Last Friday, in an interview, Secretary Janet Napolitano admitted that she never, ever used email. The Internet cognoscenti are shocked. They think it either means that she knows that the Internet is not secure or that she is a luddite who isn’t qualified to run national cybersecurity. Even the most generous of folks think she must have a time-management problem. To which one can only say …. chill.
There is an obvious, non-trival, reason why the Secretary forgoes e-mail (just, I might add, as did her predecessor). It’s the problem of accountability. In zero-defect Washington, the Secretary will be blamed for everything that fails at DHS and doubly so if she had direct personal knowledge of the failure before it happened. Conversely, every subordinate in the agency (no matter how well minded they are) will see email connectivity as a way of just checking the box and making sure the boss is in the loop. Less well meaning subordinates will see the email as an easy method of CYA.
Either way, the result will be predictable — a veritable FLOOD of emails in her in box that the Secretary could not possibly manage with more information than she needs, and lots more information than she wants to be responsible for having received. For a senior decisionmaker, controlling the decision flow is critical. I don’t blame Secretary Napolitano one bit — and her policy makes her reasonably effective, not a luddite.