Resist Neatness in Dividing up the World

Bureaucratic efficiency is not always a good thing. The National Security Advisor’s push to align regional dividing lines throughout the national security agencies is probably a mistake. Jim Jones should take pointers from McGeorge Bundy’s time as National Security Advisor.

Over at, Laura Rozen reports that National Security Advisor Jim Jones wants to conform the regional boundaries of State Department bureaus and NSC senior directorships to the boundaries of the military commands.

This proposal makes a certain amount of sense on the surface, and would certainly make decision-making more efficient.

But there is danger in having geographic “seams” aligned across the entire government: all departments will have the same blind spots and trouble integrating across them.

I think its worth having some people routinely having to go to two sets of meetings to cover overlaps, so that the government as a whole has more integrated coverage of the world.

Rozen also suggests that Jones’s hierarchical approach is clashing with Obama’s tendency to seek out expertise from various levels. If this read on Obama is accurate, it’s a return to John F. Kennedy’s style, and Jones would be wise to emulate McGeorge Bundy in accommodating it. If Jones hasn’t already done so, he should read Ivo Daalder and Mac Destler, In the Shadow of the Oval Office (Simon and Schuster, 2009).