Michal Migurski's notebook, listening post, and soapbox. Subscribe to this blog. Check out the rest of my site as well.

Sep 14, 2005 3:33pm

bureaucracy = death?

I just sent this to Seth Godin, in response to Bureaucracy = Death:

An interesting counterpoint comes from Bruce Schneier, regarding the security lessons of Katrina: "Redundancy, and to a lesser extent, inefficiency, are good for security. Efficiency is brittle. Redundancy results in less-brittle systems, and provides defense in depth. We need multiple organizations with overlapping capabilities, all helping in their own way..." (Security Lessons of the Response to Hurricane Katrina).

I've been thinking a lot about bureaucratic efficiency in Katrina's wake, and about the different kinds of organizational efficiency. The Grover Norquist / Newt Gingrich calls against government bloat seemed to be well-intentioned, but it's clear from the Department of Homeland Security that the current Admin is looking for top-down efficiency, initiated by fiat and ruthlessly optimized. This seems to have resulted in the kind of brittleness that Bruce talks about, and was predicted by people familiar with distributed networks of any kind.

What would happen if there were a CNO at FEMA? He'd probably be somebody's fuckwit college roommate appointed from the GOP fundraising talent pool, that's what. Brittle.

I've been thinking that a better sort of efficiency is bottom-up, the kind of deep competence practiced by educated, informed people doing their jobs well. You still have a bureaucracy, but with a culture of basic competence that encourages and promotes efficiency at the lowest levels of the ladder. Turns out this is a lot harder to implement, because the solution starts at the K-12 level and moves from there. Progress is measured in decades, not political terms. If there is any lesson from computer science that I wish society could understand, it's this small-pieces-loosely joined design philosophy that makes the Internet work and Unix a stable operating system.

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