a DNI that was bloated, with a staff of several thousand, that had already calcified, institutionally, and lacked support and authority. It proved too difficult for him to break apart firewalls.  Certain things did not make sense…”

This is from Thursday’s article in The Atlantic about Admiral (Ret.) Dennis Blair’s resignation as Director of ODNI. While it’s tempting to slam bureaucratic systems for behaving like bureaucracies, my interest in the Blair story is it highlights the recurring problem of selecting folks for jobs just because they were successful at any number of other jobs, setting them (and their organizations perhaps) up for failure.

Ret. Admiral Blair

From what I read in the news and hear from the IC, it sounds like Blair made fateful political mistakes that could have been avoided with better preparation for the job. But it’s not like new government leaders are given in-briefs on how to play nice with Rahm Emanuel. Blair’s mistakes could also easily be blamed on “the system.” But which system, exactly, is at fault?

Blair is a decorated sailor and respected former leader of countless organizations. The phrase I quoted above probably didn’t surprise Blair on his first day when he arrived at NCTC; one can assume that he saw being its director as a fresh challenge he wanted to blow out of the water. But instead he couldn’t make find his way and so quit, something that might be his career first and probably one of the toughest decisions he’s made as a civilian. So I don’t blame him for failing to bring his kid gloves to the CIA and White House.

It is apparent to me that there is some HR lever that allows for the hiring non-bureaucratic bureaucrats, non-political figures to politic. Was it just an inaccurate position description that lured Blair in? Or another decision maker’s bad hiring judgment? More importantly, will it be flipped off now so that the wrong guy isn’t selected for the job again? As a taxpayer and someone interested in the success of the next ODNI, I would like to know who is responsible and what they are doing about the issue of the government system still (consistently, in my mind) not selecting the right people for jobs.

But the Washington Post’s own editorial is titled “Blair’s Replacement has Problems to Solve,” and rehashes some of the big problems Blair wasn’t able to solve during his tenure before he quit/was asked to leave. But show me one organization anywhere that doesn’t have problems. Without problems, we wouldn’t need leaders! The WaPo editor at least notes that Blair had “poor management” and  “was the product of personal as well as institutional failings.” But how about putting that under the headline “OPM, NCTC Still Searching for Capable Leader.” That’s what I wish these taxpaying, government-dissing journalists would chew on for a while.

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