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This is the second in my occasional series on life in Washington, DC.  Just to recap I’m a twenty year veteran of government service, at virtually all levels, a lifelong Democrat, and a veteran of multiple state and national campaigns.  I’ve even run for office…and lost.  But I’ll probably do it again.  I came to Washington three years ago this month after a lifetime working in state government and these diaries are my attempt to share that experience with the dKos community…of which I have been a part for – oh, man – almost nine years now.  These diaries are unvarnished and provide a peek into Washington life that, sadly, most Americans will never get to see.  

And, as always, I’m not going to reveal anything that would compromise my oath or security.  

This week, we’re going to discuss the coin of the realm in Washington – the means by which everything gets done: access and communication.

Going into this, you need to abandon the way you think of inter and intra office communication at your place of work or within your school.  In Washington, communication happens in a very different kind of environment under a radically different set of circumstances than in the “real world” – but for a very good reason.  I think if government watchdog groups and truly serious reporters and scholars could get a handle on this, it would make it easier for them to interact with government types and do the kind of reporting that really needs to be done.  

Everyone is Watching…All the Time…Everywhere

At your place of business if you need to tell the boss something in confidence you can probably fire off an email or write a memo.  If you want to gripe about the boss to a co-worker you can shoot your buddy an email or a text.  If you’re in a feisty mood and Romney has pissed you off, you can chat about it around the water cooler.  At worst, you can say something wrong or inappropriate that will get you in trouble with the big bosses.  You might get fired, but no one outside of HR and management will likely ever know what transpired.  You can go home at night and discuss your day’s work with your partner or your spouse.  You can vent.  You can talk. You have an outlet.    

I can’t do any of that stuff.  

Virtually every email, memo, or text a government worker sends or receives while on the job is subject to security screening and to disclosure under the Presidential Records Act and the Freedom of Information Act (with a few exceptions, of course, to protect attorney confidentiality and to allow law enforcement proceedings to move forward).  Political speech on the job is utterly prohibited – though some offices are more lenient than others.  And if you have a security clearance you must be forever cognizant of what you say and where you say it.  You have a little series of numbers and letters on your ID badge that designates your level of clearance.  If yours doesn’t match that of the person you are about to discuss certain matters with, then you have to check your speech.  Further, security functions on the basis of “need to know” information – so even though a colleague may have your level of clearance, they may not have a “need to know” what you know.  

(NOTE: I laugh at guys on these “conspiracy” and UFO TV shows who claim they had Top Secret clearance in the government.  Big deal.  There are clerical staffers with TS clearance.  That doesn’t give you automatic access to anything!  If someone is touting their clearance, you can bet they didn’t really have access to important information.  People who really have access to “the goods” keep quiet to protect themselves and their families – folks in the know are, honestly, valuable targets for espionage, extortion, etc.)

The Mainline

The US government, it is estimated, is the largest producer of records – both paper and electronic – in the world.  Information, in many respects, is our primary work product.  And in the USA the public has unprecedented access to that information through our open government and open meetings laws.  What that means to a government employee is, essentially, that “anything you say can and will be used against you.”  Even our personal salary and financial investment records are publically available – you only have to sign a single form to get them – and, BOOM, the “New York Times” can see what I’ve been investing in.  That’s unprecedented in the private sector – one’s personal finances are considered sacrosanct.  

As a result of all this, skilled government workers have honed the art of communication within this environment to a fine point.  Getting things done means knowing how to communicate and, more importantly, knowing with whom to communicate.  Being right, being smart, and being good at your job means exactly nothing if you don’t have the ear of people in power.  

We need only look at the examples of how Katrina was handled in the Bush administration and how the economic stimulus was handled during the early Obama administration to get an understanding of this.  In these cases, Michael Brown and Larry Summers we the “men on top” with direct access to the president.  They had down line staff reporting to them what needed to be done – but that information wasn’t getting to where it needed to go.  These men had cherry-picked staff that agreed with them and that would feed them what they wanted to hear.  In turn they fed this advice, in similar fashion, to their respective presidents.  And that information turned out to be totally bogus.  There were people down line who knew what to do better than the bosses – but they had no way to get that information where it needed to go.  If accuracy and intelligence were the keys to success in Washington, Paul Krugman would be Secretary of the Treasury.

In Washington, as we discussed last time, position and proximity to power dictate your level of personal power – not your skill set or your experience.  This comes as a function of how communication is handled.  In virtually every department of the government, at all levels, there is typically a daily (or, for lower level offices a weekly) staff meeting.  This meeting usually involves “the principles” within a given office – the team leads, department heads, “old hands” and “trusted advisors.”  They make reports on issues of importance, new ideas, and proposals to their boss.  In turn, that boss takes what she considers to be important from that meeting to the principles’ meeting with her boss – and so on up the chain of command.  This is how, for example, a piece of critical intelligence makes it from a low level analyst all the way to the White House – it gets vetted along the way by a department’s internal hierarchy before being kicked over to the President by an agency head.  Important “hot” items go over to the White House in some form of a daily briefing.  The most famous and storied of these is the Presidential Daily Briefing on matters of national intelligence produced by the CIA.   But all departments have a similar in-line into the White House.  

As you can see, this kind of stove piping leaves a lot of room for unimportant items to be overly highlighted and for important items to get kicked to the curb.  If any member of the hierarchy is unconvinced that a “hot” issue is really all that hot, then it will not proceed to the next level in the chain of command.  After 9-11 there was a lot of talk about staffers who “knew better” and who “ran around with their hair on fire” but couldn’t get anyone to listen to them.  On the surface this was a major problem and a serious breakdown in communication.  However, this occurs as a function of how and to whom data is presented.  There are a lot of folks that I deal with whose hair is always on fire!  They’re utterly incapable of telling the difference between a hot issue and an issue that really doesn’t matter.  Under the principle of “even a blind squirrel finds a nut” – sometimes they’re right.  But often not.  It’s incumbent upon the people within the hierarchy to be able to sort important data and good data from the bad.  If you have intelligent leadership, the system works.  If you have “Brownie” and his buddies at the helm, the wheels fall off.  

Opening a Back Channel

What I have discussed above is what is commonly called the “mainline” of communication in government.  Most of this is done verbally, not in writing, unless a formal mode of communication like a diplomatic cable, a white paper, or a cleared memorandum is called for…and these are usually carefully crafted in case they are publically revealed.  Email communication, of course, is more informal but practiced players learn what to not put in their mails, unless they have some shielding under the FOIA or other disclosure laws.  

However, the real Washington power brokers and key players have learned the art of opening “back channels” into this line of communication which allow them to telegraph their ideas and their issues around the hierarchy directly to where it needs to go.  The most famous of these was opened up between the Navy Department and Henry Kissinger’s office.  The thing got so vigorous it actually resulted in the navy spying on other branches of government to compile intergovernmental intel the navy wouldn’t normally have had access to.  

But the typical back channel takes the form of “I’ve got a buddy at…”  This highlights the importance of networking and friendship in DC.  If you have a friend at the White House or in the front office of your agency who you met at a baseball game or your kid’s soccer practice, you want to take care of that person.  You want to make sure they get an invite to the barbecue and to the cocktail party.  While you’re chatting, you can then turn the subject toward work and start filling their head with your worldview.  If you’ve built these kinds of relationships well and you play the quid pro quo game correctly, you can use your network of back channel contacts to get ideas around your department heads and into the hands of the people that matter.  I should point out that, sadly, analysts, scholars, and lawyers seem to be the absolute WORST people at doing this.  They come from an academic worldview in which “being right” is what counts and they think is all they need to do is get their good information out there.   They often become petulant and disgruntled when no one listens to them, making them even less likely to get a fair hearing.

Bubble Boys

This system explains, in large part, how Beltway thinking can be so remote from common sense thinking within the rest of the country.  It certainly explains, in the case above, why Katrina was handled so badly and why guys like Larry Summers had such a lock on our crisis-level economic policy in the early days of the Obama administration.  Summers was, frankly, the biggest talker on the economic team and he had established an iron-clad back channel network that was feeding information into the White House which supported his views.  Less practiced Washington hands on the economic team couldn’t compete with his talking points because they didn’t have that network to draw upon.  Obama, as an outsider, himself, was sitting in the Oval Office being told by everyone, formally and informally, that Summers was the man to listen to.  What the President failed to understand is that Summers had engineered that messaging himself.  This was also the basic means by which Dick Cheney ran the country for 6 of George Bush’s 8 years.  Cheney kept Bush in a bubble with the only lines of communication coming in – originating with Cheney himself.

Wine and Wieners  

Probably the most famous and well known back channel in Washington is the vaunted cocktail party.  The way these things are described here on dKos, they sound like a bunch of the great and the good standing around in formal attire sipping champers in the ballroom of a Victorian mansion.  Hardly.  Even the best paid Washington hand makes no more than $155K per year. (We’ll talk more about making money in DC later.)  That’s a pretty good salary – until you factor in that DC has some of the highest cost of living in the nation.  And a new Beltway worker on the make isn't going to earn anywhere near that amount.  

The typical DC cocktail party is a bunch of your real friends and members of your work network standing around in your cramped apartment or in the living room of your suburban home eating Costco food and drinking whatever Cali wine was on sale that week.  Members of the press love to get an invite to these things - especially the noobs - not for the food or the glamour, but for the access.  Amateurs get played by the press at parties, pros play the press.  

The big galas and dinners are reserved for the corporate elite who want to play the big media and cash strapped pols that just want to pretend their years in Washington had at least some touch of class.  These parties are based on the “big get” – the rich and powerful throw them to demonstrate who they have the power to compel to attend.  But very little communication takes place at these things.  The real talk in Washington goes on in front of the TV after everyone has gotten drunk and bored of watching the Redskins lose again.  

What does this all mean?

1)  The next time you hear an outraged watchdog on Maddow claiming “I filed a FOIA request and only got five things…there must be more…” you can bet there probably isn’t more.  Informal, verbal communication is the way things get done in Washington.  Before a memo was ever written, every detail was worked out at the Starbucks and during a series of morning briefings.  You cannot FOIA what comes out of people’s mouths.    

2)  When you hear someone brag about their access to “classified government information” that’s a sure sign they don’t know a damn thing about anything.   Take what they say with a grain of salt – what they know probably came through the rumor mill.

3)  Access, not knowledge, is the means by which ideas get advanced.  Successful players know how to work the communication network to their advantage.  Good managers know who to trust.  Bad managers are lazy and let themselves get played.

4)  Someone is always listening in Washington – whether it is foreign spies, the media, your boss, a watchdog group, or just a traveling tourist, you learn to watch what you say and you craft your speech for maximum effect.  

5)  Success means building a network that gives you a pathway into the channels of power.  You do that by making friends, serving brats and beer, and by trading information.  And you never, ever forget that all this informal communication is a part of “the game.”  The moment you “make it real” is the moment you’ve lost the ability to be effective.  

NEXT TIME: By popular demand a look at the people of Washington, DC and the tragedy of living in a city without the full rights of citizen.

Originally posted to CrazyHorse on Wed Aug 01, 2012 at 05:06 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  A compelling read - thanks (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    CrazyHorse, envwq, llywrch, Larsstephens

    What you've written comports nicely with my admittedly limited (and dated) experience inside the beltway.  You are quite right, particularly when it comes to the amateurs, wannabes, and pros.  Washington, DC is truly a different world, and the real power brokers don't necessarily have fancy titles or gilded offices.

    The test of whether we're willing to stand up to the thugs that wrote voter suppression laws is this: Are you willing to hold hands with someone that needs hand holding in order to qualify to vote?

    by Richard Cranium on Wed Aug 01, 2012 at 06:21:26 AM PDT

  •  Not surprisingly... (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    CrazyHorse, mali muso, envwq, Larsstephens

    this is how things work just outside the beltway, as well. The entire DC metro area is in a world of its own.  What I have come to understand in my 20+ years of living here is that "the big story" is actually no story at all if you don't hear buzz about it from fellow Washingtonians. I will tune in to your future diaries for sure. :)

    •  Thank you! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      And you are correct.  I'm going to be discussing the role contractors play in government...which will focus on how the "big story" works in businesses' direct relationship with the fed.  

      No one can terrorize a whole nation, unless we are all his accomplices. - Edward R. Murrow

      by CrazyHorse on Wed Aug 01, 2012 at 09:08:15 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Again. (5+ / 0-)

    Thank you for the promotion to Community Spotlight.  These diaries are a bit long, but I've gotten great feedback.  I hope everyone is finding them informative.  

    No one can terrorize a whole nation, unless we are all his accomplices. - Edward R. Murrow

    by CrazyHorse on Wed Aug 01, 2012 at 09:08:57 AM PDT

  •  FOIA responsiveness (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Especially for national security matters, the government not producing actual existing responsive documents to a FOIA request is just routine. It happens frequently.

    And when someone on Rachel Maddow is talking about not getting responsive documents to a request, the FOIA being talked about is probably concerning a national security matter.

    Kill, capture, and torture programs, and government electronic spying, primarily.

    The request is already at the lawsuit stage. The request was made, the government did not produce, and the requesting organization had to file the lawsuit to try to force the production of responsive documents.

    The lawsuit has likely been going on for years. There is often a judicial order carving out the terms of responsiveness for the request, and the government is still not producing responsive documents under the terms of the order.

    "I requested documents. I only got five in return. I have a vague feeling there must be more" just isn't where we are in the whole long elaborate specific legal battling about FOIA.

    •  I'm Trying to Fly Low Here (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      cris0000, Youffraita, Larsstephens

      But let's just say that this comes close to my work area.  The government is granted certain exemptions under the FOIA...national security, attorney client privilege, law enforcement, etc.  It's up to the individual agency of the government to determine rejection of a FOIA request based on these.  If the requestor is unhappy with this response, then they can file a lawsuit.  

      The government, then, is in an awkward position.  If a lower court compels release but the government still has the option to appeal then the government is simply not going to release the documents.  At this point is becomes a separation of powers issue.  Because once the documents have been released, from the Executive Branch perspective, the "damage" is done - even if a higher court upholds the government's right to retain the documents.  As a result, the government ends up engaging in a kind of legal dance, behind closed doors, to work out a process for release that still allows for appeal.  

      Does this sound like stonewalling?  Well, of course it does.  But you have to also appreciate the government's perspective - if we feel we have a legitimate cause for withholding data under the law and we still have appeals left in the process, then we feel we have co-equal authority under the constitution to withhold the documents until that appeals process has been fully exhausted.  

      This typically only applies to matters of national security - the government rarely exercises this position under a matter of civil law.  We again agree or disagree on the extent to which this material should be declassed, but that's the essence of the process.  In my diary I was referring to the fact that, more often than not, there is simply not as much paper related to an individual issue as most people would expect!

      No one can terrorize a whole nation, unless we are all his accomplices. - Edward R. Murrow

      by CrazyHorse on Wed Aug 01, 2012 at 10:38:09 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  As a Federal contractor for the past decade (5+ / 0-)

    I find your dairies spot-on.  Very well written and just the right amount of detail.  Most of my work has been in process improvement, so I've been a fly on the wall in many of the meetings you describe.  

    I'd like to add that just about every GS 14 or 15 I've met has been very smart and committed.  What was hard for me to get used to was the glacial pace of change.  In the private sector, if you can show the likely results for a process improvement, you can usually expect to get it done pretty quickly.  Not so in Washington.

    "I'll be more enthusiastic about encouraging thinking outside the box when there's evidence of any thinking going on inside it." Terry Pratchett

    by kiwiheart on Wed Aug 01, 2012 at 10:16:59 AM PDT

    •  amen to that! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      My sister worked for Justice for over 17 years, and you've never seen a more dogged, determined, and hardworking group as my sister and her colleagues in the environmental section. It always pisses me off to hear how government workers are lazy; all the ones I know work like dogs and care about their work.  

      Life is a shipwreck. But we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats. — Voltaire

      by agrenadier on Wed Aug 01, 2012 at 05:59:43 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  How DC works (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    CrazyHorse, OrangeMike, Larsstephens

    Thanks for a terrific diary. You help me understand what seems to be an impenetrable monolith of government, and you write well too. Could you explain how the press fits into this picture?

  •  Your diaries have been informative, to be sure, (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    CrazyHorse, Larsstephens

    but not necessarily encouraging.
    From what you say here, it's the epitome of "not what you know, but who you know," making the people who schmooze best the ones who have the best chance to call the shots. Fair summary? Seems to be your concluding point #3.
    Power then seems most likely to be accrued by people who are absolutely invested in playing the game for its own sake. Henry Kissinger does seem to be an exemplar of this, and not in a good way.
    Perhaps it's my many years as an academic that gives me pause. I'm not saying that I agree with purists who think that ideas alone can and should carry the day; there's no idea out of its political context, anyway. I do find it troubling, though, that so much depends on contacts, and then of course the ability of those contacts to make good assessments of the information they come across. As with Henry the K, education, credentials, and other qualifications do not necessarily produce an ethical political operator.
    In any case, these are good primers, and I thank you for them.

    •  You're Correct (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      peregrine kate, nzanne, Larsstephens

      My diaries aren't really meant to be an unvarnished view of "how things actually work," not how they should work or even how I'd like them to work.  I'm also an academic and will spend my years after government work doing that fulltime - that's where I'd ultimately like to be.  

      But the reality is - some people play the game for the sake of the game: Henry the K, Rove, Rahm, folks like that.  Others are true believers that play the game because they feel like that's how they can advance a positive agenda.  I would count myself in the latter category.  Look, I used to be an angry young man and a wild-eyed radical that screamed at anyone who would listen.  But that's not what American political culture is about - when you scream, no one listens.  I'm a liberal.  I'm a Democrat.  And I believe in the values of my party.  I can be the kind of person that enjoys "being right" and never gets anything accomplished, or I can learn the ropes of politics and get my agenda through.  Being a gadfly is not something I long to be - I want to be a guy that runs good programs...and, good or bad, there's a skillset you have to develop to make that happen.  

      No one can terrorize a whole nation, unless we are all his accomplices. - Edward R. Murrow

      by CrazyHorse on Wed Aug 01, 2012 at 01:09:23 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I don't think I'm disagreeing with you (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        wonmug, CrazyHorse, Larsstephens

        in terms of objectives or strategy, at least not in the broad overview. If I conveyed that opinion only, then I wasn't clear.
        What I am concerned about still is that it's hard to see any checks and balances in what you describe to prevent those unscrupulous ones from totally carrying the day. There has to be a critical mass of people with ethics, with reality-based positions, and with some sense of public service to make the system work to the benefit of the citizenry.

  •  you're going to turn me into a libertarian (0+ / 0-)

    I'm just going to say it: why do we want these people and the institutions they work for to have more power to shape our society than they already do?

    This culture you describe is the exact opposite of how I want our government to work: full stop.  Gossips, status-climbers, fixers, and aristocrats holding court are exactly the wrong people to be handling the affairs of state.  If this isn't just the slime on top, but is part and parcel of how Washington functions, then things are immeasurably worse than I ever suspected.

    To those who say the New Deal didn't work: WWII was also government spending

    by Visceral on Wed Aug 01, 2012 at 12:38:38 PM PDT

    •  Not Really (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      wonmug, FG, Larsstephens

      You assume that just because this is how the "system works" that everyone who uses it to their advantage is a slime.  I honestly think that's the wrong attitude.  Not everyone who knows how Washington works uses it for "the wrong reasons."  Look at a guy like LBJ - the classic Washington insider.  He did what JFK couldn't do - he got a progressive agenda through the hurdles of Washington.  There are insiders who use their skills to advance a very positive agenda.  

      Remember, it's not the people that make the system, it's the system that makes the people.  And that's the point of my article above.  We live in a culture of unprecedented disclosure - imagine if all your personal finances, your emails, your work phone calls, and every thing you ever wrote on the job could be requested, received by the media, and published on the web.  It'd make you secretive as well.  You'd develop strategies that would allow you to maintain some candor in your professional conversations, too!  

      Sure, we could all become Libertarians - but that's not kind of way to live - freedom without responsibility.  I think the way people can change this system is not to withdraw from it, but to get more engaged - to become really well informed citizens.  That's why I'm writing these diaries.  I want our community here to understand how Washington REALLY works, not how the media or spy novels portray it!!!

      No one can terrorize a whole nation, unless we are all his accomplices. - Edward R. Murrow

      by CrazyHorse on Wed Aug 01, 2012 at 01:15:46 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  but disclosure is a good thing (0+ / 0-)

        I think the beauty of the [new] media panopticon is exactly its tendency to make secrecy difficult if not impossible.  There will be no more "quiet rooms" where Willard and his friends can discuss the economy.  There will be no more gatekeepers to control what we see and hear in the service of their masters' agendas.  There will be no more power-brokers trading on access because everyone will have access.  There will be no more insiders because there will be no more inside.  There will be no more leverage since sheer numbers will overcome any local concentration of power.  There will be no escape from the mob, who will jeer fools and crooks alike until they relent in frustration or become a liability to someone above them.  There will be no closets to put skeletons in and no rugs to sweep things under; there will be no shadows to skulk through and no rocks to scuttle under - hiding will be interpreted as proof of wrongdoing and We the People will be the sole arbiter.  There will be nothing we collectively do not know about what's going on inside the halls of power (both government and corporate) and that will keep the folks there honest.

        To those who say the New Deal didn't work: WWII was also government spending

        by Visceral on Wed Aug 01, 2012 at 02:08:55 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Of course... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          The problem with that is, is that our very real foreign enemies will know exactly who to throw into a taxie and work over with a hose.  I am very in favor of open government, but the government is made up of human beings.  Sometimes you need confidentiality to allow for candor...and you need privacy to protect, well, their lives. Surely there must be a happy medium??

          No one can terrorize a whole nation, unless we are all his accomplices. - Edward R. Murrow

          by CrazyHorse on Wed Aug 01, 2012 at 05:22:16 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  we'll know everything about them too (0+ / 0-)

            I like to think that in a world where keeping secrets is impossible, you just plain can't have or do anything that you might want to keep secret.  In a sense, you're right, but I think that would be a good thing.  Intelligence agencies would just close up shop because there would be nothing for them to do.  It would be very difficult if not impossible for anyone to go to war precisely because your abilities, plans, and locations are a click away on the internet.  Governments could not get away with lying to anyone - not enemies, not allies, and not their own people - and anything they planned on doing that would have relied on ignorance or manipulation would become impossible.

            The private sector would be similarly paralyzed: with confidential, proprietary information all floating around for competitors and anyone else to steal or make hay of, it would be impossible to deceive investors, employees, or customers or even to just sit back and milk a legacy product.  Any corporation whose business model depends upon information (a brand, a formula, an algorithm, etc.) would lose everything overnight; at the very least the premium we pay for the "real thing" versus a knockoff - in reality an identical copy - would disappear.

            I think that kind of transparency would change the world almost beyond recognition.  The spells would be broken.  Informed consent would be the only way any authority could do anything.  They say that what you do when no-one's watching is who you really are; well, now literally everyone is watching forever. I know that "the innocent have nothing to fear" is supposed to be the rallying cry of the police state, but it's always seemed to me that it's the rich and the powerful - especially those who would run a police state - who are most invested in secrecy.

            To those who say the New Deal didn't work: WWII was also government spending

            by Visceral on Wed Aug 01, 2012 at 06:07:50 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  I am Jack’s Disillusionment (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Visceral, CrazyHorse

    This was very informative, and I recommended it as I did your previous diary on this topic. That said, I have to say that it mostly makes me more sympathetic to Norquist’s “drown it in a bathtub” position. I get the sense from this that there is simply no way for the US government to be responsive to the needs of ordinary Americans; that it exists primarily to serve itself and support its own power. It makes me angry that laws intended to make government open and visible have the opposite effect; that inefficiency is encouraged in aid of rendering the process of governance more opaque and inscrutable to the citizenry than it might otherwise be. And I wonder just how much of our tax bill goes to fund bureaucratic infighting as blood sport.

    Thanks again though, for a really informative and well written, if discomfiting, peak behind the curtain.

  •  quite interesting! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    As a longtime Washington worker (although I live in the city of Alexandria), this was an interesting look at life outside the nonprofit sector, where I have worked most of my life -- 33 years in Washington NGOs and nonprofits. The issue of statehood for DC hits home to me every day, since I work in education, and see what Taxation without representation looks like. Although I have to say, I have had a number of friends in intelligence, and when people asked them what they did, they always responded, "I do analysis for a government agency," which is DC-speak for CIA. They seem sort of amateurish in some ways, but you really pegged the think-tank crowd! Talk about a bubble! CSIS, Brookings, Carnegie, USIP, etc. -- we've all been to their programs, and it's a lot of people talking to each other, but not listening.

    Life is a shipwreck. But we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats. — Voltaire

    by agrenadier on Wed Aug 01, 2012 at 05:57:55 PM PDT

  •  I'll second that (0+ / 0-)

    I am as before impressed at the clarity and perceptiveness of the main post, but I'm commenting here on some of the comments.

    I've said many times that the agency in which I used to work was "less than the sum of it's parts."  That was my snarky way of saying that a lot of smart, able, committed, hardworking, knowledgeable people would produce results that were astoundingly stupid and blind.

    As Crazy Horse explains so well, this is in part because the value of information and ideas has nothing to do with their quality.  It is rather their part in the game, and the persons with whom ideas are associated, that get attention.

    Another factor that CH omits is the transitory nature of the leadership in any organization, and the automatic dismissal by new leaders of anything that has gone before.  These leaders are not focused on the success of their organization, but of their own careers.  That's how they got to be leaders.  And they know that simply picking up a good idea from their predecessor and advancing it to success is not as impressive as starting a new initiative (which is usually not completed by the time they are replaced.)

    Which is as good a formula as any for getting next to nothing done.  Hello, DC.

    In Washington, whenever anyone does something wrong, everyone else gets punished.

    by Noziglia on Sun Aug 05, 2012 at 03:46:42 PM PDT

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