According to Michelangelo, the more marble a sculptor wastes, "the more the statue grows." If the marble represents the bureaucracy of scattered federal agencies that deal with homeland security, the move to refine and centralize them under one department, as announced by President Bush last week, should produce a well-formed bulwark against terrorism.
His move, coming nine months after Sept. 11, is another fundamental shift in a new preparedness among Americans, much like their adjustment to the cold reality of the nuclear-charged cold war over 50 years ago.
Mr. Bush's plan means far more than moving around some 100 agencies and 169,000 workers who will likely soon become more focused and coordinated on homeland defense. With an enemy lying in wait anywhere and plotting unimaginable schemes, workers in this new department must learn to sift raw intelligence and read clues like a sculptor seeing an image hidden in stone.
As hearings in Congress show, the FBI and CIA might have been able to piece together various clues on Al Qaeda's conspiracy last year except for a climate of stodgy and paper-drowned bureaucracies.
Now, consolidating most of the security-oriented bureaucracy may force federal agents to be smarter, wiser, and more communicative. And eliminating the fear of making mistakes and of retribution for speaking out will go a long way to help workers think outside the box of traditional intelligence analysis.
A policy of creative thinking and communication, much more than a closer juxtaposition of desks, will be the main weapon in the war on terrorism. And a strong commitment to a common purpose will help overcome turf battles.
In creating a Department of Homeland Security, Congress and the president will need to be more cooperative than they've been up to now. Too many lawmakers see the new department as another cookie jar for spending in home districts. And Bush may have rushed this proposal to divert attention from the Congress's blame game for 9/11.
Both branches will need to explain why antiterrorist portions of the FBI are not in the new department. And ensure that nonterrorist functions of the existing agency will not be reduced. And lawmakers can't let the heated campaign for November's congressional elections become a grandstanding opportunity to play politics with a war.
The nation needs to chip away at old habits, both in politics and bureaucracy, to help create a new sensibility toward safeguarding the homeland against a new enemy.