Section 2.4 of draft-ietf-problem-statement-00.txt

Pete Resnick presnick at
Fri Feb 28 16:30:51 CET 2003

Preface: I agree that this document should avoid finger pointing; 
noone deserves to be personally and publicly embarrassed. However, 
there is a significant difference between finger pointing and 
ruffling feathers, and I don't think this document should at all 
avoid ruffling feathers. *We* are all the IETF. There are problems 
with the IETF that this group is trying to identify. If you or I 
don't get our feathers ruffled by having problems pointed out, we are 
certainly not involved enough with this organization. This document 
identifies problems with WG chairs. I'm one of them. Some of those 
problems hit pretty close to home. My feathers are ruffled by that. 
But life's tough; *I* am part of the problem with the rest of you, 
and I can deal with the fact that I've got to make changes to the way 
I do business as a chair.

Watering this language down would be a big mistake. It will obscure 
the problems and get us more of the status quo. If the document 
misidentifies problems, fine; those need to be fixed. But most of 
what you see as finger pointing below I see as legitimate criticism.

More inline:

On 2/28/03 at 12:06 PM +0100, Brian E Carpenter wrote:

>  >    It appears that both authority and influence in the IETF are
>  >    concentrated in too few hands, and those with authority (primarily
>>     the Internet Engineering Steering Group (IESG))
>The objective fact is that about 10 years ago, the IETF decided to remove
>authority from the IAB, and give it to the IESG.

The reasons for that little revolt might be instructive in general, 
but I don't see what it has to do with the above.

>The above phrase is a judgement call by saying "too few".

Absolutely. It is the judgement of many folks that the limited number 
of people in power is a root cause of the problems we are seeing. I 
think this is a fair characterization of that view. We can argue 
later if it really is a root cause.

>     Authority in the IETF is explicitly concentrated in the hands
>     of the Internet Engineering Steering Group (IESG) rather
>     than being delegated.

That's not a problem statement. Lots of organizations are 
successfully run without delegation of power. The problem (as some 
people see it) is that there isn't enough delegation here, i.e., 
there are too few people doing the work and holding the power.

>  >    ...are insufficiently
>>     accountable for some of their actions.
>Again, "insufficiently" is very much a judgement call. Try
>     Although the appeal process has been exercised a number of
>     times, there has never been a member recall, so in practice
>     Area Directors are rarely sanctioned.

Again, that's not a problem statement. The problem is insufficient 
accountability. A rare sanction might be sufficient, or it might not.

>  >    Members of this 'ruling
>>     class' tend to talk mainly to each other and former members of the
>>     'ruling class'. 
>I dispute "mainly" - where is the evidence? Speaking personally, it's
>a pleasure to work with newer arrivals in the IETF. I think this
>sentence should be deleted, unless you have objective evidence.

I've got plenty of anecdotal evidence from personal experience. I too 
think it's a pleasure to work with new folks, but I've repeatedly 
seen newcomers' ideas dismissed and old-timers' ideas accepted, 
sometimes when those ideas are identical. I am certainly guilty of it 
myself, though I try not to be, and I've certainly seen it repeatedly 
in people I consider quite reasonable folks.

I think trying to find "objective evidence" is quickly going to get 
into serious finger pointing. I think it should suffice that there 
are a bunch of people who have a reasonable amount of anecdotal 

>Try this
>      As in any organization, newcomers and outsiders are reluctant
>      to challenge the apparent authority of the extended 'ruling class'
>      during debates. Only newcomers with the courage to intervene
>      assertively and in public can influence outcomes.

I'm fine with that.

>  >    The management and technical review processes currently in place were
>>     adequate for the older, smaller organization, but are apparently not
>>     scalable to the current size of the organization. The reliance of the
>>     existing process on the small number of people who have authority in
>>     the IETF both slows up the process
>Agreed. But it's a bit of a change of topic - maybe needs a subheading.
>>     and limits the number of formally
>>     recognized 'preferred' positions within the IETF, thereby limiting
>>     the (intangible) rewards for participants. 
>Another change of topic. I suspect that too many issues are getting
>mixed up here.

I was not confused by this section, but I have no problem with these 
being sub-topics of 2.4.

>  >    The current IESG processes allow one (or two) people to block or veto
>>     the work put together and approved by the many in a Working Group,
>This is a very biased way to state it. Try
>     The IESG, being the final authority, applies the final quality control
>     to documents that have been put together and approved by many in a Working
>     Group. In some cases, this results in one (or two) people applying a
>     block or veto to others' work.

Even if the first statement is biased (personally, I don't think it 
is), your re-wording is all the more so. It has been argued 
extensively on this list that "the IESG as final authority and 
quality controller" (as is being done now) is not necessarily what is 
outlined in 2026. "Review and approval" is (arguably) not equivalent 
to "being the gatekeeper".

The *problem* (as some see it) is that the current process allows, 
and has seen, long periods of good work by a WG come to an end with 
one or two people stopping the work at the IESG level.

(This leaves open the question of whether these stoppages are 
justified, but that's arguing that this is not a problem, not that 
it's biased. I'll address the justification issue in response to one 
of Keith's messages.)

>  >    possibly without good reason being given.
>Is there evidence of the IESG blocking stuff without giving reasons?
>(Note: I said "IESG" not "an AD".)

The difference being....?

>  >    o  Documents can be blocked by one AD tabling a 'DISCUSS' issue

Indefinitely delayed == blocked. If a document is simply temporarily 
delayed for a short period of time, that's not a significant problem.

>  >       regarding a document.  Although a mechanism exists whereby the
>>        whole IESG can override a single AD's DISCUSS, any two ADs can
>>        block a piece of work indefinitely.
>Yes, but why is this relevant here? Surely it is connected to the issue
>of quality control in earlier stages in the process. The issue is that
>due to lousy early quality control, the IESG is not simply acting as
>a back stop but as the routine, regular quality control agent. I don't
>see how it is relevant to the issue 2.4 claims to address.

The quality control issue is one aspect, and I agree is a different 
thing. But this section is talking about documents being blocked 
"without good reason being given". The point is that the current 
system leaves open the possibility for abuse, and that some folks 
fear abuse may have taken place (that fear due to the lack of 
transparency mentioned in A.4). Again, looking for more direct 
evidence of this is going to get into finger pointing. I think it's a 
problem enough that people perceive a problem and therefore have lost 
faith in IESG practices.

I think the thrust of 2.4 is quite reasonable.
Pete Resnick <mailto:presnick at>
QUALCOMM Incorporated - Direct phone: (858)651-4478, Fax: (858)651-1102

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