Posted by: joeyv1333 | October 5, 2011

Disaster

I am only partially through Disaster – Hurricane Katrina and the failure of homeland security but I feel I can already recommend it.  This book is illustrative of practical FEA IMO.  A couple quick follow up points because the horse is nowhere near dead as I wrote in my first post the government is not a business.

I’m likely to write more about this in the future, but in my view FEA is a management tool, or as I prefer discipline (period).  The discipline of EA can be effective at all layers and views, business, technology, data.  Can Tiger Woods use a cheap golf club?  Would a graphite driver help a hack like me?  One of the first things that caught my attention in this book was the description of the legendary government manager James Lee Witt’s transformation of FEMA.  As I said in my first post I was at FEMA during Katrina, but not during Witt’s tenure so I have no firsthand experience but plenty of folklore about what went down during that time.   A story that my boss told me about Witt, is that he would “drop in” on her and others when she was a single digit GS to see what she was working on.  This is what we used to call management by walking around in the old days.  My summary of this folklore:

–          Really gave a darn about the mission and had significant experience in the domain (had a grudge of sorts according to the book from dealing with FEMA during a flood in Arkansas)

–          Had a B$ threshold of somewhere around zero (pretty sure he was not a college graduate)

–          Lived in reality, management by walking around, understood the as-is architecture for what it was and had a business vision of what it should be.

–          Removed layers of bureaucracy, didn’t add them.

–          Changed the staffing criteria/practices

–          Had the influential support of his boss, in this case the president,

So the agency was transformed without an established formal EA program and there was still time to walk around remote offices, chatting with junior staff.  I suspect a proper EA would have assisted and be used by Witt, but IMO the greatest EA problem of all time will not help the business layer with-out strong internal management or strong external drivers such as OMB/Congress.  I would encourage you to look at the state of what I call uber-EA, which in the government would mean congress etc. would use EA information in decision making.

Post Witt, and during my time there, the first EA problem to jump out at me in this book is the inventory/tracking failure, that was pretty well known at the time, an agency whose core mission was having stuff in time of emergency, really didn’t know where the stuff was.  Described in the book as “holes in the antiquated tracking system, noting: the white house asked: where are the water trucks? …We don’t know”.  This is a good case study/litmus test in EA philosophy IMO.  Is the right approach to this problem a process/”business” oriented one, or an information/application oriented one?   The orthodox, mainstream, politically correct answer is process, I agree in an ideal world but I do not agree in practice especially in the government.   Having been there, I can tell you that there was not enterprise process thinking, As-Is: “We call Charlie in the South Region and he looks at his access db, then we call Nancy in the West…”, how do you vision this working in the future?, “Well we call Charlie..” The approach I’ve seen work is we will have a master db of truck and water data that will maintain its integrity, now let’s talk about processes.  Another EA/IT struggle that I was on the losing side of there, related to technology, I can tell you there was no legitimate excuse for this to have happened.

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