Saturday, March 16, 2013

TSA, Knives, Not My Job, The Bureaucratic Mind

Yesterday, on the radio, Mad Dog heard the testimony of the head of the TSA, who said the mission of his agency is to prevent catastrophic events on board airplanes, to wit, the storming of a pilots' cabin and the slashing of throats of pilots and commandeering of the airplane. None of this is likely  to occur with passengers armed with the pocket knives confiscated by the TSA, he insisted, and, he added,  looking through X ray machines for those knives, removing them from carry on luggage, arguing with the dim wit passengers who tucked these knives into their carry on luggage is a lot of work for the TSA. Why should his budget have to bear the burden of all that extra work? It's not his job to keep drunks on the airplane from disrupting the domestic tranquility.

(Of course, nobody asked him why these knives should be thought to be any less dangerous than the box cutters used by the 9/11 hijackers, but that is another story.)

The head of the flight attendants' union told lurid stories of inebriated passengers,  and she asked the Congressional committee to consider the havoc one of these drunks could wreak upon a flight crew, passengers, if he were wielding a pocket knife.

The head of the TSA replied, calmly, patiently, that it is not his job or the job of the TSA to ensure orderly flights; his job is to ensure no catastrophes. A little mayhem in the cabin is not his concern.

There you have it. Order in the cabin is not in my budget. We have our own problems and our budget is for those problems. If we focus on finding knives, we might miss that 16 oz bottle of water which could be nitroglycerin. 

(Of course, as any radiologist will tell you, when you look at an X Ray, you do it in a very systematic way, and you see everything, and that's part of the training. You may be looking for a lung cancer , but if you see a pneumonia, you do not say, "Well, I wasn't budgeted to look for the pneumonia.")

The fact that some collateral benefit accrued from what the TSA screeners do with their machines at the gateway, forget that. We don't want that burden on our budget.

When the Shah of Iran got admitted to The New York Hospital, the Shah paid for television monitors and guards at every entrance to the hospital. Photo ID's were, for the first time, issued to every intern, resident, nurse, escort service person, all the scrub techs, attending physicians, everyone who walked in and out of the doors to the hospital, which had previously been as wide open to the public as a church.

There was plenty of grousing about all the inconvenience by bleary eyed interns who had left their ID badges back on the ward, and now could not get in the next morning to do rounds. 

But, after the Shah died, and all that security was no longer being paid for by the Shah, the hospital decided to keep paying for those guards and monitors. Why? Because they noticed an unanticipated, collateral benefit, namely that the theft of equipment from the hospital went to close to zero, and the loss of all that hospital equipment more than paid for the added security.  The security was there to prevent bad guys from walking into the hospital, but the real benefit turned out to prevent bad guys from waltzing out of the hospital with all sorts of goodies.

But in the world of bureaucracy, each manager has his own budget and does not care a whit for the overall welfare; he just sees his own expenditures. This is a structural flaw in the way Americans do management, all the MBA's and schools of management and business notwithstanding.

After World War II and after Vietnam, journalists and military men occasionally interviewed our former adversaries to learn what they could about what we had done which was effective in thwarting our adversaries, and where we had been ineffective.

The German minister, Albert Spear, noted the Germans greatly feared the Allied officers who decided on the bombing targets--Robert MacNamara was one of these--would bomb the dam upstream from the major ball bearing factory. Without that factory the German war machine would have ground to a halt within weeks. If that dam were destroyed the factory would have been washed away in a sea of mud. But the dam was never targeted. The American target men were too narrowly focused on getting airplanes, tanks and bridges. They could not think more broadly.

The paratroopers who attacked behind the German lines were provided with bags in which to put their guns and other critical equipment, and this bag, with it's leg rope was thrust upon them the evening of the jump, after months of preparation, a critical change was made without testing, and many paratroopers arrived in Normandy without their weapons because the bags were ripped off their legs by the blast of the props when they jumped.

The Vietnamese simply observed that American soldiers were too slow, weighed down with too much equipment, and no match for the Viet Cong, who wore only black pajamas and carried a single AK-47 or a rocket, fired, and melted back into the jungle.
But the Americans carried all sorts of stuff, each provided by a different department or financial interest, and it made them stiff men. Nobody took the broad view: All this stuff makes our soldiers sitting, or more accurately, waddling, ducks.

This is the American genius. Put the common man at the top of an organization, which is to say, Congress, the Executive and even the judiciary, and you get a dumbed down management. 

Now, for the first time in years, we have a bright man in the White House, but it's not clear a single man can undo all the mischief created by the mediocrities, the tunnel vision men and women, below him.

No comments:

Post a Comment