Do we need to destroy the FBI in order to save it?

Saving a diseased bureaucracy is a huge challenge.  When that agency works in secrecy and has fearsome retaliatory powers, it can be a nightmare.  

The extent of the publicly visible bias, corruption, and incompetence at the FBI has created a crisis of confidence in the agency long held to be America's premier law enforcement organ.  The sixth and seventh directors in the Bureau's history – close friends Robert Mueller and James Comey – may have wrecked it over the combined 16 years they led it with their politicization of the top ranks and presumed salting of the bureaucracy with allies.

So what does one do with an agency that gone so far astray as the FBI appears to have gone?  Is reform possible under the existing organizational framework?

Chris Farrell, research director of Judicial Watch, suggested last week that the FBI be disbanded as a free-standing agency and folded into the U.S. Marshals Service as its investigative arm.  Michael W. Chapman of CNS News noted the startling proposal at CNS News:

"People do need to go," said Farrell on the Feb. 16 edition of Lou Dobbs Tonight.  "You can start with Director [Christopher] Wray."

"Frankly, I would go back 200 years to the U.S. Marshals Service," said Farrell, a former Military Intelligence officer and counterintelligence expert.  "I would create a new division for investigations, and in about six to eight months I would shut the FBI down.  Agents would be allowed to apply for, or laterally transfer to a new investigative arm of the U.S. Marshals Service and the FBI would cease to exist.  That's my idea."

When guest host Trish Regan expressed reservations about completely revamping the FBI, Farrell said, "There's a systemic, institutional problem.  We can walk it back to the Tsarnaev brothers [Boston Marathon bombing] where they missed the leads, multiple leads on them.  You can go back to Whitey Bulger for that matter.  You can go back to existing corruption in El Paso, Texas.  There's all sorts of problems."


I am unable to evaluate the practicality of this proposal, mainly because I am so ignorant of the U.S. Marshals Service.  Most of what I know of its modern incarnation comes from the FX TV series Justified.  It predates the establishment of the FBI by over a century, and its role in taming the Wild West was immortalized by Marshal Dillon of Gunsmoke.  Whether or not this glorious past has any bearing on the future is open to question.

2015 commemorative coin from U.S. Mint celebrating 225th anniversary of the U.S. Marshals Service.

I am not aware of any scandals in the USMS, but who knows what troubling matters there have never come to light?

However, I do have academic and practical experience with organizational change efforts in large bureaucracies that have developed dysfunctional behaviors.  Inertia – the unwillingness of people to change their ways and their resistance to efforts at reform – is the great enemy.  Corporations often initiate change by creating new units with distinct cultures to bypass the troubled units, eventually selling off, closing down, or otherwise ridding themselves of their diseased limbs.

I have long believed that one solution to the problems of entitlement in the federal bureaucracy is to institute the death penalty for those arms that chronically misbehave.  Given current law, it is difficult to fire discipline federal bureaucrats, but if an agency is shut down, my understanding is that everyone loses his job.  The only way bureaucrats will self-police is if they fear serious consequences for misbehavior.

We cannot afford an immediate shutdown of the FBI.  Crime would skyrocket, and our enemies would experience free rein to pursue their intelligence efforts.  The counter-intelligence function should have been stripped from the FBI long ago.  It belongs in the hands of a specialist agency.  Since so many of the key members of the Steele dossier/anti-Trump spy ring at the FBI were housed in the Counterintelligence Division, that should be the first step.

At a minimum, closely examine Chris Farrell's proposal.  Serious measures are needed to protect the nation.  Perhaps Mitt Romney, when he joins the Senate (as seems inevitable), can hold hearings exploring this option.  His work at Bain & Company involved similar problems affecting private companies that were troubled and needed restructuring.  I bet he knows a lot of people who could help carry out the necessary studies. 

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