Project on National Security Reform Study Stresses Collaborative Approach

February 16th, 2011


We shouldn’t just give our people a government that’s more affordable. We should give them a government that’s more competent and more efficient. We can’t win the future with a government of the past.

Those lines from President Barack Obama’s State of the Union in the evening of January 25, 2011 raise an interesting idea: How can what President Obama said about government efficiency be applied to national security?

Earlier that day, The Project on National Security Reform (PNSR) presented The Power of People: Building an Integrated National Security Professional System for the 21st Century, a congressionally-mandated study that provides a plan to create an Integrated National Security Professional (INSP) system. The Power of People was published by PNSR and was released in December 2010. Through CHHS, I participated in interviews with officials from federal, state, and local government, the military, and the volunteer sector to consider and analyze their role in light of the President’s 2010 National Security Strategy, calling for a “Whole of Government Approach.”

The INSP system would do two things: produce National Security Professionals (NSP) and manage them. These National Security Professionals will be able to handle complex 21st century issues. They will belong to their agencies, their state and local governments, or the military. And through professional development, training, and other experiences, National Security Professionals will be able to work collaboratively across government or agency boundaries.

Take national security efforts on terrorist financing. Department of Defense draws upon a military approach and Treasury upon a financial approach to shut down terrorist financial networks. However, whole-of-government and whole-of-nation approaches would include the military and financial perspective and also utilize those with experience in diplomacy and engagement (such the U.S. State Department), street-level state and local police, the financial services industry, and others to work collaboratively – and comprehensively – to combat terrorist finance cells and promote national security.

Here are some key points about an Integrated National Security Professional system:

Essential: Now and long into the future, policymakers and decision-makers will likely confront more national security threats similar to what we’ve endured in the past (such as the 9/11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina, or the earthquake in Haiti) and other, new dangers (such as an attack on U.S. power or technology networks or international financial meltdowns). The complex national security scenarios that men and women work on today are no longer purely hypothetical, so people with different perspectives and different skills must work together and collaborate to find the right solution. Because natural and man-made catastrophes cut across government agencies and reach state and local governments, an Integrated National Security Professional system is urgently needed.

Realistic: The INSP system can be developed over a five- to seven-year period through a pathway of four evolutionary stages. ‘Stage 1’ emphasizes training NSP for key positions. ‘Stage 2’ establishes a strong, decentralized NSP program at the agency level, a modest INSP system across agencies, and the start of centralized management. ‘Stage 3’ establishes a centralized INSP system with NSP programs that complement and support each other at the agency level. Finally, ‘Stage 4’ will transition from agency-centric activity. The final stage establishes holistic mission performance, resulting from improved cross-boundary collaboration by highly qualified NSP.

Under an INSP system, integrated teams and task forces would hold significant responsibilities and accountabilities for performance. Departments and agencies would become providers of capabilities rather than mission managers, because natural and man-made catastrophes inherently require collaboration. Further, the INSP system would be an overlay – not be a new bureaucracy–built on current agency personnel systems, such as the Foreign Service or the civilian and military human capital models.

Improvement: With state and local jurisdictions often initially handling response to disasters and with national security issues cutting across government agencies, a government that is “more competent and more efficient” is possible if people working in government cooperate and collaborate. To do so, NSP, trained and experienced in collaborating in a whole-of-government effort, should take comprehensive approaches and draw on the various expertises of people involved. The INSP system would recruit, train, and manage NSP, and the system would promote communication and collaboration between NSP. All those things together would improve national security.

Three times in his State of the Union speech, President Obama said: “We do big things.” Can that mindset be applied to national security? When an Integrated National Security Professional system is urgently necessary, realistic, and would improve government and national security, can we afford not to?

Cezar A. B. Lopez, a Law and Policy Analyst at CHHS, worked on The Power of People: Building an Integrated National Security Professional System for the 21st Century as a Research Analyst.

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