“The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom”, said William Blake.
That quotation was placed in context for me when I saw the USA Today article about America’s monument to bureaucratic excess. The embassy’s sprawling “campus” has an annual budget of $1,500,000,000 and a staff of 1,700 people. It seems the State Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG), having restrained itself from peeking for at least four years, couldn’t resist any more. They conducted an actual audit of the world’s largest and most lavish embassy, and found a Marx Brothers comedy. LINK HERE
The findings? A million dollars worth of “excess” radios. 159 out of 1,200 vehicles were missing. 68% of “randomly selected equipment and supplies – ranging from bullet-resistant protective vests to printer cartridges – couldn’t be accounted for.” Also, the OIG “estimates that $1,300,000 in supplies were issued without documentation or are missing.”
The word “audit” takes me back down memory lane to my Naval days and one of the more mundane tasks required of us, an annual inventory of what was quaintly called, “equipage”. Once a year we had to track down and formally account in writing for stuff like binoculars, sextants, foul-weather gear (yes, coats!) and electronic devices that were serialized and which tended to be pilferable. In addition there were inventories of medical narcotics and classified documents at various times, all accompanied by lots of paperwork.
It was all accountable by signature to various individuals and, with some struggle, everything was usually found. On the rare occasion an item was found missing, it was a big deal. The career of an officer shipmate of mine was ruined when he failed to account for a missing “secret” one-page message having to do with an intelligence item for which he had signed. It didn’t matter that the message had nothing to do with our ship’s mission or that it was of little durable interest to anyone. (Why do subs need to know about army radars?) It was classified. We all knew the logical explanation, including my friend, that the one sheet of paper had stuck to another and had been inadvertently burned without being checked off.
In fact, our little submarine had four large safes crammed full of intelligence crap that was generated in an unending stream by the various agencies. When I was communications officer I spent most of my administrative time either trying to coax senior officers to read (and sign that they had read) stuff they didn’t need and weren’t interested in, inventorying the stuff (monthly), and trying to burn it fast enough to make room for the constant incoming load. Had the war balloon gone up we would have had a hard time culling the needed intelligence from all the useless material, but the big agencies made hostage customers out of us.
I hope that the digital age has remedied this by making the stuff electronic, but I don’t know. I’ve been out far too long. If they haven’t, shame on them.
Anyhow, there was and probably still is, real accountability in the Navy. How on earth things could have gotten so bizarrely screwed up at our embassy speaks to how very differently things are handled in the world of officialdom, the civil service and bureaucracy. Yes, I know, IED’s. Still, in the Green Zone, shouldn’t there have been enough security and time to do things right?
Do you think any heads will roll over these little problems? I rather doubt it. Excuses are already flying, such as that only 27 vehicles are missing and the others were destroyed in insurgent attacks. “Only”? Wouldn’t one think that the embassy might have told the OIG that at the time of the inspection?
Do you think these little problems might lead to a little more wisdom in the future? William Blake thinks they will. Me, I’m not so sure. Accountability ain’t what it used to be.