Chapter 13 of the 9/11 Commission Report is being cited almost every day in some part of Washington. Yesterday, Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio) opened a Senate subcommittee hearing by reading from the chapter, which recommends significant changes in the organization of the intelligence community.
The passage, to many, says it all:
"We know that the quality of the people is more important than the quality of the wiring diagrams. Some of the saddest aspects of the 9/11 story are the outstanding efforts of so many individual officials straining, often without success, against the boundaries of the possible. Good people can overcome bad structures. They should not have to."
In the past, when Congress has decided to shake up agencies, it has typically called for big reorganizations -- the wiring diagrams -- or it has reallocated budget dollars. But an increasing number of House and Senate members are paying more attention to old-fashioned personnel issues, such as recruitment, retention and accountability.
"Structure in itself is meaningless without people," Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) said at the hearing held by Voinovich's Senate Governmental Affairs subcommittee on government management and the federal workforce.
The hearing was one of several being held on Capitol Hill to weigh the recommendations of the 9/11 commission and hear from members of the commission. A key recommendation discussed yesterday focused on solutions to staffing problems at the FBI and whether Congress should grant the agency the authority to devise more flexible personnel rules.
Jamie Gorelick, who testified with fellow 9/11 commissioner Fred Fielding, said the FBI "fell far short of the mark" in its counter-terrorism efforts in the months before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The agency had trouble relaying information from field agents up the chain of command and making the head of the FBI aware of critical developments, such as the arrest of an Islamic extremist trying to learn to fly, she said.
Gorelick said FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III "is moving in the right direction" to create a more professional intelligence cadre inside the agency. But she noted that "change was slow" in field offices, which face pressure to focus on local law enforcement priorities rather than counterterrorism and national security.
"Without the development of an institutional culture within the bureau that appreciates the counterterrorism mission and grows strong intelligence officers to support it, all of the improvements we suggest will be only half measures," Gorelick said. "We must have the right people in place if they are to carry out this important mission."
Mark Steven Bullock, assistant director of the FBI's administrative services division, portrayed the agency as addressing the commission's concerns. He told Voinovich's subcommittee that Mueller is creating career tracks for special agents and intelligence analysts that can lead to an intelligence officer certification, which recognizes commitment and expertise in intelligence issues.
Bullock said that the FBI was the only major intelligence agency that did not have a formal certification program, and that the program, which will start next year, will provide a steady stream of talent for headquarters and field intelligence positions while also making the FBI a more attractive career option for intelligence professionals.
In response to a question from Voinovich, Bullock said that FBI analysts can rise only to the General Schedule 14 level, which puts the agency at a competitive disadvantage with other agencies that are allowed to offer higher pay to their non-supervisory intelligence personnel. To level the playing field, Bullock said he would like to see Congress grant the FBI flexibility to move top-notch analysts into the Senior Executive Service and to offer more generous "locality pay" to agents who work in high-cost cities.
Bullock also noted that the FBI is not having trouble filling some critical jobs. Since February, about 57,000 people have applied for jobs as intelligence analysts, he said. By the end of October, the FBI plans to hire about 800 of them, he said. An additional 1,200 agents also will be brought aboard.
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