Redundant from L. redundantem (nom. redundans), prp. of redundare “come back, contribute,” lit. “overflow,” from re- “again” + undare “rise in waves,” from unda “a wave”
You may have seen the headlines: Redundant Federal Programs Waste Billions (USA Today).
Or heard something similar: Latest GAO report reveals 162 areas of redundancy across government (Federal News Radio).
Most of the broadcast news mentioned something about catfish inspectors and each military branch developing its own camouflage uniform. Conservative or liberal — from inside or outside government — it is the kind of “news” that fails to create any new brain synapses and, probably, calcifies our current neural networks.
This lack of real thinking reflects the way information is headlined and how we typically receive the information, not what GAO is actually reporting.
The Government Accountability Office study released on Tuesday references several Department of Homeland Security practices. In addition to a list from prior years, two more are highlighted in this most recent report:
Department of Homeland Security Research and Development: Better policies and guidance for defining, overseeing, and coordinating research and development investments and activities would help DHS address fragmentation, overlap, and potential unnecessary duplication.
Field-Based Information Sharing: To help reduce inefficiencies resulting from overlap in analytical and investigative support activities, the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security and the Office of National Drug Control Policy could improve coordination among five types of field-based information sharing entities that may collect, process, analyze, or disseminate information in support of law enforcement and counterterrorism-related efforts—Joint Terrorism Task Forces, Field Intelligence Groups, Regional Information Sharing Systems centers, state and major urban area fusion centers, and High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas Investigative Support Centers.
I am sure any post-hoc study of research-and-development or intelligence-gathering (even more-so intelligence creating) activities will always find a wide range of decisions and actions hard to defend. Any careful audit should find hundreds or thousands of hours obviously lost on following bad leads, interminable meetings, unnecessary travel, dysfunctional turf protection, and much, much more (or actually less and less). A thorough analysis could authoritatively map how one failure led to another and another.
R&D and the intelligence process share a concern with anticipating, even creating the future. Once we arrive at the future we can usually look back and bemoan (or self-justify) the dead-ends and circuitous paths chosen. We may even be able to recognize how alternate — preferable? — futures were very close-at-hand, but have now receded in our wake.
Malcolm Gladwell argues that ten years and 10,000 hours are — along with other crucial inputs — prerequisites to “outlier” success. What would an audit at five years and 5000 hours find? What does a half-made success look like? Thomas Edison famously said, “I failed my way to success.”
In the commercial world “redundancy” is often called competition. In biology redundancy is very closely related to diversity. In engineering and other design applications redundancy is sometimes valued rather than maligned.
This is not to discourage DHS from looking hard at its research-and-development policies. The improved coordination of field-based information-sharing sounds like a win-win. But fragmentation, overlap, and duplication are not always net negatives. Elinor Ostrom and her colleagues found that polycentric governance — featuring considerable fragmentation, overlap, and duplication — is often more effective at achieving policy goals than more centralized and “efficient” structures.
[Redundancy = Bad] is a dangerous heuristic. Stop using it.