Government Executive

The Rudman Assignment

Former New Hampshire Sen. Warren Rudman may well be the most important resource in America's new war on terrorism. No one knows more about what went wrong in the months leading up to the attacks on New York and Washington, and no one has more insight about what now needs to be done correctly.

Rudman is best known these days for his work with former Sen. Gary Hart, the Democrat from Colorado, in co-chairing the U.S. Commission on National Security in the 21st Century. The commission's work could not have been more prescient. Released in three reports over the past two years, the Hart-Rudman Commission warned of the potential for terrorist attacks at home, and offered a long list of short- and longer-term reforms.

The news media have paid the lion's share of their attention to the commission's first report, "New World Coming," given its chilling prediction of what would become a terrible reality. "Americans will likely die on American soil, possibly in large numbers," the commission warned in its first report issued almost two years to the day before the Sept. 11 attacks. "Taken together, the evidence suggests that threats to American security will be more diffuse, harder to anticipate, and more difficult to neutralize than ever before."

The commission's third and final report, issued only in February, weighed in on the need for a new Cabinet-level agency to coordinate homeland security. But it also offered detailed recommendations on everything from civil service reform to science and technology education. "There is no perfect organizational design, no flawless management fix," the commission wrote at the time. "The reason is that organizations are made up of people...Even excellent organizational structure cannot make impetuous or mistaken leaders patient or wise, but poor organizational design can make good leaders less effective."

At the same time, good organizations cannot make up for the lack of talented employees who have never been recruited because of an antiquated civil service system or the lack of interest in public service among the nation's most talented young people. Rudman's work on national security alone would merit a Presidential Medal of Freedom, but it is just the tip of the iceberg in comparison with his deep knowledge of government. As chairman of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, he led the investigation of the breach in security at the Los Alamos nuclear weapons laboratory in 1999, recommending the creation of a "new semi- autonomous agency" within the Department of Energy that would have the kind of "clear mission, streamlined bureaucracy and drastically simplified lines of authority and accountability" needed to protect the nation's nuclear secrets.

Rudman is a Republican. But he is accepted on both sides of the aisle as a national resource on truth telling and government reform. The question, therefore, is what the nation should do with Warren Rudman as the war on terrorism proceeds. He could easily be confirmed to any Cabinet position in government, would be a nearly perfect choice to head the American Red Cross in the wake of Dr. Bernadine Healey's firing, and would be a slam dunk as the head of the Central Intelligence Agency should the job come open.

But Rudman is too valuable to be pinned down at an executive's desk at this critical moment in American history. Instead, Congress should put him in charge of a national commission to restructure the entire federal government, national security and domestic, for the 21st century. It has now been 50 years since the federal government has undertaken a top-to-bottom review of its far-flung hierarchy, and 50 years since it questioned the organizational principles that created silo-agencies that have so much difficulty talking to each other.

Fifty years ago, a former one-term Republican President named Herbert Hoover took on this assignment, pouring every fiber of his soul into creating a state-of-the-art organization chart for the 20th century. No one is better suited to creating a state-of-the-art chart for the 21st century than Rudman.

Rudman is not likely to take the chairmanship of a toothless commission, however. He has already written enough dusty reports to demand a credible lever for implementation. That is why Congress should put him at the helm of a commission with the authority to force up-or-down votes on needed reorganizations. Like the base closing commissions that did so much in the 1990s to streamline the military following the end of the Cold War, Rudman should have the power to demand immediate votes on his recommendations. Either that, or President Bush should have limited authority to implement the needed reorganizations with the stroke of a pen.

Anyone who doubts the need for action should reread the Hart-Rudman reports on national security. Just imagine what might have been if those recommendations had been implemented last February.