Thursday, June 16, 2005

The Creation Fallacy

No, I'm not talking creationism, but a fallacy that's related to NIH--"not invented here". The fallacy clouds the minds of politicians new to office, though like many fallacies there's some truth in it.

The fallacy takes the form of:
  • politicians have objective X. They may legislate a program to achieve X, or they may just want the executive branch to achieve X.
  • there is a bureaucracy that has existed for a while. It has staff, budgeting and accounting procedures, offices, computers, photocopiers, an organization and a culture.
  • the politicians look at the bureaucracy and say (to themselves): "No, we can't entrust our baby, our precious, to this existing bureaucracy. They wouldn't understand it, they don't share our view of its importance, they won't work hard to achieve the objective. What we really need is a new organization. We can pick the people who run it, getting those who believe in the objective, we can dispense with the old bureaucratic rules, we can get something done.
  • and they do so, except the new organization has no cohesion, no procedures, no memory. Everything, and I mean everything, is new to it. What does any organization do when it faces something new--it has a meeting, to elicit ideas, to get everyone on board, to see if anyone has an answer to the question of how to turn on the lights. Net result--the new organization staggers along.
This post is prompted by the resignation of the head of the Millenium Challenge Corporation. It was proposed by Bush in March 2002. Three years and 2 months later it's just starting to make grants. I don't know when the actual money will hit the ground in the receiving countries. (See this pdf review.Also see the Corporations home page for a more optimistic view.)

The post is also based on my experience at USDA, where we spent years and millions trying to integrate operations of the agencies that service farmers. And when we get the books on the post-war Iraq, I suspect we'll find the creation fallacy operating both at DOD and State.

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