Monday, August 23

Screwing-up the Lede, Again

The national press often gets big stories wrong. And usually even those of us who care about the particular story shrug off their errors. But I'm pretty annoyed this time, so I'm taking this one on — forgive me for making my point in a roundabout way.

Suppose that an influential Senator proposes to reorganize a major portion of the federal government. The status quo is a dozen plus agencies (depending how you count) with a total annual budget of about $40 billion, allocated as given in Figure 1 (the "F+6" bar represents seven agencies I have aggregated together). Some of these agencies report directly to a cabinet-level officer, some not, but the only common authority across all of these agencies is the President. A separate matter, but worthy of note is that Agencies N, S & D are operated by the Department of Defense.
Figure 1

The Senator proposes consolidating the agencies into five, with a single cabinet officer heading four of them. All of the personnel from the old agencies N, P & D would no longer be DoD employees, but would work for civilian agencies.
Figure 2

The consolidation plan is complex, but some high points are:

  • New agency W is old N plus F and bits of S, C & D
  • New agency X is old P plus bits of old F, C & D
  • New agency Y is the bulk of old C & D
  • New agency Z is old S plus bits of C & D
  • T is unchanged

OK, I hope you're still with me. What would you say if all the major papers ran this story as Senator Proposes to Break Up Agency C.

What's that? No reporter, you say, would fixate on the relatively minor issue of the allocation of 13% of the total budget and manpower represented by Agency C. Well, that's exactly what all papers are leading with. In case you haven't guessed: Agency C = CIA; Agency F = FBI; Agency N = NSA; Agency S = (Satellites) NRO; Agency P = (Photos) NGA; Agency D = DIA without tactical groups; and Agency T = tactical military intelligence groups. A typical headline and first graph (from the NYT today):

An Angry Republican Roils Intelligence Waters


Published: August 24, 2004

WASHINGTON, Aug. 23 - The very idea of dismantling the Central Intelligence Agency, Senator Pat Roberts concedes, is one that he could not have conceived of proposing even a year ago.


Notes: My source for much of the (estimated) budgetary data comes from My take on how the new agencies would be organized is based on the very sketchy data gleaned from TV interviews with Senator Roberts. Also, to note my bias: I think the Senator's idea is a good one.

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