While commenting on the proposed House bill (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) US President George W Bush said (on March 13, 2008) that it “could reopen dangerous intelligence gaps by putting in place a cumbersome court approval process that would make it harder to collect intelligence…” (Source: http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2008/03/20080313.html)
When I first heard the President on TV I could not help but notice a similarity between his argument and the resistance that the implementation of a quality process normally elicits. The President, it seemed, was in effect saying that he had a country to defend in these rather extraordinary times. He would not let the process prevent him from doing his actual job.
The real work needs to be done fast to satisfy the customer, all our delivery managers in the information technology industry would say. I can not let a quality process hold me up and make me miss a deliverable that has a billing milestone attached to it. Isn’t earning revenue more important than following some QA process?
The US President was not, however, challenging the existance of processes per se. There was a news item in 2007 that went like this. An US aircraft with nuclear assault capability flew over US territory without the necessary authorization. It did not have any nuclear warheads on board, but the incidence was treated as a security lapse and people lost their jobs.
The more serious the outcome may be the more stringent the processes tend to be. It seems that the probability of occurrence is not the prime consideration. In that aircraft case, it did not matter that there weren’t any war head on board. It did not matter that there exists a process of Executive approval before a missile with a nuclear warhead can be deployed.
To get back to the original thought, the President did not say that court approval processes are cumbersome and therefore impractical. What he was trying to do is argue for the acceptance of a process that would not hold up delivery of US national security. He was saying don’t create an opportunity for class action lawyers to get rich at the expense of the security of the country. Once a process is legally defined he can go and try changing it (just as his “opponents” are doing) but till the time he is successful the defined process is mandatory.
I guess the key challenge is how to balance discretionary authority with the mandatory risk mitigation measures.