Sunday, October 14, 2007

Chaos revisited

I was browsing at M. Simon's Power and Control blog when I came across his Practicing Chaos post.

Following his link to Michael Ledeen's article
at NRO I uncovered the following gem. After picking myself up off the floor, it got me to ruminating.

"The difficulty in planning against American doctrine is that Americans neither see fit to follow their doctrine nor even read their manuals." KGB Document

The KGB demonstrated incredible perception. The day-to-day activities recollected from roughly 30 years in the Federal bureaucracy bear out the truth in their statement. Must have been hell for the Soviets, until they realized what they were up against, and by then it was probably too late. One could paraphrase Churchill endlessly on the frustrations one encountered almost daily while coping with the bureaucracy, citing for instance, the unwilling led by the uninformed in pursuit of the worthless.

I have my own scars to bear witness to the feckless leadership of our Federal bureaucracy, and yet their situation was one to evoke sympathy from even the most callous observer when it was realized they were forced into institutional schizophrenia by the conflicting demands of their purse masters in Congress. I offer into evidence only the environmental vs timber production direction given to the US Forest Service from the 70s through the turn of the century. But even that conflicting direction cannot begin to explain why the bureaucratic machine insisted on reinventing the wheel at every shift in program direction or new daily work challenges.

The Forest Service Manual and Handbook contained relevant digests of both the Congressional direction and proven, nuts-and-bolts solutions to just gettin' the job done. These references were hugely ignored, gathering dust on bookshelves in empty offices, while the occupants of those offices attended an endless succession of workshops, training sessions, program indoctrination, and team building seminars. We quipped then about forest sociology having replaced forest science, but as in so many instances, our black humor concealed a sad truth. Toward the end of my career we had some of the prettiest hallways known to civilized man, covered with inspirational posters of eagles soaring into celestial skies so beautiful they brought tears to your eyes.

So, even while the American penchant for chaos may inadvertently have served us well in the Cold War, its application daily to the domestic chores of government would seem to have detracted from our communal well being. But wait. That bureaucratic chaos may have seemed a burden only until one realizes that those same inefficiencies of government may have enabled private enterprise to prosper, relatively unfettered by the full force of a truly efficient regulatory establishment.

That's the memo.


OregonGuy said...

So, when you were runnning 99, were you running between Peavy and home?

Just curious.

linearthinker said...

Actually between Apperson Hall and girl friends in Portland, usually including a stop at the White Eagle. I had a couple of courses over at Peavy though. Timed to get a maple bar and coffee at the union between classes. I'd taken leave from USFS to go back to grad school. Spent a winter qtr and the following summer taking classes at Portland State in '73, then full time at OSU. FS would have paid regular salary + tuition and fees if I'd gone for the logging engineer program. I was stubborn, and went my own way using VA benefits and savings. Never regretted it. Not many jobs for logging engineers these days, but the irony is I wound up doing logging engineering by the seat of my pants anyway, because I'd usually have the road corridors laid out before the "specialists" got their act together. It was always amusing how many sale area maps had yarder unit boundaries that corresponded to the roads I'd laid in months or years before the logging engineer hit the ground.