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Former Microsoft COO: Intelligence overhaul means crushing 'fiefdoms'

Otherwise, efforts to revamp government agencies could fail, he says

By Dan Verton
August 20, 2004 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - WASHINGTON -- The U.S. intelligence community has "effectively missed the information and communications revolution of the 1990s," according to Bob Herbold, retired executive vice president and chief operating officer at Microsoft Corp. And he said he knows exactly why: Cultural fiefdoms at various intelligence agencies have grown large and powerful, and have even allowed new fiefdoms to grow within them.
According to Herbold, the 9/11 Commission and the U.S. Congress -- both of which have called for a major overhaul of the U.S. intelligence community to help improve information sharing -- are up against a formidable enemy.
Herbold recently completed a book about the topic called The Fiefdom Syndrome, and his comments come as the Bush administration and Congress work to reshape the nation's intelligence gathering abilities.
"Fiefdoms emerge when individuals and groups seek to make themselves as independent as possible and work to protect their turf and reshape their environment to gain as much control over it as is possible," said Herbold. "This behavior stems from the inclination of individuals and groups to become fixated on their own activities, their own careers, their own territory or turf to the detriment of those around them."
Those who create fiefdoms become dangerously insular, losing perspective and awareness of what is happening in the world outside of their own control, Herbold said. "They lose their ability to act consistently on behalf of the greater good, [and] they are determined to do things their own way, often duplicating or complicating what should be done organizationwide," he said.
Such cultural issues mean the 9/11 Commission and its backers are likely to fail or at best only partially succeed in fostering real reform, according to Herbold. He sees indications that this is happening already.
"President Bush quickly asked Congress to appoint a national intelligence director, but without any authority to hire, fire and set budgets of the individual intelligence fiefdoms," said Herbold. But the current intelligence community fiefdoms likely remain secure, knowing that there will be numerous committees and subcommittees, all of which have authority over homeland security, fighting to protect their fiefdoms.
Two recent government reports shed light on the problem (see story). The Department of Homeland Security's inspector general last month issued a report concluding that the agency's CIO didn't have the political clout needed to pull together an enterprise architecture integrating the IT systems of the 22 agencies within the DHS.
And a separate report -- made public this week -- by the Government Accountability Office found that the DHS is still struggling to put together a plan to pulltogether its IT assets.
With those issues in mind, a series of congressional hearings this week focused on how major organizational changes to the nation's intelligent community might work (see story).

Read more about Government IT in Computerworld's Government IT Topic Center.

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