Modularizing a large optimization problem so that the solutions to the subproblems provide a good overall solution is a challenging problem. In this paper we present a multi-agent approach to this problem based on aligning the agent objectives with the system objectives, obviating the need to impose external mechanisms to achieve collaboration among the agents. This approach naturally addresses scaling and robustness issues by ensuring that the agents do not rely on the reliable operation of other agents We test this approach in the difficult distributed optimization problem of imperfect device subset selection [Challet and Johnson, 2002]. In this problem, there are n devices, each of which has a "distortion", and the task is to find the subset of those n devices that minimizes the average distortion. Our results show that in large systems (1000 agents) the proposed approach provides improvements of over an order of magnitude over both traditional optimization methods and traditional multi-agent methods. Furthermore, the results show that even in extreme cases of agent failures (i.e., half the agents fail midway through the simulation) the system remains coordinated and still outperforms a failure-free and centralized optimization algorithm.