Forget The Credit--Just Do It, Says Chertoff

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is on a crusade the likes of which Washington has rarely seen. He even has an acronym for it: NIMTOF. Like the Not in My Back Yard, or NIMBY, mood that inflames neighborhoods when governments eye them for public-works projects, he assails the trend by administrations and politicians to reject big projects that won't be completed in time for them to get credit. "Not in My Term of Office," Chertoff says, "is this tendency for the political process not to want to spend money unless the fruits and the benefits are harvested within an election cycle."

Few know this better than Chertoff. In his world, nothing is supposed to happen, and he gets no credit for all that Homeland does to stop attacks. "But that's fine," he says. "What I wouldn't want to do is be in a position where something happened and I said, 'Boy, I had an opportunity to stop it, but I didn't have the willpower.'" If praise is your goal, he preaches, "go to the private sector."

Chertoff credits Howard Kunreuther of the Wharton School of the University Pennsylvania with coining NIMTOF. They met at a conference this year, and Kunreuther recalls that after he mentioned his acronym, Chertoff cheered, "I'm going to use that!" So how'd Kunreuther come up with it? "We were working on NIMBYs and began thinking of other, 'Not In My...'"

By Paul Bedard