“Not My Mission” Syndrome


John Kamensky, Senior Fellow, IBM Center for The Business of GovernmentThe bureaucratic culture is increasingly failing to address key national challenges. Professor Don Kettl has observed: “The current conduct of American government is a poor match for the problems it must solve.”

This is reinforced by a series of recent news stories, which I’ve characterized as “It’s Not My Mission” syndrome:

· The Defense Department has been confronting the use of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) in Iraq. It created the Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) to tackle that problem. That Organization was given billions to find ways to disable the devices before they exploded. An alternative is to stop the bombers from planting them. But that’s the job of military intelligence, not JIEDDO.

· Homeland Security is spending billions to build fences and secure the border, especially in the south because of illegal immigrants. However, it is not in its mission to discourage illegal immigrants from wanting to cross the border in the first place –that responsiblity belongs to another agency.

· Food safety agencies have jurisdiction over different types of food, so as the Government Accountability Office has noted, different agencies inspect the production of pizzas with meat than those with just cheese.

Some of these examples are serious, others are just aggravating. The next president will be faced with finding ways to get the government to make a difference for the country. Likely it will not be through reorganization, creating new agencies, or creating more bureaucracy. But getting agencies to collaborate is not easy – ensuring accountability is always an issue, sharing resources is difficult, and administrative or legislative constraints are sometimes a problem.

Dr. Charles Hecksher, who has examined this same problem in the business world, notes that corporations in the 20th century successfully created strategies to master scope and scale in order to produce and distribute for mass consumer market. It was product-oriented, and was suited to the efficiencies associated with hierarchical organizations. Government copied this model. But this requires more collaborative organizations that allow adaptability and the ability to handle complexity. This is a solutions orientation.

The challenge for the next President is to get the government to move to a solutions orientation.

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One Response to ““Not My Mission” Syndrome”

  1. Norman M. Macdonald Says:

    Not My Mission is a member of a family of rules sometime called the NIH (not invented here) family it has siblings in It Didn’t Happen on MY Watch, Refer To Higher Authority, Run It Up The Flagpost, ect, ect ad nausium. It is the language of command and control which is not the purpose of a democracy. A democracy is a collaborative effort between people within a mutually agreed on framework to support the common welfare.

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