TCS Daily

Time to Gossify the Government

By James K. Glassman - November 24, 2004 12:00 AM

Porter Goss, the new CIA director, is cleaning house. It's about time.

The next step is to apply his strategy -- call it Gossification -- to the rest of the federal bureaucracy.

Goss, an ex-CIA agent, had been chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and he knew that the agency was a nest not merely of spies but of devious opponents of President Bush who were working to undermine him because they preferred to run their own foreign policy.

According to a recent column by Robert Novak, Goss got the green light from the president and from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. "With leaks intended to harm the re-election campaign of the president of the United States," McCain said of the CIA, "it is not only dysfunctional but a rogue organization. ... It has to be cleaned out."

Goss removed the head of clandestine operations. The No. 2 CIA official resigned, along with four other senior officials. The new director issued a memorandum, stating, "I also intend to clarify beyond doubt the rules of the road. We support the administration and its policies in our work. As agency employees we do not identify with, support or champion opposition to the administration or its policies."

The memo brought yelps of protest from experienced CIA leakers and their friends in the press. But Goss was right.

In fact, it's time for the president to apply Gossification to other anti-Bush strongholds, notably the State Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

With the election of Bush to a second term, Republicans will hold the White House for 20 of 28 years; the Senate, 16 years; the House, 12 years straight. But this sea change has had little effect on the executive branch itself.

There are just 3,000 political appointees, compared with a civil service of 1.8 million workers, "many of whom," writes the Washington Post's Dana Milbank, "are impossible to fire." Presidential nominees take an average of eight months to be approved by Congress. Worse, many, if not most, career civil servants at middle and upper levels resist implementing policies they don't like and do their best to shape their own.

Such bureaucrats often lean left -- because federal jobs attract people who believe in a missionary government and because Democrats controlled Washington almost continuously for a half-century. But the White House seems finally to be making bureaucratic transformation a top priority.

The next target has to be State. My brief experience on an advisory board examining public diplomacy revealed foreign service officers seething with contempt for Bush, whom they consider an uncultured, unilateralist dolt.

One of the first tasks of the newly nominated secretary, Condoleezza Rice, must be to lay down the law, Goss-style, at State. For help, I hope she'll take John Bolton as deputy. Bolton, now an undersecretary, is the architect of the Proliferation Security Initiative, which the Wall Street Journal said "has arguably been Colin Powell's most important achievement at State."

Bolton, who was earlier my colleague at the American Enterprise Institute, has served in the executive branch for 16 years, and he's a brilliant bureaucratic navigator. If anyone can Gossify the ossified State Department, it's Bolton.

Indeed, the White House should put someone like Bolton in the No. 2 post of every department and key agency, with explicit responsibility for rooting out administration opponents and gaining control of policy. How to do that when bureaucrats have the equivalent of academic tenure? Make their lives miserable, transfer them or re-educate them. But don't leave them in place.

Particularly in need of transformation are the Labor Department, which is practically a union local; Justice; Treasury; Education; the Food and Drug Administration; the Environmental Protection Agency; and the SEC.

In the past, activist Republican secretaries have gathered a coterie of like-minded political appointees and, hunkering down, tried to run hostile departments on their own. But Bush's sweeping second-term policy proposals preclude a Fort Apache approach.

The attitude of many top bureaucrats can be summed up thus: "This is 'my' agency. The politicals are only renting a room for a while. I can ignore them and subvert them. Eventually, they will leave, and I'll still be here doing the real policymaking."

Such careerists won't be tamed easily. But the work needs to begin, and Porter Goss has shown the way. Other "rogue organizations," in McCain's felicitous phrase, are crying out for the same treatment.


TCS Daily Archives