Deaf, Dumb, Blind, and Clueless

Every now and then a story pops up that perfectly captures something important about a person or an agency or a policy. Today that story is this one , which begins thus:

It reads like a tally of terrorist targets that a child might have written: Old MacDonald’s Petting Zoo, the Amish Country Popcorn factory, the Mule Day Parade, the Sweetwater Flea Market and an unspecified “Beach at End of a Street.”

But the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security, in a report released Tuesday, found that the list was not child’s play: all these “unusual or out-of-place” sites “whose criticality is not readily apparent” are inexplicably included in the official federal antiterrorism database.

What’s so perfect about it, as diagnostic of an administration in a state of complete collapse, is not the ridiculous list, but that two senior DHS officials would defend it (a few paragraphs down) with a straight face, and with attribution. Being uninformed or misinformed is one thing, but it’s a higher level of cluelessness to be blatantly ridiculous and have no idea. It’s what makes Bill Irwin’s stage persona hilarious, but makes our current government heartbreaking. If Irwin were the clown he plays, we wouldn’t laugh.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

3 thoughts on “Deaf, Dumb, Blind, and Clueless”

  1. I say with confidence that everyone operationally involved in the production of this list is a career civil servant, and that the silliness of the list has nothing to do with an "administration in collapse," but merely illustrates the usual silliness of government bureaucracies. (But if we'd just give those same bureaucracies more power over our health care system . . . !)

  2. No, actually it's george w. bush's own personal list. That's what it means to be the unitary head of the "unitary executive branch": you're responsible for every damn thing that happens in every damn little office of the whole damn thing. If you don't like taking the responsibility, don't try to pull that king crap.
    I've never seen such a bunch. Everybody has to bow to their miraculous powers, but no one in the crew actually has to get anything even remotely right.

  3. Would you consider it silly to say that the Hamas would attack a pizza parlor or a school bus in Israel? Can't you people get it- terrorists are terrorist. To them children are a legitimate targets.

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