One of the most important and far-reaching of the numerous studies that have been prepared to inform and influence the incoming Obama Administration is the report of the Project on National Security Reform. We are pleased to present here its executive summary, with an introduction by one of its participants, American Diplomacy Board of Directors member Ambassador (ret.) Edward Marks. – Ed.
Forging a New Shield
The Project on National Security Reform (PNSR) is a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization working to modernize and improve the U.S. national security system to better protect the American people against twenty-first century dangers. Funded and supported by Congress, foundations, and corporations, PNSR is carrying out one of the most comprehensive studies of the U.S. national security system in American history.
The National Security Act of 1947, developed under President Truman, set up the current system in the aftermath of World War II. The State and Defense Departments, National Security Council, intelligence community, Homeland Security Department, and Homeland Security Council are central players in the current national security system. Other cabinet departments such as Energy, Treasury, and Commerce have more recently become important players in the national security system as well.
The world for which that national security system was designed no longer exists. Instead, the United States is confronted with a globalized, more unpredictable world with multidimensional threats. To provide for American security in this new world, the President and Congress require a more agile system.
Led by a 22-member Guiding Coalition that includes former senior federal officials with extensive national security experience, such as Ambassador (ret.) Thomas Pickering, the Project on National Security Reform has issued its report, Forging a New Shield, which recommends solutions to the problems that plague the current national security system.
Of particular interest is the recruitment of several members of the PNST Guiding Coalition into the Obama Administration, notably General (ret.) James L. Jones as the National Security Advisor and Admiral (ret.) Dennis Blair as the Director of National Intelligence.
Following is the executive summary of the PNSR report.
The Case for Action
The legacy structures and processes of a national security system that is now more than 60 years old no longer help American leaders to formulate coherent national strategy. They do not enable them to integrate America’s hard and soft power to achieve policy goals. They prevent them from matching resources to objectives, and from planning rationally and effectively for future contingencies. As presently constituted, too, these structures and processes lack means to detect and remedy their own deficiencies.
The United States therefore needs a bold but carefully crafted plan of comprehensive reform to institute a national security system that can manage and overcome the challenges of our time. We propose such a bold reform in this report; if implemented, it would constitute the most far-reaching governmental design innovation in national security since the passage of the National Security Act in 1947. However daunting the task, we believe that nothing less will reliably secure our country from clear and present danger. We are optimistic that American government can re-invent itself once more, as it has done many times in the past, not only for the sake of our national security, but for better and more effective government generally. No area of policy is more critical, however, than national security; if we fail to keep pace with the opportunities afforded by change as well as the challenges posed by an unpredictable world, we will ultimately be unable to preserve and strive to perfect our way of life at home.
Our optimism is buoyed by a widespread and growing consensus that we have reached a moment of decision. Not everyone, however, is yet convinced that a major reform of the U.S. national security system is necessary. Some skepticism is understandable. After all, despite its shortcomings the system did work well enough to achieve its principal aim of victory in the Cold War. Moreover, major reforms in other areas of government, such as for the intelligence community, have not always produced the benefits advertised for them. Besides, every presidential administration since that of Harry Truman has altered the system he inherited to some degree, presumably showing that the 1947 system is flexible enough as is. Hence, it is sometimes argued, all we need do is put the right leaders in the right places and they will overcome any organizational design deficiencies they encounter.
Notwithstanding these arguments, we believe the case for fundamental renewal is compelling. First of all, we face within the legacy national security system, as within all government organizations, the problems of bureaucratic aging. No large organization consisting of multiple parts is static. While the world is changing, and as its interactions pick up speed thanks to the spreading implications of the information revolution, most of the component parts of the U.S. national security system, still organized hierarchically around traditional organizational disciplines, grow more ponderous and reactive.
As important, the national security structures designed in 1947, and incrementally tweaked ever since, arose and evolved in response to a singular, unambiguous threat to the United States and its constitutional order that was expressed principally in military terms. The threats we face today are diffuse, ambiguous, and express themselves in a multitude of potential forms. Our concerns once flowed from the strength of determined opponents; now our concerns flow as often from the weaknesses of other states, which spawn adversaries we must strain even to detect before they strike. No mere tinkering can transform a national security organization designed, tested, and tempered to deal with a focused state-centric military threat into one that can deal with highly differentiated threats whose sources may be below and above as well as at the level of the state system. The gap between the challenges we face and our capacity to deal with them is thus widening from both ends.
The events of recent decades have validated the accuracy of this key observation. Upon close examination, the failure rate of the 1947 system was not small, but failure encompassed neither the majority of cases nor cases of supreme U.S. national security interest. But that is because most challenges to the United States during the Cold War fell into the paths of well-honed departmental competencies. What government organizations do routinely they tend to do tolerably well, and the core challenges we faced between 1947 and 1989 broke down in ways that the Department of Defense or the Department of State, aided by the intelligence community and very occasionally by other agencies of government, could handle on their own.
Many Cold War-era challenges, too, could be handled sequentially, with the Defense Department actively or tacitly shaping the strategic environment, and the State Department then negotiating and managing political outcomes based thereon. The contours of most major contingencies, from the Korean War to the Cuban missile crisis to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, also allowed Congressional oversight to operate effectively in structures parallel to those of the executive branch. But when a contingency required not the sequential but the simultaneous integration of military, diplomatic and other assets of American power, the outcome was often suboptimal, and occasionally, as with the Vietnam War, an acutely damaging one.
Clearly, the U.S. national security apparatus failed at many integrative challenges before the Vietnam War, and it failed at many such challenges after Vietnam. It is troubled still, as current dilemmas attest. After more than seven years, the U.S. government has proved unable to integrate adequately the military and nonmilitary dimensions of a complex war on terror, or to effectively integrate hard and soft power in Iraq. It has faced the same challenge in Afghanistan, where it has also had trouble integrating allied contributions into an effective strategy. And it has been unable so far to integrate properly the external and homeland dimensions of post-9/11 national security strategy, as the uneven performance of the federal government during and after Hurricane Katrina showed. It is facile to blame all these regrettable outcomes on particular leaders and their policy choices. Leadership and judgment matter, to be sure, but as this Report demonstrates, no leader, no matter how strategically farsighted and talented as a manager, could have handled these issues without being hampered by the weaknesses of the current system.
What has changed is not so much the capacity of the legacy system to manage complex contingencies that demand interagency coordination. What has changed is the frequency of significant challenges that bear such characteristics, and the possibility that they may be of paramount significance to American power, principle, and safety.
It is our unshakable conviction that the United States simply cannot afford the failure rate that the current national security system is not only prone but virtually guaranteed to cause. Not even astute leaders, if we are fortunate enough to merit them, will be able to overcome its increasingly dangerous shortcomings. Unless we redesign what we have inherited from more than 60 years ago, even the wisest men and women upon whom we come to depend are doomed to see their most solid policy understandings crumble into the dust of failure. It is our generation‘s responsibility, at this moment of peril and promise, to make sure that does not happen.
Major Assessments and Findings
A Changing World
It is clear, then, that most major challenges can no longer be met successfully by traditional Cold War approaches. We cannot prevent the failure of a state or mitigate the effects of climate change with conventional military forces or nuclear weapons. The national security challenges inherent in a widespread international financial contagion or a major pandemic do not lend themselves to resolution through the use of air power or special operations forces.
Diplomacy, too, now requires skill sets and operational capabilities that Foreign Service Officers during the Cold War would have considered both esoteric and marginal to their duties. The intelligence craft, as well, faces unfamiliar collection and analysis demands that far exceed the scope of issues and methods with which the intelligence community is comfortable.
Regrettably, the U.S. national security system is still organized to win the last challenge, not the ones that come increasingly before us. We have not kept up with the character and scope of change in the world despite the tectonic shift occasioned by the end of the Cold War and the shock of the 9/11 attacks. We have responded incrementally, not systematically; we have responded with haste driven by political imperatives, not with patience and perspicacity.
If we do not act boldly but deliberately now, as the term of the 44th President of the United States begins, to achieve comprehensive reform, the nation is bound to regret its lack of foresight. We will pay increased costs in human lives, financial resources, and global influence from crises that could have been averted and nasty surprises that need never have happened. Important opportunities to promote a more benign international environment will go unexploited, probably even unnoticed. The hope for a world of freedom and basic human decency that the United States has represented over the past two centuries for uncounted millions of people will dim.
A New Concept of National Security
It follows from these objectives that success in national security – genuine success over generations – depends on integrated planning and action, and on the sustained stewardship of the foundations of national power. Sound economic policy, energy security, robust physical and human infrastructures including our health and education systems, especially in the sciences and engineering, are no less important in the longer run than our weapons and our wealth. Genuine success also depends on the example the United States sets for the rest of the world through its actions at home and abroad.
Four fundamental principles follow from a more refined definition of national security and its key policy objectives.
Identifying the Problems
Taken together, the basic deficiency of the current national security system is that parochial departmental and agency interests, reinforced by Congress, paralyze interagency cooperation even as the variety, speed, and complexity of emerging security issues prevent the White House from effectively controlling the system. The White House bottleneck, in particular, prevents the system from reliably marshaling the needed but disparate skills and expertise from wherever they may be found in government, and from providing the resources to match the skills. That bottleneck, in short, makes it all but impossible to bring human and material assets together into a coherent operational ensemble. Moreover, because an excessively hierarchical national security system does not ‘know what it knows’ as a whole, it also cannot achieve the necessary unity of effort and command to exploit opportunities.
The resulting second- and third-tier operational deficiencies that emanate from these five basic problems are vast. As detailed in the report, among the most worrisome is an inability to formulate and implement a coherent strategy. Without that ability, we cannot do remotely realistic planning. The inevitable result is a system locked into a reactive posture and doomed to policy stagnation. Without a sound strategy and planning process, we wastefully duplicate efforts even as we allow dangerous gaps in coverage to form. These systemic shortcomings invariably generate frustration among senior leaders, often giving rise to ‘end runs’ and other informal attempts to produce desired results. Sometimes these end runs work as short-term fixes; other times, however, they produce debacles like the Iran-Contra fiasco.
A key part of the system’s planning deficit arises from the fact that it is designed to provide resources to build capabilities, not to execute missions. Since we do not budget by mission, no clear link exists between strategy and resources for interagency activities. As things stand, departments and agencies have little incentive to include funding for interagency purposes; they are virtually never rewarded for doing so. As a consequence, mission-essential capabilities that fall outside the core mandates of our departments and agencies are virtually never planned or trained for – a veritable formula for being taken unawares and unprepared.
This explains why departments and agencies, when faced with challenges that fall outside traditional departmental competencies, almost invariably produce ad hoc arrangements that prove suboptimal by almost every measure. Personnel are often deployed to missions for which they have little if any relevant training or experience. It also explains why in novel environments, like ‘nation-building’ missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, multiple U.S. departments and agencies have trouble cooperating effectively with each other; nothing has prepared them for so doing.
An overburdened White House also produces an array of less obvious collateral damage. As a rule, U.S. presidents have resorted to two means of reducing their burdens when the interagency process fails to produce adequate policy integration: designate a lead agency or a lead individual – a ‘czar.’ Neither means has worked well. Neither a lead organization nor a lead individual has the de jure or de facto authority to command independent departments and agencies. The lead agency approach thus usually means in practice a sole agency approach. Similarly, czars must rely on their proximity to the President and their powers of persuasion, which, if institutional stakes are high, can be downplayed if not entirely dismissed. The illusion that lead agency or lead individual fixes will work in turn tends to demobilize continuing efforts at creative thinking among senior officials, thus enlarging the prospect of ultimate mission failure.
White House centralization of interagency missions also risks creating an untenable span of control over policy implementation. By one count more than 29 agencies or special groups report directly to the President. Centralization also tends to burn out National Security Council staff, which impedes timely, disciplined, and integrated decision formulation and option assessment over time. Further, time invariably becomes too precious to be spent rigorously assessing performance, which essentially vitiates any chance for institutional learning and dooms the system to making the same mistakes over and over again.
Lastly in this regard, the time pressures that an overburdened White House faces almost guarantees an inability to do deliberate, careful strategy formulation, thus completing the circle that ensures the system’s inability to break out of its own dysfunctional pattern. When there are fires to put out every day, there is little opportunity to see and evaluate the bigger picture. Too short-term a focus also blinds leaders to the need to attend to system management and design issues. This significantly compounds the system’s inability to learn and adapt.
The results are cumulatively calamitous. Without a realistic and creative national security strategy, no one can say what policy balances and tradeoffs are needed. No one can devise a rational investment strategy. No one can devise appropriate human resources and education programs to assure an effective system for the future, or recognize the critical importance of generating a supportive common culture among national security professionals.
Ossified and unable to adapt, our national security system today can reliably handle only those challenges that fall within the relatively narrow realm of its experience in a world in which the set-piece challenges of the past are shrinking in frequency and importance. We are living off the depleted intellectual and organizational capital of a bygone era, and we are doing so in a world in which the boundaries between global dynamics and what we still quaintly call domestic consequences are blurred almost beyond recognition. We thus risk a policy failure rate of such scope that our constitutional order cannot confidently be assured.
Predicates and Goals for Effective Reform
Acknowledging these predicates of effective reform requires that a new national security system identify critical functions that must be integrated into a genuinely strategic approach. It must set key goals and link them to discrete critical outcomes. This is the only way that the costs and pain of a redesign transition can be worth the effort.
Acutely mindful of these costs, and mindful that wrongheaded reform efforts can do net harm, the report focuses on four key goals as the basis for its recommendations. To achieve desired goals and to achieve them efficiently, the national security system must:
Some of our recommendations require Congressional action to be implemented while some can be implemented by Executive Order, and others at the Cabinet level by Secretarial order, as specified in the report. The following summary sketches only the highlights of our integrated proposal for the redesign of the U.S. national security system. We wish particularly to emphasize the proposal’s integrated nature, which only careful study of the report itself can fully reveal. While some of our recommendations may require fine-tuning during implementation, we caution against an à la carte approach to reform. We have ample recent experience with half-measures and lowest-common-denominator political compromises. Though they may seem pragmatic at first blush, they only delay the emergence of problems or shift them from one place to another; ultimately, they don‘t work.
To broaden the conceptual scope of national security to align with twenty-first-century realities, we recommend the establishment of a President‘s Security Council (PSC) that would replace the National Security Council and Homeland Security Council. International economic and energy policy would be handled by the PSC as well, fully integrated into U.S. political and security strategies that focus not on departmental strengths and goals but on national missions and outcomes.
To more effectively integrate the national security policy of the United States, we recommend the statutory creation of a director for national security (DNS) within the Executive Office of the President. The director would be responsible for tasks encompassing the high-level operation of the national security system (specified in detail in the report) that go beyond those of the present assistant to the president for national security affairs.
To establish a coherent framework for the national security system, we recommend the issuance of an Executive Order, supplemented as necessary by presidential directives, to define the national security system, establish presidential expectations for it, and establish norms for its fundamental functions that are likely to transcend administrations.
We recommend that Congress prescribe in statute the national security roles of each executive branch department and agency, including non-traditional components of the national security system; and that nontraditional components should create the position of assistant for national security to clarify and facilitate the coordination of the department‘s new national security mission within the national security system.
To improve the international relations of the United States, we recommend transforming the Department of State by consolidating within it all functions now assigned to other departments and agencies that fall within the core competencies of the Department of State.
We recommend the statutory creation of a Homeland Security Collaboration Committee to provide a venue for the collaboration of state and local government authorities, the private sector, and nongovernmental organizations with the federal government; and of a Business Emergency Management Assistance Compact to facilitate private sector and nongovernmental assistance in emergency management.
To improve strategic planning and system management, we recommend instituting a National Security Review to be performed at the beginning of each presidential term, as directed by the new President‘s Security Council. The review should prioritize objectives, establish risk management criteria, specify roles and responsibilities for priority missions, assess required capabilities, and identify capability gaps.
We recommend the preparation of the National Security Planning Guidance, to be issued annually by the President to all national security departments and agencies, in order to provide guidance to departments and agencies based on the results of the National Security Review. The President should further direct that departmental and agency planning conform to this guidance.
To enhance the management of the national security system, we recommend that an executive secretary of the President’s Security Council be empowered by statute, as detailed in the report, to support overall system management. The executive secretary would report to the director for national security.
To enhance the performance and oversight of the national security system, we recommend the creation of an official, reporting to the director for national security, to analyze interagency operations, including real-time assessments of overall system performance and system components’ performance.
We recommend that the President selectively shift management of issues away from the President’s Security Council staff (and supporting interagency committees) to new empowered Interagency Teams. These teams would be composed of full-time personnel, would be properly resourced and of flexible duration, and be able to implement a whole-of-government approach to those issues beyond the coping capacities of the existing system. The characteristics, authorities, and chains of command for interagency teams, and how Interagency Teams would coordinate their activities with existing departmental and agency functions, are defined and detailed in the report.
To enhance crisis management, we recommend that the President create Interagency Crisis Task Forces to handle crises that exceed the capacities of both existing departmental capabilities and new Interagency Teams.
We recommend that the Secretary of Homeland Security develop a National Operational Framework that specifies operational integration among the private sector and all levels of government for the full range of homeland security activities, including prevention and protection as well as response and recovery.
To more effectively resource national security missions, we recommend that national security departments and agencies be required to prepare six-year budget projections derived from the National Security Planning Guidance. The PSC staff should then lead a joint PSC-Office of Management and Budget (OMB) review of the six-year resource plan of each national security department and agency to assess consistency with the National Security Planning Guidance. Based on that review, OMB should issue guidance for each department’s and agency’s six-year program in a National Security Resource Document which presents the President’s integrated, rolling six-year national security resource strategy proposal to Congress.
We recommend the creation of an integrated national security budget to provide the President and the Congress a government-wide understanding of activities, priorities, and resource allocation, and to identify redundancies and deficiencies in the resourcing of national security missions. This budget display should be submitted to Congress with agency budgets and be accompanied by justification material that reflects how the budget aligns with the objectives outlined in the National Security Review and National Security Planning Guidance.
We recommend the creation of a National Security Professional Corps (NSPC) in order to create a cadre of national security professionals specifically trained for interagency assignments. As detailed in the report, NSPC personnel slots must be explicitly defined, and NSPC cadre must be accorded proper incentives and career-long training opportunities to be effective.
To create a personnel ‘float’ that will enable critical interagency training and ongoing professional education, we recommend increasing civilian personnel authorizations and appropriations in annual increments to be phased in over five years and based upon a manpower analysis; we further recommend using the National Security Education Consortium, established by Executive Order 13434, for that purpose.
We recommend the development of a National Security Strategic Human Capital Plan, as detailed in the report, to identify and secure the human capital capabilities necessary to achieve national security objectives. To advise the PSC executive secretary on national security human capital, we recommend further the creation of a Human Capital Advisory Board consisting of public and private experts.
We also recommend establishing the expectation that, within an administration, each presidential appointee – unless disabled, experiencing a hardship, requested to resign by the President, or appointed to another government position – would serve until the President has appointed his or her successor.
We recommend the creation of a chief knowledge officer in the PSC Executive Secretariat to enhance decision support to the President and his advisers, and to ensure that the national security system as a whole can develop, store, retrieve, and share knowledge.
To enhance information management, we recommend the creation of a chief knowledge officer in each national security department and agency, as well as the creation of a Federal Chief Knowledge Officer Council.
To enable cross-departmental information sharing, we recommend the creation and development of a collaborative information architecture. Parallel with the construction of this information architecture, the PSC Executive Secretariat must develop overarching business rules for interdepartmental communications and data access in order to eliminate bureaucratic barriers presently hindering the flow of knowledge and information.
To streamline particular security functions, we strongly recommend the establishment of a single security classification and access regime for the entire national security system, and, pursuant to statute, security clearance procedures and approval should be consolidated across the entire national security system.
To improve the overall functioning of the national security system, we recommend establishing Select Committees on National Security in the Senate and House of Representatives and assigning each committee jurisdiction over all interagency operations and activities, commands, other organizations, and embassies; funding; personnel policies; education and training; and nominees for any Senate-confirmed interagency positions that may be established (except for those pertaining to internal matters of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and its components). These select committees should also be assigned jurisdiction for a new national security act.
To empower the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee to formulate and enact annual authorization bills, we recommend that new House and Senate rules be adopted. This will require, inter alia, amending section 302(a) of the Congressional Budget Act to provide that the Senate and House Budget Committees recommend allocations for all national security budget function components; reenacting the firewalls that prevented floor amendments transferring funds from international or defense programs to domestic programs that exceed caps on discretionary spending; and requiring a supermajority in the House to waive the current rule requiring passage of authorizing legislation prior to consideration of appropriations bills for defense and foreign policy.
To facilitate prompt consideration of senior national security officials, we recommend that each nomination for the 10 most senior positions in a national security department or agency should be placed on the executive calendar of the Senate, with or without a committee recommendation, after no more than 30 days of legislative session; and we recommend the abolition of the practice of honoring a hold by one or more Senators on a nominee for a national security position.
We recommend the comprehensive revision of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 by the end of the 111th Congress (December 2010) in order to restore and advance the integrity of the U.S. foreign assistance program.
To optimize the oversight of homeland security activities, we recommend consolidating oversight of the Department of Homeland Security to one authorizing committee and one appropriations subcommittee per chamber.
This summary of Forging a New Shield’s recommendations illustrates in brief the scope of our proposal for the redesign of the U.S. national security system. While our vision remains firmly faithful to and deeply rooted in our Constitutional framework, it is nonetheless a bold plan for reform. Indeed, we firmly believe that, if implemented, our vision for renewal will evoke the very best in the balanced system our Founders conceived.
The Founders created a system of strong presidential government because they understood that leadership is the sine qua non of an effective and sustainable political order. But they embedded their design for strong leadership in a framework of law that insures democratic accountability to the people, in whom American sovereignty ultimately rests. It has been our purpose in this report to maximize both the potential for wise leadership and the safeguards of democratic accountability, for only by balancing these two imperatives will America be able to match its power to its principles for the benefit of our own citizens and those of the world.