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A Time for Action 

The Case for Interagency Deliberate Planning 

Sami Said, Colonel, ANG 
Cameron G. Holt, Lieutenant Colonel, USAF 


The debate over interagency reform has been raging for many years, 
and the emerging consensus is increasingly clear. Current US national 
security execution mechanisms, conceived and resourced for a Cold War 
security environment, now exhibit a systemic inability to achieve national 
strategic objectives in the dynamic post-Cold War era. Although various 
diagnoses and prescriptions abound in a growing body of literature, they 
collectively describe a failure of the interagency to effectively integrate 
and employ America’s considerable advantages in each of the military, 
economic, diplomatic, and informational instruments of national power. 
Now, nearly two decades since the implosion of a coalescing Soviet threat, 
these systemic weaknesses can no longer be explained away by differences 
in the stated strategies or leadership styles of three US presidents. Now, as 
the United States prepares to elect its fourth president and 20th Congress 
since the fall of the Berlin Wall, it can no longer afford to allow political, 
cultural, or structural barriers to prevent progress toward systemic reform. 
Now—as the opportunities narrow to influence a globalizing world to¬ 
ward peace, prosperity, and the rule of law—is a time for action. 

This policy analysis proposes the statutory establishment of interagency 
deliberate planning as a necessary and practical first step to mature inter¬ 
agency execution. The primary purpose of this initial step is to evolve 
national-security-related operations from mere coordination of individual 


Col Sami Said is currently serving as chief, Strategic Partnerships Division, Chief of Staff USAF Strate¬ 
gic Studies Group-Checkmate, HQ US Air Force. He coauthored this paper while attending the National 
Security Program at Harvard University as an Air Force Fellow. Colonel Said is a command pilot with more 
than 2,200 hours in the F-15 and F-16 and is an outstanding graduate of the USAF Weapons School. 

Lt Col Cameron G. Holt is currently assigned to the Capabilities Acquisition Division of the Joint Staff 
at the Pentagon. He is a command acquisition officer with over 17 years’ experience supporting worldwide 
contingencies, base operations, and major weapon system acquisition. Colonel Holt resides in Burke, 
Virginia, with his wife and four children. 


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Strategic Studies Quarterly ♦ Fall 2008 



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A Time for Action 


agency efforts to an objectives-oriented synchronization, integration, and 
interdependence of combined interagency operations. The secondary pur¬ 
pose of interagency deliberate planning is to identify specific capability 
gaps and overlaps that may then be resourced appropriately over time 
within an integrated and prioritized national security budget. The article 
presents this proposal by leveraging the extensive body of national security 
reform literature to characterize both the problem and the major categories 
of options already proposed. The article then draws a parallel between the 
unity of effort challenges now faced at the interagency level with those suc¬ 
cessfully addressed on a smaller scale among the military services through 
reforms in the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization 
Act of 1986. Through this historical parallel, the authors highlight the por¬ 
tions of the Goldwater-Nichols Act reforms that established clear strategy- 
to-task links between ends, ways, and means as the most prescient missing 
ingredients now required to achieve interagency unity of effort. Finally, the 
article establishes a rationale and action plan for implementing interagency 
deliberate planning in a manner that is responsive to the systemic prob¬ 
lems identified and overcomes the barriers that have frustrated significant 
national security reform in the recent past. 

The Debate over Interagency Reform 

The Cold War presented a complex long-term challenge for national 
security practitioners who manage the US instruments of power: military, 
diplomatic, economic, and informational. Ffowever, the well-defined and 
pervasive threat of Soviet expansion also served as a coalescing force that 
enabled interagency unity of effort without systemic process controls. The 
post-Cold War environment presents US national security practitioners 
with an equally complex yet far more dynamic security landscape that 
lacks a predominant coalescing threat. This major shift in geopolitics and 
the vacuum of influence left by the abrupt departure of a second super¬ 
power now require effective process controls to prioritize US national 
security objectives and to plan and execute coherent interagency strategies 
to counter threats and shape the future. Two foundational questions 
underpinning the current debate over interagency reform are (1) Why is 
the existing system no longer sufficient to generate unity of effort? and (2) 
Is legislation required to achieve real reform? 


Strategic Studies Quarterly ♦ Fall 2008 


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Sami Said and Cameron G. Holt 


The National Security Act of 1947 

Why do the interagency reforms in the National Security Act of 1947, 
that presumably enabled sufficient unity of effort during the Cold War, 
now appear insufficient as the US faces another long-term challenge to 
security? Clearly whatever the failures of the 1947 legislation to achieve its 
stated intent to generate integration at the highest levels of government, 
the benefits certainly outweighed the shortcomings throughout the Cold 
War competition between the United States and the Soviet Union. The 
National Security Council (NSC) system was broad enough to incorporate 
the equities of all national security departments and agencies yet flexible 
enough to adapt to the needs and styles of different presidents. Perhaps the 
answer lies in the classic security dilemma posed by the Cold War environ¬ 
ment. The necessary yet overriding emphasis on global military deterrence 
and the resulting alignment of resources may well have masked a lack of 
sufficient depth in the statutory reforms to the interagency process. 

This lack of depth in the 1947 interagency reforms only became ap¬ 
parent in the post-Cold War environment. The crafters of the National 
Security Act of 1947 envisioned that the coordination mechanisms es¬ 
tablished by the law would lead to “integrated policies and procedures.” 
It is now clear that did not happen. The last two decades are replete 
with well-documented examples of interagency planning and execution 
shortcomings. The ends articulated by US national security strategy in 
the 1990s shifted almost immediately to emphasize the growing im¬ 
portance of the nonmilitary instruments of national power. Interagency 
planning and execution mechanisms in the NSC system as conceived in 
1947, however, were insufficient to link those ends with interagency ways 
and means through integrated plans and budgets. Persistent disparities in 
personnel systems, planning and budgeting processes, cultural norms, 
and operational capabilities as well as a lack of clear authorities have 
conspired to make interagency unity of effort difficult to achieve. In 
addition, the “clean slate” flexibility of the National Security Council’s 
structure, responsibilities, and authorities from president to president 
have made lasting links between ends, ways, and means unsustainable 
without further statutory reform. The NSCs of Presidents Bill Clinton 
and George W. Bush each recognized the need for reforms in inter¬ 
agency planning and execution but considered congressional interference 
unnecessary. 


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Strategic Studies Quarterly ♦ Fall 2008 


A Time for Action 


Is Statutory Reform Necessary? 

The National Security Councils of Presidents Clinton and Bush each 
attempted to reform interagency planning and execution from within by 
presidential directive. In 1997 President Clinton issued Presidential Deci¬ 
sion Document (PDD)-56 aimed at reorganizing the NSC structure to 
better deal with complex contingencies such as Haiti and Somalia. At the 
time, the initiatives of PDD-56 were seen as a step in the right direction 
toward improving the interagency process. However credible and well- 
intentioned, PDD-56 could not break through disparities across agen¬ 
cies to improve the process of translating national security objectives to 
well-coordinated and interdependent tasks across the US government. As 
such, the initiatives of PDD-56 failed to achieve the intended improve¬ 
ments during the Clinton administration, and the directive was eventually 
superseded by a whole new structure once the Bush administration was 
sworn into office. 

President Bush’s first national security presidential directive reor¬ 
ganized the interagency coordination mechanisms inherited from the 
Clinton White House. The event-oriented interagency working groups 
established by PDD-56 were disbanded and replaced by regional and 
functional policy coordination committees. This new structure was well 
organized and offered important advantages in responding to global and 
regional national security issues. The US Commission on National Secu¬ 
rity for the 21st Century report, however, still concluded in 2000 that a 
major weakness of interagency national security planning persists. This 
weakness is the lack of attention paid to long-term planning. 1 Like the 
Clinton NSC initiative that preceded it, the Bush NSC’s efforts to im¬ 
prove the performance of the 1947 National Security Council system 
failed to produce an interagency planning and execution system that 
drives unity of effort. This repeated inability to reform the system by 
presidential directive seems to be a strong indication that some form of 
statutory change is necessary. 

Even so, national security experts such as John Deutch, Arnold Kanter, 
and Brent Scowcroft have repeatedly cautioned against dramatic statutory 
overhauls. They caution against a “wholesale overhaul” of the system yet 
acknowledge significant defects in the US national security structure and 
interagency process. Instead, they recommend delineating clear lines of re¬ 
sponsibility in the interagency process, giving the NSC greater authority for 


Strategic Studies Quarterly ♦ Fall 2008 


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Sami Said and Cameron G. Holt 


coordination of interagency programs and more efficiently aligning policy 
instruments to primary national security threats and objectives. 2 

Where We Are Today 

Two key ingredients necessary to achieve unity of effort are unity of 
command and clear strategy-to-task links between ends, ways, and means. 
Some experts argue that unity of command is simply unachievable within 
the US system of checks and balances. The president, however, clearly 
enjoys considerable authorities, both express and implied, over national 
security issues. Article II of the US Constitution expressly designates the 
president as both the commander in chief of the armed forces and the 
chief diplomat of the United States. The president has also historically 
been afforded considerable latitude over economic and trade issues, par¬ 
ticularly when connected to matters of national security. It is not at all 
clear that a president’s unity of command over the instruments of national 
power is necessarily nullified, or even seriously impeded, by the express 
or implied authorities granted to either the Congress or the judiciary. 
Congress’ unsuccessful attempt to force a reversal of unpopular national 
security policy in Iraq using its express “power of the purse” is just one 
recent example of how much practical latitude the president is afforded. It 
is much more likely that systemic unity of command deficiencies affecting 
the interagency process stem from the lack of clear statutory accountability 
between the president and the interagency processes at various levels within 
the NSC system. The customary practice of delegating presidential power 
by designating a “lead agency” to preside over various national security 
policy committees, for example, dilutes unity of command and subjects 
key interagency planning and execution questions to the potential for 
bureaucratic power plays between agencies. Once a clear connection is 
made to the president’s existing constitutional authorities, however, it is 
unlikely that further statutory reform would be necessary to empower the 
president with effective unity of command over interagency planning and 
execution for national security. 

Establishing clear strategy-to-task links between ends, ways, and means 
is a much more urgent and vexing problem that must be addressed to 
achieve a sustainable unity of effort. This idea is neither novel nor un¬ 
tested. It is, however, lost in a cacophony of prescriptions large and small. 
The current administration has undertaken a number of well-intentioned 
efforts attempting to address a variety of specific issues. The Department 


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Strategic Studies Quarterly ♦ Fall 2008 


A Time for Action 


of State’s (DoS) new office to coordinate stability and reconstruction 
efforts, a new Civilian Reserve Corps, the National Counterterrorism 
Center, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and enhanced budget 
support for the secretary of state’s “Transformational Diplomacy” initia¬ 
tives are all examples of this. What has yet to be addressed, however, are 
the systemic and sustainable improvements to the process of translating 
national security strategy objectives to specific interagency roles, missions, 
and operations that can effectively integrate the instruments of national 
power and align national resources accordingly. 

Emerging Schools of Thought: Ad Hoc Initiatives and 
Comprehensive Reform 

Proposed reform solutions generally fall into two broad schools of 
thought: ad hoc initiatives and comprehensive government-wide reform. 
Numerous ad hoc initiatives proposed in recent years have merit but tend 
to be narrow in scope and largely reactive to negative trends in world 
events or shifts in public opinion. They often provide piecemeal correc¬ 
tive actions that, while they may be well-founded, address the results of 
interagency planning and execution breakdowns and not the underlying 
causes. In contrast, proposals for comprehensive reform contain a broad 
range of systemic reforms intended to address several perceived problems 
identified within the military and the broader national security com¬ 
munity. While they typically consist of credible recommendations from 
top experts, they seem to ignore some practical barriers that make their 
wholesale implementation extremely unlikely without some extraordinary 
forcing function. Nevertheless, the compelling arguments made by these 
comprehensive reform proposals for replacing the National Security Act 
of 1947 leave little doubt that extensive reform is already overdue. 

So why, in the aftermath of multiple well-documented interagency plan¬ 
ning and execution failures, have comprehensive reforms not been enacted 
or even seriously debated? Whatever the answer may be, a new national 
security act is not a priority for the last year of the Bush administration, 
and it is unlikely to be a priority in the first year of the next administra¬ 
tion. What can be learned from the ad hoc initiatives and comprehensive 
reform schools of thought to achieve the right balance? Examples from 
each school of thought will be analyzed further within the context of both 
the systemic problems that must be addressed and the barriers that have 
prevented reform in the recent past. 


Strategic Studies Quarterly ♦ Fall 2008 


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Sami Said and Cameron G. Holt 


A Time for Action: Incremental Systemic Reform 

With the country heavily invested in a long war with many fronts and 
America’s century-long reputation for overcoming great challenges in the 
balance, now is clearly a time for action. Systemic statutory reform is long 
overdue, but a comprehensive national security act of 2010 is unlikely. The 
national security system needs practical yet statutory solutions to systemic 
problems; incremental steps within a larger framework of comprehensive 
reform over time. 

The Department of Defense’s (DoD) Joint Operations Planning and 
Execution System model of translating national security objectives down 
to specific fielded military capabilities and tasks is effectively accomplished 
through a deliberate planning process. Adapting this proven model to the 
interagency level would integrate and align the instruments of national 
power toward accomplishing US strategic objectives and would establish 
clear strategy-to-task links between ends, ways, and means. As President 
Eisenhower once observed, the process of planning is infinitely more 
important than the actual plans produced. However, the existence of 
specific interagency plans intended to achieve clearly established objec¬ 
tives in time would provide important information on capability gaps and 
overlaps that must be addressed across the interagency. 

These identified shortfalls may require significant time, effort, resources, 
and maybe even subsequent legislation to overcome. Within the DoD, these 
capability gaps and overlaps inform the budgeting process that results in the 
six-year Future Years Defense Plan submitted to Congress every two years 
as a part of the president’s budget submission. Although this DoD process 
is not immune to problems and politics, it does present a much more in¬ 
formed forecast of what is needed over time to achieve the military portions 
of the national security strategy. It also provides a much more transparent 
and rational baseline for Congress to exercise its appropriate oversight 
function on behalf of the American people. By contrast, the nonmilitary 
national security departments and agencies are only able to submit a budget 
one year at time with little or no connection to the objectives of national 
security strategy. 

Effect of the Goldwater-Nichols Act on Enabling Unity of Effort 

The coordination, unity of effort, and interoperability challenges now 
facing the interagency level of the US government are strikingly similar to 
those tackled with remarkable success by the military over the last 30-40 


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Strategic Studies Quarterly ♦ Fall 2008 


A Time for Action 


years. Prior to the defense reforms enacted by the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols 
Act, achieving unity of effort from the considerable air, land, and sea war¬ 
fare capabilities of the military services was roughly analogous to a profes¬ 
sional football team approaching the line of scrimmage after three sepa¬ 
rate huddles for the runners, passers, and blockers. There were, of course, 
credible ad hoc attempts to implement reform from within the DoD after 
the lessons of Vietnam. However, the failed hostage rescue attempt in Iran, 
the barracks bombing incident in Beirut, and the “patchwork” invasion of 
Grenada galvanized support for comprehensive statutory reform. According 
to James Locher III, a former Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) 
staffer, current director of the Project on National Security Reform, and a 
central figure in the buildup to passage of Goldwater-Nichols, the powerful 
service chiefs bitterly opposed statutory reform and jealously guarded ser¬ 
vice equities in operations planning and execution. 3 In a 1983 hearing be¬ 
fore the SASC, former secretary of defense James Schlesinger characterized 
the intransigent and competitive service cultures resisting reform: “In all of 
our military institutions, the time-honored principle of‘unity of command’ 
is inculcated. Yet at the national level it is firmly resisted and flagrantly 
violated. Unity of command is endorsed only if it applies at the service 
level. The inevitable consequence is both the duplication of effort and the 
ultimate ambiguity of command.” 4 

Despite this initial resistance, Goldwater-Nichols reforms have been re¬ 
markably successful over time at maturing unity of effort between air, land, 
and sea power from simple coordination to synchronization, integration, 
and more recently, true interdependence. The extensive reforms spanned 
eight explicit objectives. In essence, however, the Goldwater-Nichols Act 
enabled unity of effort by: 

1. Simplifying and reinforcing unity of command; and, 

2. Assigning statutory responsibilities that, taken together, greatly 
enhance the strategy-to-task links between US National Security 
Strategy (ends), joint strategic and operational planning and execu¬ 
tion (ways), and defense-wide requirements, programs, and budget 
(means). 

The Goldwater-Nichols Act simplified and reinforced unity of command 
by, in effect, removing the service chiefs from the operational chain of com¬ 
mand and reducing their direct access to the president and secretary of de¬ 
fense. The chain of command for joint operations was simplified to flow 


Strategic Studies Quarterly ♦ Fall 2008 


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Sami Said and Cameron G. Holt 


from the president and secretary of defense directly to the applicable joint 
force combatant commander. In addition, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs 
of Staff (CJCS) became the sole and independent (no longer elected by the 
joint chiefs) military advisor to the president, the NSC, and the secretary of 
defense. The geographic and functional combatant commanders were also 
designated authorities commensurate with their responsibilities to carry out 
assigned missions and operations. The role of the service chiefs was thereby 
refocused on organizing, training, and equipping forces to be presented to 
combatant commanders in support of worldwide contingencies. This gave 
the war-fighting combatant commander unambiguous operational control 
over all assigned and attached air, land, and sea forces. Given the ambi¬ 
guities of authority and command present before Goldwater-Nichols, this 
newly clarified unity of command was indeed essential, but not sufficient, 
to enable true unity of effort. 

Fortunately the Goldwater-Nichols Act also established statutory respon¬ 
sibilities that enhance the strategy-to-task links between US National Secu¬ 
rity Strategy (ends), joint strategic and operational planning and execution 
(ways), and defense-wide requirements, programs, and budget (means). 
Perhaps the most important of these responsibilities was for the presi¬ 
dent to prepare and submit a formal report on national security strategy. 
The President’s National Security Strategy (NSS) became the cornerstone of 
joint strategic and operational planning for the use of the military instru¬ 
ment of power. The Goldwater-Nichols Act charged the CJCS with formal 
oversight responsibilities for strategic direction; strategic planning; con¬ 
tingency planning and preparedness; advice on requirements, programs 
and budget; and joint doctrine, training, and education. As part of these 
responsibilities, the chairman was required to prepare fiscally constrained 
strategic plans. This statutory requirement resulted in the Chairmans Na¬ 
tional Military Strategy (NMS ). The NMS was subsequently codified with 
a biennial review requirement by the National Defense Authorization Act 
of 2004 and outlined the chairman’s vision to provide military capabilities 
necessitated by the NSS. 5 The act also required the secretary of defense 
to provide written contingency planning guidance to the CJCS contain¬ 
ing planning priorities and baseline political assumptions. 6 The secretary’s 
guidance was then passed down to the combatant commanders and service 
chiefs by the CJCS in a classified Joint Strategic Capabilities Plan along 
with the specific apportionment of forces to be considered available to the 
combatant commanders as they develop specific contingency plans. 


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Strategic Studies Quarterly ♦ Fall 2008 


A Time for Action 


The Goldwater-Nichols Act emphasis on unity of command over joint 
forces and establishment of a clear connection between strategic ends, 
ways, and means enabled the unity of effort that was clearly missing since 
before the Vietnam War. These reforms, at least in part, translated into 
unprecedented dominance of US combat forces in Panama, the Persian 
Gulf, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq. 7 Although many challenges 
and imperfections persist in the planning and execution of joint military 
operations, it is difficult to ignore the increased effectiveness of America’s 
combined air, land, and sea power when they approach the proverbial line 
of scrimmage from the same huddle. As this proven process is adapted for 
use at the interagency level, it is important to consider key benefits and 
potential liabilities. 

Key Benefits and Potential Liabilities of 
Deliberate Planning 

Implementing deliberate planning has some key benefits as well as po¬ 
tential liabilities that officials in the next administration should consider 
as the military process described above is adapted at the interagency level. 
To take full advantage of the benefits and avoid potential liabilities, inter¬ 
agency planning should not seek to replace functional planning activities 
within departments and agencies. Rather, the interagency planning process 
should be used to mobilize and integrate the specific capabilities of those 
departments and agencies to enhance their collective ability to achieve the 
objectives of national security strategy. Simply assigning a lead depart¬ 
ment or agency to address strategic policy objectives with no connection 
to specific interagency plans and resources to accomplish them is no longer 
sufficient. The key benefits of interagency deliberate planning include clear 
strategy-to-task links, integrated capabilities and competencies, early iden¬ 
tification of risks and shortfalls, enhanced resource allocation, and eased 
transition to crisis action planning. Potential liabilities include time and 
resource intensity, perceived or actual inflexibility, political sensitivities, and 
cultural resistance. 

Key Benefits at the Interagency Level 

Clear strategy-to-task links. Strong strategy-to-task links impose disci¬ 
pline in both the implementation of national security strategy and, ironically, 
the strategy-making process itself. These links ensure that the many decentral- 


Strategic Studies Quarterly ♦ Fall 2008 


[ 39 ] 


Sami Said and Cameron G. Holt 


ized tasks from all contributing efforts have a clear link back to the intended 
outcomes. They also force important practical considerations such as priori¬ 
tization, task description and resource allocation, timing and tempo, and the 
evaluation of counteractions, branches, and sequels. A methodical approach 
to establishing clear strategy-to-task links is the first and best defense against 
unintended results and also serves to expose unrealistic or unattainable strate¬ 
gic objectives. 

For example, the national security strategy has for many years included 
the objective of supporting the establishment of modern democratic gov¬ 
ernments. Depending upon how such an objective is operationalized, an 
interagency deliberate planning process would quickly reveal significant 
limitations in achieving that end state in certain regions within the means 
available to apply toward that objective. This, in turn, might drive a re¬ 
statement of the objective itself or it could bring more restraint to admin¬ 
istration rhetoric concerning that objective to manage expectations. 

At the interagency level, it is likely that any given operation plan, 
whether it is shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East, counterproliferation in 
Central Asia, or disaster relief in East Asia, would include an overarching 
plan with supporting plans from multiple agencies. Even so, it is essential 
that all tasks in both the supported and supporting plans have a clear con¬ 
nection with a carefully documented end state approved by the president. 

Integrated capabilities and competencies. If the progression of the 
military services from simultaneous operations toward true joint opera¬ 
tions in the wake of the Goldwater-Nichols reforms is any indication, the 
interagency whole could also one day be greater than the sum of its parts. 
As interagency deliberate planning matures, it would begin to drive syner¬ 
gies among mutually supportive instruments of national power and greatly 
enhance America’s ability to shape and respond effectively to world events. 
None of the objectives found in the 2006 National Security Strategy can 
be achieved through the efforts of a single department or agency. There is 
perhaps no greater example of this than Operation Iraqi Freedom. 

At the outset Operation Iraqi Freedom was, practically speaking, almost 
entirely a DoD task. Despite perhaps the most impressive invasion and occu¬ 
pation in military history, the military alone could not achieve the desired 
end state. Would Iraqi Freedom have been more effective or efficient if 
the joint operation plan were a supporting plan to a broader interagency 
plan to achieve the desired end state? That interagency plan may have been 
better still if it contemplated the potential to employ a variety of private as 


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Strategic Studies Quarterly ♦ Fall 2008 


A Time for Action 


well as public sector capabilities in addition to robust military security and 
stabilization operations. An effects-based interagency plan may well have 
integrated capabilities such as 

• Multilateral economic aid, development, and humanitarian assistance, 

• Targeted nongovernmental organization and intergovernmental 
organization support, 

• Regional and sectarian diplomatic engagement, 

• Omnibus support contracts requiring the employment of Iraqi nationals, 
and 

• Targeted tax incentives for US corporate direct investment in Iraq. 

It is impossible to know for sure if an interagency deliberate planning 
process would have achieved a superior result. What is certain, however, is 
that it would have forced planners to carefully consider how all the instru¬ 
ments of national power might be integrated and applied as necessary to 
achieve the desired end state. This process would have undoubtedly raised 
questions that were never addressed. 

Early identification of risks and shortfalls. During the course-of- 
action development and analysis process, there are certain risks and 
shortfalls identified that either can or cannot be overcome or mitigated. 
Understanding these risks and shortfalls, both within individual plans 
and across interagency capabilities and competencies, before crisis situa¬ 
tions develop can be an important advantage. Early analysis of risks and 
shortfalls empowers policy makers to make choices about whether to 
accept those risks as limiting factors, take alternative actions that avoid 
those risks, or acquire capabilities or competencies over time to remove 
those risks for the future. 

One potential source of risk in interagency operations, for example, 
is that the NSC, the DoD, and the DoS do not have commonly defined 
geographical regions of the world. The combatant commanders have re¬ 
gional control while ambassadors under State almost exclusively repre¬ 
sent the United States on a country-by-country basis. These differences 
could introduce risk by confusing authorities and coordination channels 
between the White House, the president’s diplomatic representatives, and 
regional combatant commanders. Early identification of such risks and 
their potential impact upon desired end states gives the president the ability 
to address those risks as appropriate. 


Strategic Studies Quarterly ♦ Fall 2008 


[ 41 ] 


Sami Said and Cameron G. Holt 


Enhanced resource allocation. Interagency deliberate planning would 
undoubtedly reveal capability gaps and overlaps within and between de¬ 
partments and agencies that must be addressed in future years’ budgets. 
These investments and divestitures would, over time, ensure the best use 
of resources to achieve national strategic objectives. In addition, they 
would serve to build critical capabilities and competencies based upon 
well-understood shortfalls identified during the planning process. In the 
absence of this longer term perspective, neglected capabilities simply can¬ 
not be corrected by planning budgets one year at a time or even by simply 
doubling or tripling the budgets in one year for organizations that seem to 
be under resourced or are failing to achieve required results. 

Eased transition to crisis action planning. The current NSC system 
already provides a tremendous crisis action response capacity to prepare 
coordinated options for presidential action. The existence of a robust de¬ 
liberate planning process, however, provides for a much smoother transi¬ 
tion into developing complete and executable interagency crisis response 
options. Although it is unlikely that a specific contingency plan would be 
executed without significant adaptation to the instant crisis, many of the 
execution details may still be valid, and the reasons why certain courses of 
action were either rejected or supported after significant analysis can be 
critical information to support better presidential decision making. 

Potential Liabilities at the Interagency Level 

Time and resource intensity. Deliberate planning is hard work. It 
takes dedicated participation from all planning stakeholders as part of a 
continuous cycle of developing and updating plans. Planning generally 
continues even during execution of a given plan in reaction to changing 
conditions. This presents a problem at the interagency level of how much 
actual planning can be credibly accomplished within an organization like 
the National Security Council without growing the staff to a degree that is 
more harmful than helpful. At the same time, however, if the interagency 
deliberate planning process is effectively “outsourced” by assigning lead 
departments for specific plans, then unity of command is diluted to a 
great extent. The challenge then in implementing interagency deliberate 
planning is to focus the White House staff level on overarching plans that 
integrate the instruments of national power toward specific end states to 
make clear connections from the National Security Strategy to the more 
detailed supporting plans of the departments and agencies. 


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Strategic Studies Quarterly ♦ Fall 2008 


A Time for Action 


Perceived or actual inflexibility. As with any complex process over 
time, interagency deliberate planning could become, or at least be per¬ 
ceived as, too inflexible to adapt to changing realities. Interagency plans 
could also serve to impede necessary flexibility within the various support¬ 
ing departmental or agency plans if the process for updating those plans 
becomes overly burdensome. Even the perception of such inflexibility 
could jeopardize the credibility of the interagency planning process. This 
could lead decision makers to simply ignore the process and its products 
in favor of seemingly more responsive decision-making models. For this 
very reason, the DoD and the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) have begun to 
reform the joint operation planning process to make it more adaptive and 
responsive to changing conditions. 

Political sensitivities. The mere existence of specific plans, no matter 
how highly classified they might be, could result in domestic political 
exposure for the president and could complicate international diplomacy 
in certain situations. In domestic politics, the president could conceivably 
be significantly weakened, for example, by questions and recriminations 
related to the existence, content, or approval of certain plans. It is also 
possible that the existence of certain interagency plans could complicate 
the ability of US diplomats, who may have contributed to such plans, to 
negotiate or mediate effectively in delicate situations. 

Cultural resistance. The deliberative process of achieving stated na¬ 
tional security strategy objectives through unity of command and clearly 
established strategy-to-task links is likely to be countercultural for some 
departments and agencies. The DoS and the US Agency for International 
Development (USAID) are taking intentional steps to strengthen the links 
between diplomacy, foreign aid, and the president’s National Security 
Strategy in their “Transformational Diplomacy and Development” strate¬ 
gic plan. 8 Even so, the typical rank-and-file USAID official, for example, 
still may reject the notion that foreign aid decisions should be based upon 
whether a clear connection can be made to a national security strategy 
document. In some cases, these workers have spent much more time de¬ 
ployed than either their Defense or State Department counterparts, and 
they undoubtedly have a keen understanding of the cultures and needs in 
different countries. The suggestion that they might achieve US objectives 
more effectively by taking a targeted and effects-based approach to foreign 
aid investments in concert with other economic, diplomatic, or military 
activities may well appear foolhardy or shortsighted to some. 


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Sami Said and Cameron G. Holt 


Options and Barriers to Interagency Reform 

For all the attention and resources devoted to proposals for interagency 
reform, few have overcome barriers to implementation (or enactment), 
and fewer still have addressed the systemic problems evidenced by several 
well-documented failures of interagency execution since the end of the 
Cold War. It is increasingly clear that to be enacted, effective and enduring 
interagency reforms considered by Congress and the next administration 
must meet certain criteria. They must be pragmatic enough to overcome 
significant barriers to enactment, responsive enough to address underlying 
problems, and systemic enough to drive fundamental change that enables 
interagency unity of effort. Considering the substantial barriers that have 
prevented reform of the national security system over the last two decades 
of the post-Cold War era, these criteria provide a meaningful basis upon 
which to analyze, compare, and contrast the various options to achieve 
meaningful national security reform in the near term. 

After almost 20 years since the end of the Cold War, systemic national 
security reform is still nowhere on the national agenda. This remains true 
despite repeated failures in interagency planning and execution. While na¬ 
tional security practitioners differ on the specifics according to their own 
experiences, four categories of barriers to meaningful reform are clearly 
apparent: environmental, political, cultural, and structural. 

Environmental Barriers. The dynamic post-Cold War security envi¬ 
ronment itself presents a significant barrier to achieving interagency unity 
of effort in the implementation of national security strategy. Although 
several serious threats to America still exist, the post-Cold War security 
environment is mostly about opportunities and choices rather than the 
imperatives of countering concentrated existential threats. The threat of 
communism’s spread during the Cold War, by contrast, was a coalescing 
force that preoccupied all the instruments of national power. Although 
no less complex, this concentration helped generate interagency unity of 
effort in much the same way that Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” guides 
free markets. Containing the spread of communism was clearly the central 
objective, and the military was the primary instrument of power. Seven 
years after the end of the Cold War, the National Security Strategy of 1996 
called for global engagement and enlargement of freedom and democracy. 
A decade later, the National Security Strategy of2006 declared it “the policy 
of the United States to seek and support democratic movements and 
institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending 


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A Time for Action 


tyranny in our world.” 9 The threats to national security in the post-Cold 
War era include transnational terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass 
destruction, rising global powers, global warming, energy dependence, 
and economic security, to name a few. Dealing with this complex variety 
of opportunities and threats requires a much more deliberate integration 
of the instruments of national power. 

Political Barriers. Political barriers are also a significant challenge to 
national security reform. The political dimension of bureaucratic self- 
interest, the inertia of the status quo, and the risk of losing influence or 
budget authority naturally expose any significant reform idea to intense 
skepticism. This is particularly true if any “big idea” does not originate, 
or at least develop, from within the existing political order. Reorganizing 
the national security architecture through a comprehensive national secu¬ 
rity reform effort will undoubtedly lead to a significant redistribution of 
power, responsibilities, and authority in both the executive and legislative 
branches. In addition, the likely redistribution of resources between depart¬ 
ments and agencies will generate winners and losers in a manner that is dif¬ 
ficult to predict beforehand. Entrenched bureaucracies faced with losing 
oversight or fiscal authority over programs will almost certainly resist, as 
will some House and Senate authorizers and appropriators who perceive 
a threat to their positions or oversight jurisdictions. It is equally probable 
that any legislation affecting the NSC or the Office of Management and 
Budget (OMB) is prone to be viewed as a usurpation of executive branch 
powers or an attack on the president’s executive privilege. As formidable as 
the political barriers to reform may seem, they can and must be acknowl¬ 
edged and overcome for systemic reform efforts to succeed. 

Executive and congressional commitment to reform is critical and was 
one of the key ingredients for the eventual success of Goldwater-Nichols. 
Championing such a complex and contentious reform agenda would re¬ 
quire the expenditure of significant political capital. Unfortunately national 
security reform does not enjoy widespread demand from the majority of the 
US public, so the constituency and incentives for congressional or executive 
action are accordingly low. Consequently, successful reform will require 
strong leaders that are able to clearly articulate the problem, the proposed 
solutions, and the costs of inaction. Reform leaders must also translate the 
many public concerns over interagency performance in Afghanistan, Iraq, 
Hurricane Katrina, and the global war on terrorism into widespread sup¬ 
port for reform. Only then can the already significant interest in national 


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Sami Said and Cameron G. Holt 


security reform within academic circles, think tanks, and some top gov¬ 
ernment officials be mobilized to generate the required momentum to 
overcome significant political barriers. Ignoring them is not feasible. 

Cultural Barriers. Another key barrier to reform is organizational cul¬ 
ture. While diversity of organizational culture between departments and 
agencies can be an asset, it can also breed parochialism, unhealthy com¬ 
petition, and a stovepiped approach to problem solving. The cultural bar¬ 
riers between government departments and agencies are very similar to 
those that existed between the military services within the DoD prior to 
the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986. The services conducted military 
operations with a service-centric mind-set and attempted to maximize 
their portion of the defense budget by expanding their core competencies 
or by attempting to marginalize the benefits of the other services’ roles and 
missions. Each military service attempted to support national objectives 
within its own traditional war-fighting domain of air, land, or sea. Mis¬ 
sion overlap and ill-defined core competencies, however, led to significant 
gaps and overlaps in capabilities and serious interoperability deficiencies. 

Overcoming the entrenched cultural dimension of bureaucratic self- 
interest among the pre-Goldwater-Nichols military services required 
national attention and the sustained commitment of the legislative and 
executive branches. The gravity of the problem and the urgency for a solu¬ 
tion became part of the national debate after a number of interoperability 
failures during military operations and the dramatic and embarrassing 
national failure to rescue American hostages in Iran. The ill-fated Desert 
One rescue operation ended in a disastrous crash that was traced to lack of 
interoperability, lack of joint training, and failures in command. The de¬ 
fense reform process that followed was long and arduous including nearly 
five years of debate and coordination before the act was even passed. Since 
then, more than 20 years of hard work have followed to make significant 
progress towards the desired end state. 

Interagency reform will, without a doubt, face the same cultural chal¬ 
lenges; however, they will likely be an order of magnitude more severe 
than what the DoD has experienced on its journey towards interdepen¬ 
dence. Short of clear statutory mandates requiring change, it is not at all 
clear that the next three presidents will have any more success overcoming 
cultural barriers to interagency unity of effort than the last three. Recent 
failures in interagency planning and execution can become the catalysts 
for elevating systemic national security reform to a national debate. The 


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A Time for Action 


key issue is whether the need for reform can be turned into actual legisla¬ 
tion and related policy directives that even opponents and critics at the 
highest levels in departments and agencies must support and implement 
or step aside. 

Structural Barriers. The last category of barriers to systemic national 
security reform is organizational structures across the legislative and execu¬ 
tive branches. This includes both the organizations themselves and the rules 
that govern them. There are at least three major structural obstacles that 
complicate meaningful reform. They include an insufficient NSC struc¬ 
ture, stovepiped congressional oversight committees, and ineffective 
budget planning and execution. 

The first, and perhaps most daunting, structural barrier is the National 
Security Council’s limited capacity and ever-changing structure. The inter¬ 
agency centerpiece of the National Security Act of 1947, the NSC has 
proven to be nothing more and nothing less than the president’s own staff, 
to be used or ignored at the pleasure of the president with all the executive 
privilege and protection from direct congressional oversight as is extended 
to the president himself. The NSC literally starts from scratch with the in¬ 
auguration of each new president, and all of its previous directives or sup¬ 
porting structures are subject to replacement or inattention. Incremental 
steps towards enhancing interagency coordination through NSC organi¬ 
zational structures rarely survive the transition from one administration to 
the next. Some do not even survive the tenure of one administration. The 
constantly changing organizational structures of the national security co¬ 
ordinating mechanisms based on presidential preferences present a signifi¬ 
cant challenge to comprehensive and systemic national security reform. 
Overcoming this challenge through legislation is likely to be perceived as 
an effort to usurp presidential authority and prerogatives, which is certain 
to generate resistance. 

Stovepiped congressional authorizations and appropriations commit¬ 
tees are another structural barrier preventing reform. The Goldwater- 
Nichols reforms clearly belonged to the Senate and House Armed Services 
Committees, whereas jurisdiction for comprehensive national security re¬ 
form is likely to cross many committees within the House and the Senate. 
The potentially paralyzing effect that cross-cutting committee turf battles 
can have on interagency reform and subsequent oversight cannot be over¬ 
stated. Overlapping committee jurisdiction is already a problem in some 
areas of oversight within the existing nonmilitary departments involved 


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Sami Said and Cameron G. Holt 


in national security functions. An increased oversight focus toward inter¬ 
agency execution and resource management could exacerbate this struc¬ 
tural problem. 

Closely related to the lack of clear congressional oversight jurisdictions 
are ineffective budget planning and execution processes. With the excep¬ 
tion of the DoD, there is currently little or no connection between the 
budgets of organizations involved in national security and the national se¬ 
curity strategy they support. In fact, the nonmilitary budgets are planned 
one year at a time. This makes the rationale for budget initiatives, trends, 
and trade-offs for future capabilities difficult to explain or defend. Un¬ 
til very recently, only the budgets for defense and intelligence agencies 
were formally considered national security related. In addition, current 
laws and regulations make the movement of resources between national- 
security-related functions nearly impossible. This structural barrier serves 
to embolden departmental parochialism and reduces America’s flexibility 
to react to changing world conditions to an unacceptable level. In addi¬ 
tion, it results in the instrument of power used to achieve a given effect 
to be determined by which department or agency has the resources rather 
than which instrument of power is appropriate to achieve the desired ef¬ 
fects. Although congressional oversight is still essential, this barrier must 
be overcome for systemic national security reforms to succeed. 

Examination of Comprehensive Reform Proposals 

Major universities and Washington-based think tanks have, in recent 
years, expended an enormous amount of effort and resources to develop 
proposals for comprehensive defense and national security reform. As 
discussed earlier, advocates point out that today’s national security land¬ 
scape is significantly different than the environment faced by the nation in 
1947. Proponents of comprehensive reform highlight the need for a new 
national security architecture that is designed to meet current and future 
challenges more effectively and with an interagency approach using all the 
instruments of power. 10 

No matter how logical and complete such reform proposals may be, 
however, they must be sufficiently pragmatic to overcome the barriers dis¬ 
cussed above, responsive to the problems preventing unity of effort toward 
national objectives, and systemic in nature to drive fundamental change 
within and between departments and agencies. How likely is it that the 


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A Time for Action 


leading proposals for comprehensive reform will be enacted, effective, and 
enduring? Two such efforts warrant close consideration: “Beyond Goldwater- 
Nichols: US Government and Defense Reform for a New Strategic Era” and 
the “Project on National Security Reform.” 

Beyond Goldwater-Nichols: US Government and Defense 
Reform for a New Strategic Era 

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) undertook a 
massive multiple-phase study in 2003 called Beyond Goldwater-Nichols: US 
Government and Defense Reform for a New Strategic Era. The CSIS study ad¬ 
dressed persistent deficiencies within the DoD, proposed improvements in 
interagency and coalition operations, and offered perspectives on the future 
of guard and reserve functions. It relied heavily on the experiences of an 
impressive array of former defense and national security officials. It also had 
a clear intent to be pragmatic and measured in its approach to avoid change 
for the sake of change and reduce the risk of unintended consequences. 

Even so, the numerous and thoughtful recommendations, taken to¬ 
gether, would represent nothing less than a “stem-to-stern” overhaul of 
the DoD, the NSC, and various key processes to include budgeting, ac¬ 
quisition, personnel management, training, and education. Although the 
report acknowledged the need for some of the recommendations to be 
implemented by statute, it seemed to favor implementation by a series of 
national security presidential directives and cabinet-level reform initiatives 
that did not require congressional action. 

Project on National Security Reform 

Another credible and comprehensive reform initiative currently under¬ 
way is the Project on National Security Reform sponsored by The Center 
for the Study of the Presidency. The objective of the project is to improve 
the US government’s ability to effectively provide for the nation’s security in 
the twenty-first century through comprehensive reform of statutory, regu¬ 
latory, and congressional oversight authorities that govern the interagency 
system. In contrast with the CSIS report, the Project for National Security 
Reform study acknowledges up front that the centerpiece of implementa¬ 
tion must be a new national security act. Consequently, the project aims to 
produce recommendations for updating the 1947 act, to propose required 
supporting presidential directives, and to outline new congressional com¬ 
mittee structures required to facilitate the desired outcomes. 11 


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Sami Said and Cameron G. Holt 


The key question is whether either of the two comprehensive reform 
proposals discussed above will be pragmatic , responsive , and systemic enough 
to be implemented and put America on the path toward unity of effort 
in the pursuit of national security objectives. Right away there is little 
doubt that both of the reform proposals described above are responsive 
and systemic. Whether either proposal is pragmatic enough to overcome 
barriers to wholesale implementation is another question entirely. Despite 
clear efforts within both proposals to reduce likely sources of opposition, 
the sheer depth and breadth of the various reforms proposed could make 
the barriers that have prevented real reform for the last two decades insur¬ 
mountable. Since it is clear that comprehensive reform is necessary, there 
is good reason to hope that one of these proposals will indeed be imple¬ 
mented within the next year in its entirety despite the ever-present risk of 
unintended consequences. It may even be worth the risks resulting from 
the administrative distractions it would undoubtedly create across the na¬ 
tional security community while the country is at war. It took close to five 
years of debate to enact the Goldwater-Nichols legislation and over 20 
years and counting to fully realize its intended outcomes. With national 
security reform lost in a cacophony of reelection-year politics, compre¬ 
hensive reform may not be feasible in the near term. 

Examination of Ad Hoc Initiatives 

A growing number of reform proposals recommend various ad hoc 
prescriptions as the keys to progress. Some advocate more engaged and 
thoughtful leadership-driven initiatives to include national security edu¬ 
cation and training as the key to interagency cooperation. Other studies 
propose transformations in organizational culture through better commu¬ 
nication and information sharing as the central keys towards improving 
the interagency process. Still others point to fixing the long-antiquated 
budget development process and the ineffective allocation of resources 
across government agencies as the cornerstone to real reform. Several in¬ 
ternal reform initiatives undertaken by the president and the Congress 
appear to be reactions to very specific issues that have arisen as a result of 
poor interagency cooperation in the past. Clearly, not all ad hoc initiatives 
fit neatly within one of the broad themes described above. Examining the 
broad range of ad hoc initiatives by these major themes, however, is a use¬ 
ful construct to evaluate a variety of credible ideas to determine whether 


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A Time for Action 


they are pragmatic , responsive , and systemic enough to produce interagency 
unity of effort in the post-Cold War security environment. 

Leadership-Based Initiatives 

Some argue that the key to improving interagency execution is more- 
engaged and decisive leadership from the president specifically and the 
executive branch in general. To be sure, strong and engaged leadership 
is necessary for the success of any large organization. In Harnessing the 
Interagency for Complex Operations , three Washington scholars cite unclear 
relationships among top-level interagency officials and undefined spans 
of control and authority as the key impediments to interagency execu¬ 
tion. 12 Although no such confusion exists with respect to the president’s 
authority, the practical ability of the president to influence individual de¬ 
partments and agencies is sometimes overestimated. There is a theoretical 
argument to be made, however, that leadership-based reform initiatives 
could be responsive to the problems preventing interagency unity of ef¬ 
fort if the right leader is elected. The president has complete control over 
the structure and functions of the NSC and, in theory, could direct a 
number of organizational, procedural, and budgetary reforms across and 
within the federal bureaucracy through a series of presidential directives. 
Ironically, the plausibility of this argument may be precisely why the last 
three presidents have attempted in vain to resolve interagency coordina¬ 
tion problems without statutory interference. 

However responsive leadership-based initiatives could be, they are nei¬ 
ther pragmatic enough to overcome the barriers discussed nor are they 
systemic enough to drive enduring reform. 13 As powerful as the presi¬ 
dency may be, significant political, cultural, and structural barriers render 
purely leadership-driven reform unrealistic without a legal mandate. This 
is especially true within a bureaucracy where many of its authorities and 
responsibilities, not to mention funding, are established by laws not easily 
circumnavigated by presidential fiat. For much the same reason, purely 
leadership-driven reform initiatives are, with rare exceptions, not systemic 
enough to endure beyond one presidency. In their book, Keeping the Edge: 
Managing Defense for the Future, former top defense officials Ashton Carter 
and John White underscore this point in their argument that the lack of 
formal organizational structures and coordination procedures cannot be 
overcome through leadership alone. 14 Closely related to leadership-based 
reform initiatives are those that call for changes in organizational culture. 


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Sami Said and Cameron G. Holt 


Culture-Based Initiatives 

Some scholars and practitioners argue that poor interagency execution 
can be overcome by changing organizational cultures that discourage co¬ 
ordination and interdependence. An International Affairs Fellow at the 
Council on Foreign Relations, Maj Sunil B. Desai, USMC, concludes that 
while most of the tools for cooperation exist, the essence of the problem is 
that the interagency community is dominated by individual cultures rather 
than by a common interagency culture. 15 Unhealthy interagency com¬ 
petition and a tendency to retain, and even build, seemingly redundant 
capabilities between departments are the results of culturally motivated 
bureaucratic self-interest, and they underscore the need for unity of com¬ 
mand. They are also primary reasons that the practice of appointing “lead 
agencies” to oversee interagency issues does not work. Even experts who 
believe statutory reform is necessary concede that disparate cultures between 
departments and agencies represent a significant barrier to interagency re¬ 
form. Assuming the relevant organizational cultures can be changed to fos¬ 
ter a single interagency culture, would such changes be pragmatic, responsive , 
and systemic enough to drive interagency unity of effort? 

In the absence of a clear, unassailable mandate driving systemic changes 
to interagency processes and structures, it is not clear that attempts to 
change organizational culture alone would rise to any of the criteria re¬ 
quired to make lasting progress. Organizational cultures are not developed 
quickly or changed easily. They typically affect every aspect of an orga¬ 
nization, from training and communication to promotion and compen¬ 
sation. While conflicting interagency cultures are undoubtedly a source 
of unhealthy competition that must be addressed, they are also a source 
of organizational identity and pride that must be approached with cau¬ 
tion. Transforming the DoD culture from “service operations—centric” to 
“joint operations-centric,” for example, required an overriding statutory 
mandate, talented and persistent leadership, regulatory and personnel sys¬ 
tem changes, and a significant amount of time. Any credible attempt to 
replace the individual cultures of departments and agencies involved in 
national security with a common interagency culture must be preceded by 
a mandate that directly or indirectly necessitates the change. This provides 
an important impetus that all organization members can understand and 
support. Attempts at significant cultural change in the absence of a clear 
external forcing function could unwittingly become a large difficult step 


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Strategic Studies Quarterly ♦ Fall 2008 


A Time for Action 


in the wrong direction. Perhaps a less risky set of ad hoc initiatives, albeit 
no less difficult or emotional, can be found in budget-based initiatives. 

Budget-Based Initiatives 

Budget reform is an increasingly common theme in prescriptions for 
improved interagency execution that merits very careful consideration. 
Some experts cite large interagency budget imbalances as the key factor 
while others point to the antiquated budget process itself. Proponents 
of resolving budget imbalances point out extreme limitations in civilian 
operational capacity and the dangers associated with a military-centric 
foreign policy. Critics of an outdated budget process point out that the 
current system lacks a rational basis of tying resource allocation decisions 
to national security strategy objectives. The US Commission on National 
Security for the 21st Century, for example, pointed out that the budget pro¬ 
cess needs to be revamped since there is no single process or document that 
links the national security strategy to executive branch resource allocation. 16 
In fact, critics of the budget process suggest that national security budget 
priorities are inherently suboptimized when developed independently by 
departments and agencies without considering interagency trade-offs, gaps, 
and overlaps. Perhaps the critical missing link is that interagency budget de¬ 
velopment and execution processes are not guided by an integrated strategic 
planning process. 17 

Do Budget Imbalances Put a Military Face on all US Instruments 
of Power? What, if anything, do the stark budgetary disparities between 
military and nonmilitary functions say about our strategy for achieving 
national security objectives? A wise pastor once challenged his church by 
saying, “Don’t tell me you love God with all your heart. Let me see your 
checkbook, and I’ll tell you where your heart lies.” Ironically, it was the 
secretary of defense that made a passionate plea in testimony on Capitol 
Hill for an increase in the State Department’s budget, noting that State’s 
total budget of $34 billion is less than what the DoD spends on health 
care alone. He highlighted the dramatic resource disparity between the 
military and nonmilitary agencies as a significant barrier in dealing with 
the post—Cold War security environment. 18 An American Forces Press 
Service article, “Increased Interagency Cooperation Vital in the Global 
War on Terrorism,” highlights the budget-driven lack of a credible civilian 
surge capacity as the critical shortfall prevented meaningful cooperation. 19 
These and other credible studies in the literature specifically contend that 


Strategic Studies Quarterly ♦ Fall 2008 


[ 53 ] 


Sami Said and Cameron G. Holt 


civilian agencies like the DoS lack sufficient resources and personnel to 
execute critical roles in achieving national security objectives . 20 

Significant gaps in civilian department and agency capabilities to effec¬ 
tively shape and respond to global events are often highlighted as a reason 
that the military instrument of power is too often the tool of choice. At 
first glance, this mismatch seems to be evident in Iraq and Afghanistan 
where the building of roads and schools is often overseen by US battalion 
commanders wearing body armor and helmets instead of engineers wear¬ 
ing jeans and hard hats. Commanders in Afghanistan have become more 
interested in deployed National Guard members’ agricultural prowess 
than their combat readiness. These points certainly make a compelling 
prima facie argument for moving funds and personnel from the DoD into 
civilian agencies. Is the solution really that simple? 

Why Is Any Budget Too Much or Too Little? What should drive 
budget reforms intended to resolve apparent budget imbalances? There 
is little doubt that the resource allocation mechanisms must be reformed. 
Certainly a global military capability is a much more expensive proposi¬ 
tion than global diplomatic engagement or even global economic aid and 
development assistance. Why is any budget too much or too little? All too 
often the solution chosen in these situations is to radically increase fund¬ 
ing in a given year for a seemingly under resourced or ineffective function. 
Sometimes this occurs without a clear idea of the desired outcomes of the 
increased spending or any indication of whether the new funding levels 
will be sustained in future budgets. This, in turn, limits the choices on 
what can be done with the increased funding. The return on these kinds 
of investments may be quite limited. 

Another common solution is to reduce the overall military budget, in¬ 
crease seemingly under-funded civilian departments, and let the winners 
and losers sort out the best ways to allocate the respective gains and losses. 
Since the budgets are typically developed one to two years prior to enact¬ 
ment, there is little chance of understanding the consequences of such 
a trade-off decision until it is too late. Returning to the earlier example, 
what if the funding for the battalion overseeing reconstruction in Iraq was 
diverted to a civilian agency two years prior to perform the same function 
within the context of development assistance? What are the consequences 
when the civilian, or surrogate contractors, cannot or will not oversee 
construction while insurgent threats to security persist? What then is the 
correct allocation of resources between military capabilities across the 


[ 54 ] 


Strategic Studies Quarterly ♦ Fall 2008 


A Time for Action 


spectrum of conflict to include civil-military affairs specialists and civilian 
agency reconstruction experts trained to provide economic development 
assistance in purely permissive environments? 

Budget-based reform initiatives, even in the absence of traceable sys¬ 
temic links to the objectives of national security strategy, may well be 
pragmatic enough to overcome barriers to implementation. They may 
even be partially responsive to interagency problems associated with the 
underfunding of civilian department and agency capabilities. They are 
not, however, systemic enough to drive enduring reform and unity of ef¬ 
fort without a robust interagency deliberate planning process that informs 
budget trade-offs across the interagency and connects the ends, ways and 
means of national security. In essence, the gains would likely be greater 
efficiency and transparency of the budget process rather than gains in ef¬ 
fectiveness of the integrated capabilities funded by the resulting budgets. 

Issues-Based Initiatives 

The last major theme of ad hoc initiatives involves those that the presi¬ 
dent and Congress implement to correct specific issues resulting from poor 
interagency cooperation in the past. While it may be too early to judge the 
success of each reform, initiatives such as the National Counterterrorism 
Center, the Stabilization and Reconstruction Civilian Management Act, 
and the DoD Joint Interagency Coordination Group are clearly intended 
to improve the interagency process for specific priorities like counter¬ 
terrorism, stability and reconstruction operations, and joint military opera¬ 
tions. Organized under the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, 
the National Counterterrorism Center may well become a model for future 
reforms involving regional or functional interagency teams. If it is ever ap¬ 
propriately resourced, the Office of Stabilization and Reconstruction and the 
National Civilian Reserve Corps, established by the same legislation, could 
grow into significant civilian operational capabilities, although it is unclear 
how the unsuccessful model of “lead agency,” raised to a statutory level by 
assigning these interagency functions to the DoS, will overcome unity of com¬ 
mand problems that will undoubtedly arise if they have not already. 

Issues-based initiatives of the president and Congress have proven to 
be pragmatic enough for enactment and may contain important seeds for 
future reform efforts. They are, however, only responsive to a narrow subset 
of interagency problems based upon the specific issue involved, and they 
are clearly not systemic. 


Strategic Studies Quarterly ♦ Fall 2008 


[ 55 ] 


Sami Said and Cameron G. Holt 


Why Deliberate Planning? 

So what makes interagency deliberate planning the first and most criti¬ 
cal step to enable incremental systemic reform of national security plan¬ 
ning and execution mechanisms? The answer is found not only in the 
practicality of applying a proven process that led to unity of effort across 
the military services but also in the outcomes of the deliberate planning 
process that are necessary to inform operational and resource allocation 
decisions within and between departments and agencies. 

The proposition that the statutory implementation of interagency delib¬ 
erate planning become the foundational step toward incremental national 
security reform may well be unique. The idea, however, that a fiscally con¬ 
strained planning link is necessary to connect the objectives of national se¬ 
curity ends with the operational ways and budgetary means of individual 
departments and agencies is widely recognized. Several national security re¬ 
form proposals identify interagency strategic planning as a key shortfall. 21 
CSIS researchers Michele Flournoy and Shawn Brimley complain that some 
15 years after the conclusion of the Cold War, the US government had yet 
to adopt a strategic planning mechanism for foreign or domestic policy. 22 
Interagency deliberate planning is pragmatic enough, if sponsored by skilled 
and respected reform leaders, to overcome barriers to enactment, it is respon¬ 
sive to the problems preventing interagency unity of effort, and it is systemic 
enough to drive enduring reform. 

We Have Been Here Before 

The Goldwater-Nichols DoD Reform Act passed in 1986 was aimed at 
solving very similar problems within the Department of Defense. At the 
time, the DoD lacked unity of effort due to unclear command relation¬ 
ships and a lack of strategy-to-task links between ends, ways, and means. 
The four services operated in stovepipes with very little joint coordination; 
each fending for its own programs and initiatives. Roles, missions, and 
force structure were primarily determined based on service-centric prefer¬ 
ences. Individual service planning and budgeting efforts led to significant 
mission overlap and very little coordination between the services. The 
Goldwater-Nichols legislation has been extremely effective in driving the 
services to support joint deliberate planning and execution mechanisms 
that establish strong strategy-to-task links between ends, ways, and means. 
Unity of effort has been the result, and the US armed forces have become 
the most formidable fighting force the world has ever known. 


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A Time for Action 


America Cannot Afford Objectives it Cannot Afford 

Deliberate planning is a proven and effective process of establishing 
strategy-to-task links between military ends, ways, and means. At the in¬ 
teragency level, the same methodical approach to planning would drive a 
disciplined decision-making process that forces the consideration of end 
states, desired and undesired effects, appropriate integration of the in¬ 
struments of national power, and the specific capabilities and resources 
required. Deliberate planning at the interagency level could prevent the 
fruitless pursuit of objectives for which the United States is either unwill¬ 
ing or unable to apply the necessary means. This discipline could also 
result in more realistic and achievable national security strategies and the 
many benefits that come from a renewed clarity of intent communicated 
to America’s friends and adversaries alike. 


Table 1 - Reform Options Assessment Matrix 

Pragmatic Responsive Systemic 



Political 

Barriers 

Cultural 

Barriers 

Structural 

Barriers 

Unity 

Of Effort 

Unity Of 
Command 

Strategy- 

To-Task 

Links 

Fiscally 

Constrained 

Enduring 

Comprehensive Reform 

PNSR 

- 

- 

- 

+ 

+ 

+ 

+ 

+ 

BGWN 

- 

- 

- 

+ 

+/- 

+ 

+ 

+ 

Ad-Hoc initiatives 

Leadership Based 

+/- 

+/- 

- 

- 

+ 

- 

+ 

- 

Cultural Based 

- 

+/- 

+/- 

- 

- 

- 

- 

- 

Budget Based 

- 

+/- 

+/- 

+/- 

- 

+/- 

+ 

- 

Issue Based 

+ 

+ 

+ 

- 

- 

- 

- 

- 

Incremental Systemic Reform 

Interagency Deliberate 
Planning step-1 

+/- 

+/- 

+/- 

+ 

+ 

+ 

+ 

+ 


The Road Ahead 

The US Government has come to a crossroads. For the first time since 
the National Security Act of 1947, the “how” of national security has 
become a more pressing concern than the “what.” On a cold day in Janu¬ 
ary 2009, a small group of brilliant people will leave the Inauguration 


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Sami Said and Cameron G. Holt 


Day festivities and enter the Old Execudve Office Building for their first 
day of work. As they climb the majestic spiral staircase and enter their 
respective offices at the NSC, they will marvel at how thorough their pre¬ 
decessors were at disposing of every last piece of paper. No evidence of a 
nation at war will be found at the epicenter of interagency coordination. 
In time they will send the next president a new National Security Strategy 
of the United States. It will have many similarities and some important 
differences from those of the last three post-Cold War presidents. Many 
of the members of this small staff will see that moment as the end of an 
important statutory process to determine what America will do to make 
the nation and the world more secure. As the signed document makes its 
way to Capitol Hill and is uploaded to the public White House Web site, 
only a handful may really ponder how it will get done. 

Will post-Cold War national security planning and execution continue 
to be largely the simultaneous pursuits of individual departments and 
agencies into the next administration? The answer may be determined by 
whether the new White House and Congress recognize the need to address 
the question of how, in addition to what, national security objectives will 
be planned and executed. Interest in national security reform is rising rapidly 
as a result of the public debate and the dissatisfaction with interagency out¬ 
comes. The walls of bureaucratic self-interest are weakening as the secretary of 
defense and the flag officers he leads repeatedly challenge Congress to support 
greater resources for the Department of State and other civilian national secu¬ 
rity organizations. 23 The presidential elections in November 2008 will provide 
a unique opportunity for action. New administrations are not politically or 
rhetorically anchored to the processes and policies they inherit. Consequendy, 
they typically have increased latitude to address systemic problems. They are 
also more willing to spend the political capital required to overcome barriers 
and resistance when they perceive the new presidents agenda may be at stake. 
The trap set for them by the current “clean slate” national security system is 
the belief that the new agenda will be compelling enough to overcome any sys¬ 
temic process weaknesses that can be addressed at a later time. 24 This dogmatic 
cycle can be broken despite significant barriers and the many competing 
domestic and international priorities, but the time to act is now. 

This section outlines a framework for near-term actions as necessary to 
implement interagency deliberate planning within the current national 
security system in a practical yet sustainable manner. It also examines the 
expected outputs of the interagency deliberate planning process that en- 


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A Time for Action 


able fact-based decision making for further incremental national security 
reform as appropriate. If these recommendations are acted upon, 2009 
will be the last presidential transition in which America’s interagency na¬ 
tional security planning and execution process will start over. 

Near-term actions to implement interagency deliberate planning are nec¬ 
essary to benefit from the political timing of a new administration and the 
subsequent reevaluation of national security strategy objectives. With a clear 
focus on the desired end state and the equivalent of a “commanders intent,” 
the key tasks are described below for both congressional and presidential action 
as necessary to implement interagency deliberate planning in a manner that is 
pragmatic, responsive, and systemic. These tasks are not meant to be exhaus¬ 
tive, but they do describe a framework that may be necessary to achieve the de¬ 
sired end state. An interagency planning and execution process marked by 
unity of effort through indelible links between ends, ways, and means as 
well as clarified command relationships, appropriately prioritized budgets, 
and strong congressional oversight. 

Within the symbolic first 100 days of the next administration, the presi¬ 
dent, after close consultation with key House and Senate leaders and the 
Congressional Caucus on National Security Reform, should forward to the 
Congress a legislative proposal to establish a new and permanent Interagency 
Planning and Policy Directorate within the National Security Council. Unlike 
the existing structure of the NSC, which would continue to operate under 
executive privilege, the new directorate would be subject to congressional 
oversight. Congress should establish a Deputy National Security Advisor for 
Interagency Planning and Policy to lead the new directorate. This individual 
would also serve as the Deputy Director for National Security in the Office 
of Management and Budget, to be appointed by the president with the ad¬ 
vice and consent of the Senate, with statutory authorities, responsibilities, 
and reporting requirements. The president should issue directives as may be 
required to enable or facilitate the planning, policy, and budget responsibili¬ 
ties of the new position. 

The actions outlined below provide further clarification of the key tasks 
that should be implemented in the near term to achieve the desired end 
state without being overly prescriptive. Implementation details should be 
left up to the respective branches of government as much as possible, yet 
with an uncompromising focus on the specific outcomes to be achieved. 
The key task descriptions are divided into two categories, those that primarily 


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Sami Said and Cameron G. Holt 


require congressional action (the main effort) and others that require 
action on the part of the executive branch (the enablers). 

Congressional Actions 

The political, cultural, and structural barriers to reform cannot be over¬ 
come without legislation as the cornerstone forcing function. National 
War College scholars Martin Gorman and Alexander Grongrad conclude 
that nothing short of a legislative mandate will solve the current problems 
of the interagency national security system. 2 '’ The legislative process is also 
critical to achieve the level of government-wide participation and commit¬ 
ment required for the reforms to endure over time. This section outlines 
seven key elements of an interagency reform statute that will be required 
to begin the process of incremental systemic reform as proposed: 

1. Establish an Interagency Planning and Policy Directorate within the 

NSC, 

2. Assign oversight of the directorate to a Deputy National Security 
Advisor for Interagency Planning and Policy, who also serves as the 
Deputy Director for National Security in the OMB and is subject to 
the advice and consent of the Senate, 

3. Mandate an annual National Security Implementation Plan to be 
submitted with the president’s budget submission to Congress, 

4. Change the NSS submission requirement from annual to quadrennial, 

5. Authorize, fund, and oversee an interagency roles and missions com¬ 
mission, 

6. Require the president, with the advice of the Deputy National Se¬ 
curity Advisor for Interagency Planning and Policy, to issue national 
security planning guidance every two years to departments and 
agencies as necessary to establish direct links to interagency plans 
consistent with the NSS, and 

7. Establish a legal mechanism to facilitate the reprogramming of national 
security funds across departments and agencies within the execution 
year subject to responsive congressional notification and approval 
procedures. 

Interagency Planning and Policy Directorate. Congress should issue 
legislation that directs the establishment of an Interagency Planning and 


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A Time for Action 


Policy Directorate at the NSC level that is solely focused on interagency 
deliberate planning. Crisis action response and current operations would 
continue to be the focus of the current NSC structure. Unlike the organi¬ 
zations within the current National Security Council, the new directorate 
would focus on establishing clear strategy-to-task links between the ends, 
ways, and means of national security strategy. The “ends” are the objectives 
outlined within the National Security Strategy of the United States , which 
would become the responsibility of the new directorate to establish and 
assess. The “ways” would be established through interagency regional and 
functional plans generated by this new directorate through the deliber¬ 
ate planning process in concert with the various supporting plans gener¬ 
ated within the departments and agencies as appropriate to establish clear 
strategy-to-task links. The “means” would be established through a six-year 
Future Years National Security Plan, to be updated on a two-year cycle. 


NSC 


OMB 


Deputy National Security Advisor 
for Interagency Planning and Policy 


Deputy Director for National Security 




(ENDS) 

Inputs 

'■ ■ > 
National Security Strategy 


Interagency Planning and Policy Directorate 


Outputs 

' > 

(WAYS) 

- Interagency plans by region and function 

- Intra-agency resource-constrained supporting plans 


Regional Planning and Policy Committees 
Functional Planning and Policy Committees 


(MEANS) 


- Future Years National Security Plan (FYNSP) 

- Capability gaps and overlaps 


Figure 1. Connecting the ends, ways, and means of national security 


The Interagency Planning and Policy Directorate should be a part of the 
overall NSC organization, yet it should have continuity and congressional 
oversight characteristics similar to those of the departments and agencies. 
To enable this hybrid identity, the staffing of the new directorate should 
be roughly one-fourth political appointees and three-fourths career civil 
servants. In addition, the plans, products, and records of the Interagency 
Planning and Policy Directorate must be maintained without regard to 
changing administrations. While this may require an amendment to the 
Presidential Records Act and is likely to be seen by some as an incursion 
on presidential power, it is critical to the efficacy of the interagency plan¬ 
ning and execution process and its ability to drive systemic change. 


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Sami Said and Cameron G. Holt 


I 

c 


Executive Privilege 

J 


The President 





Figure 2. Proposed structure of the National Security Council staff 


In his article, “Rethinking the Interagency System,” former NSC deputy 
executive secretary Michael Donley assessed the interagency mechanisms 
within the current NSC, noting, “It is clear that the statutory framework 
for the National Security Council and presidential directives describing 
the National Security Council System may no longer reflect the scope 
of activities now occurring in the interagency space above the level of 
individual departments and agencies, or across agencies below the policy 
making level.” 26 

The new directorate for planning and policy outlined above will bring 
greater clarity to both the new and old functions of the NSC system. This 
directly addresses the observation highlighted by Secretary Donley and 
echoed by other national security practitioners and think tank studies. 

Deputy National Security Advisor for Interagency Planning and 
Policy. As mentioned previously, Congress should issue legislation that 
establishes a deputy national security advisor for interagency planning and 
policy to oversee the Interagency Planning and Policy Directorate. This 
position should also be dual hatted as the deputy director for national 
security in the Office of the Management and Budget to advise and over¬ 
see presidential decisions related to the Future Years National Security 
Plan budget and execution year reprogramming decisions. The individual 
nominated by the president would be subject to confirmation by the Sen¬ 
ate, yet would report directly to the national security advisor and must 


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A Time for Action 


serve as the president’s principal advisor for interagency planning and 
policy matters. The specific responsibilities of the deputy national security 
advisor for interagency planning and policy are outlined in figure 3. 


r 

— Oversight of the Interagency Planning and Policy Directorate 

—President’s director of national security interagency planning 

—Resource-constrained National Security Implementation Plan 

—Oversees regional and functional supporting plans as directed by the 
president 

— -Appointment of interagency capabilities 

—Dual role: deputy director for national security, Office of Management 
and Budget 

—Future Years National Security Plan 

—Oversees and assesses the National Security Unfunded Priority List 

V___ J 

Figure 3. Responsibilities of the deputy national security advisor for inter¬ 
agency planning and policy 

National Security Implementation Plan. The implementing legisla¬ 
tion must require the Interagency Planning and Policy Directorate to pro¬ 
duce a National Security Implementation Plan, with classified annexes 
as required, on an annual basis to be delivered to the Congress with the 
president’s budget submission. The plan should summarize interagency 
regional and functional plans implementing the National Security Strategy. 
It should also include specifics on what capabilities are required (by depart¬ 
ment and agency) within the Future Years National Security Plan to achieve 
the stated objectives, clear assignments of roles and missions, and an as¬ 
sessment of major risks to interagency execution implied by the trade-offs 
within the president’s budget. 

Quadrennial Updates of the National Security Strategy. Congress 
should also consider adjusting the requirement to deliver a National 
Security Strategy every year to every four years. The NSS has not, does 
not, and should not change every year. NSS objectives must serve as a 
foundational, long-term baseline for interagency deliberate planning. For¬ 
mal statutory clarification on the time horizon of the NSS adds important 
context to its objectives and provides for more effective interagency plan¬ 
ning and budgeting. 


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Sami Said and Cameron G. Holt 


National Security Strategy 


c 


National Security 
Implementation Plan 


c 


Interagency Regional 
and Functional Plans 


Planning Guidance Fiscal Guidance 


c 


Department-Specific 
Supporting Plans 


V 

DoD, DoS, DHS, DoJ. 


Figure 4. Establishing strategy-to-task links 


Interagency Roles and Missions Assessment. An initial interagency 
roles and missions assessment conducted by a nonpartisan commission or 
federally funded research and development center with periodic updates 
thereafter as required should be authorized and overseen by the Congress. 
A roles and missions assessment is critical for establishing an interagency 
capabilities baseline for planning to be updated and refined as the national 
security objectives change and the global security environment evolves. 
Additionally, this assessment is necessary to identify unnecessarily redun¬ 
dant capabilities; clarify investment, personnel, and recapitalization deci¬ 
sions; and set the conditions for future interdependence. 

Requirement for Presidential National Security Planning Guidance. 
Legislation implementing interagency deliberate planning should also re¬ 
quire the president to issue biannual national security planning guidance 
to the applicable departments and agencies. As a practical matter, this 
guidance is necessary to ensure the planning processes of all national se¬ 
curity functions within the departments and agencies are properly aligned 
with regional and functional interagency planning. The rationale for in¬ 
clusion of such a requirement in statute, however, is to institutionalize the 
accountability and singular unity of command vested in the president. 
The law must make clear that formal direction regarding national security 


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A Time for Action 


planning and execution must come from the president except as provided 
by the US Constitution itself. The delegation of such powers to lead de¬ 
partments and agencies or to appointed “czars” dilutes this crucial element 
required to achieve interagency unity of effort. 

Legal Mechanisms for National Security Budget Reprogramming. 
The ability to reprogram resources across national security departments 
and agencies, and by extension, between the instruments of national 
power within the execution year to react to unforeseen requirements is ab¬ 
solutely critical. Budgets are often originated by departments and agencies 
up to two years prior to the year that budget will be executed. In addition, 
moving funds between the DoD, the DoS, and the USAID is not practical 
within the current legal environment. In a dynamic post-Cold War security 
environment in which nonstate actors with extensive and flexible resources 
constitute a significant threat, American national security functions must 
have as much resource flexibility as possible to seize opportunities and 
counter threats as they emerge. Although congressional notification or 
even approval is completely appropriate, there must be sweeping and flex¬ 
ible legal mechanisms established to enable the execution year movement 
of funds at least within and across the national security budget accounts. 
The absence of these mechanisms produces poor interagency cooperation 
and a tendency to use the wrong mix of capabilities based upon budget 
trade-off decisions made more than a year in advance. 

Presidential Actions 

In addition to congressional actions, four presidential actions as a mini¬ 
mum may well be necessary to create the conditions for success even with 
legislation: 

1. Direct the structure and staffing of the Interagency Planning and 
Policy Directorate, 

2. Nominate a deputy national security advisor for interagency planning 
and policy to also serve as the deputy director for national security 
within the OMB, 

3. Direct the OMB to establish a unique coding system to all national 
security functions and organizations within the president’s budget; 
and 


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Sami Said and Cameron G. Holt 


4. Direct all government departments and agencies to reorganize as 
required to conform to a common organizing construct for global 
geographic regions. 

Direction Regarding the Structure of the Interagency Planning and 
Policy Directorate. The president should direct the national security ad¬ 
visor to stand up a National Security Interagency Planning and Policy 
Directorate headed by the deputy national security advisor for interagency 
planning and policy to be formalized by a National Security Presidential 
Directive or the equivalent. The presidential directive should clearly es¬ 
tablish: 

• The authorities and responsibilities of the deputy national security 
advisor for interagency planning and policy, 

• The authorities and responsibilities of the deputy director for national 
security within the OMB, 

• The structure and staffing requirements of the NSC’s Interagency 
Planning and Policy Directorate, 

• Other direction as deemed appropriate by the president to poten¬ 
tially include target dates for initial and full operational capability of 
the new directorate, description of the interagency planning system 
and products, and so forth. 

Upon establishing the structure and staffing policies for the new direc¬ 
torate, the president should eliminate overlapping responsibilities between 
the new directorate and the preexisting NSC staff organization. Although 
a common organizing construct with regional and functional teams is ad¬ 
visable, the preexisting NSC staff should focus on current operations and 
crisis response while the new directorate takes over interagency planning 
and policy functions not related to crisis action response. Also, the new di¬ 
rectorate should be staffed by one-quarter political appointees and three- 
quarters civil servants hired through a competitive selection process from 
the departments and agencies for rotational assignments. Clear career ad¬ 
vancement incentives must be established to attract the best staff possible 
and to ensure that future senior national security civil servants and general 
officers have interagency experience. 

The task of interagency deliberate planning should not be added to the 
responsibilities of the existing NSC organizations for several reasons. The 


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Strategic Studies Quarterly ♦ Fall 2008 


A Time for Action 


current structure and staffing levels are often strained to keep up with the 
workload of reacting to unforeseen crises and challenges, and expanding 
the staff to accommodate the additional planning requirements would 
dilute its current strengths. 27 The NSC is an advisory body to the presi¬ 
dent. The need for its current operations and crisis action response staff 
to be flexible and subject to frequent changes to suit the leadership style 
of the president cannot be overstated. Furthermore, attempting to subject 
the current NSC to congressional oversight and testimony would detract 
from its primary role as an advisory body to the president. 

Nomination of a Deputy National Security Advisor for Interagency 
Planning and Policy. The president should nominate a deputy national 
security advisor for interagency planning and policy to the Senate for con¬ 
firmation. This Senate-confirmed position should also serve as the deputy 
director for national security within the OMB. The rationale for this “mar¬ 
riage” of policy and funding is to provide authority commensurate with the 
responsibilities of the new deputy national security advisor for interagency 
planning and policy. This will likely be a controversial role that will face 
initial resistance from departments and agencies that currently “own” their 
budgets without direct oversight or interference from the White House staff. 
Giving the new directorate specified budgetary oversight authorities within 
the Future Years National Security Plan is an essential element of the new 
directorate to drive systemic changes not only to the interagency structures 
of the NSC but also within and between national security departments and 
agencies. This must start by effectively “fencing” the national security bud¬ 
get to set it apart from other governmental functions. 

Transparent National Security Budget. To that end, the president should 
direct the OMB to establish a national security budget coding system that 
will uniquely identify funds allocated to national security organizations and 
functions. This system will allow Congress and the executive branch to have 
a much clearer picture of the total resources dedicated to national security 
initiatives across all government agencies. The increased visibility is critical 
to tying resource allocations across government agencies to the objectives 
and priorities of the national security strategy. The higher priority status 
given to national security funding initiatives will allow smaller departments 
with national security functions to compete on a level playing field in zero- 
sum budget battles. 

Common Definition of Geographic Regions. Finally, the president 
should direct all government departments and agencies to reorganize as 


Strategic Studies Quarterly ♦ Fall 2008 


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Sami Said and Cameron G. Holt 


required to conform to a common organizing construct for global geo¬ 
graphic regions. The current mismatch in regional definitions between the 
DoD, the DoS, the USAID, and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) 
results in a significant breakdown in regional coordination efforts. Com¬ 
mon regional definitions across government agencies are an important 
step in facilitating an effective interagency deliberate planning process. 
President Nixon directed a similar effort across state agencies to provide 
a standard approach to interstate and national programs. The initiative 
proved to be effective in improving the overall coordination and imple¬ 
mentation of federal as well as local programs. For interagency planning 
and execution to be effective, US national security officials at all levels 
need the same enhanced clarity in international settings. 

Presidential commitment to national security reform is absolutely criti¬ 
cal. Successful implementation of incremental reform initiatives aimed at 
improving the process of interagency planning and execution will require 
the unwavering commitment and resolve of the president, the Congress, 
and the American people. 

Looking Toward the Future with a Sharper Eye 

The ways and means outputs of the strategy-to-task links established 
through the interagency deliberate planning process can actually facilitate 
future national security reform. Many of the barriers preventing compre¬ 
hensive reform are buttressed by underlying concerns over unintended 
consequences, expensive missteps, and the dangers associated with parallel 
system-wide change. Advocates of comprehensive national security reform 
may argue that the difficulties of maintaining political focus on any 
one issue realistically preclude more than one opportunity for statutory 
reform. The outputs of interagency deliberate planning, however, may re¬ 
move significant underlying concerns that would otherwise prevent further 
reform. The outputs that connect the ends of National Security Strategy 
with the ways and means necessary include 

Ways: 

• Fiscally constrained interagency plans linking National Security 
Strategy to the integrated application of the instruments of national 
power 


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Strategic Studies Quarterly ♦ Fall 2008 


A Time for Action 


• Fiscally constrained supporting plans within the departments and agen¬ 
cies linking the interagency effort with specific operational capabilities 
and tasks 

Means: 

• Future Years National Security Plan providing budget projections 
necessary to resource the current National Security Strategy 

• Documentation of capability gaps to be funded and capability over¬ 
laps no longer necessary with the synchronization and integration of 
interagency capabilities 

The resulting data from these outputs enables fact-based decision making 
about future reforms. Once the “ways” connecting the “ends” and “means” 
are clearly and methodically established, quantifiable data on capability 
gaps, personnel and training deficiencies, strategic and operational risks, 
and unnecessary operational or administrative duplication become avail¬ 
able to support and prioritize future reform. This could serve to mitigate 
the current concerns with comprehensive reform that stem from untested 
ideas based on nothing more than strong theoretical connections to the 
national security environment and objectives to guide decision makers. 

It is Time to Act 

It is a fact that even the best plans do not survive initial contact with the 
enemy, yet the alternative to planning is far worse. The increasingly expen¬ 
sive results of systemic failures in interagency execution, in terms of cost 
and lives, in the complex and dynamic post-Cold War security environment 
make systemic reform long overdue. The interagency process established 
by the National Security Act of 1947 is no longer sufficient to respond to 
the wide diversity of global threats and opportunities of the post-Cold 
War security environment. The problems are systemic, and the barriers 
preventing reform are significant. With the dawn of a new presidential 
administration and increasing national attention on interagency coopera¬ 
tion, however, there may not be a better time than now. Despite the din 
of partisan election-year politics, a growing body of thoughtful national 
security reform literature is emerging into choices between “soup-to-nuts” 
comprehensive reform proposals fighting for political momentum and a 
variety of ad hoc initiatives that may be advisable but do not fundamen¬ 
tally change the system. America cannot afford to squander this moment. 


Strategic Studies Quarterly ♦ Fall 2008 


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Sami Said and Cameron G. Holt 


Another alternative is needed. Interagency deliberate planning—as the 
foundational first step toward incremental systemic reform—is pragmatic 
enough to overcome barriers preventing reform, responsive to the under- 
lying problems preventing interagency unity of effort, and systemic enough 
to drive enduring change. Rfftf 


Notes 

1. Transforming Defense: National Security in the 21st Century, Report of the National De¬ 
fense Panel, December 1997, http://www.fas.org/man/docs/ndp/front.htm. 

2. John Deutch et al., “Strengthening the National Security Interagency Process,” in Keeping 
the Edge, Carter and White, eds. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000). 

3. James R. Locher 111, “Taking Stock of Goldwater-Nichols,” Joint Force Quarterly 13 (Au¬ 
tumn 1996): 10-14. 

4. Ibid., 15. 

5. Richard Meinhart, Strategic Planning by the Chairmen, Joint Chiefs of Staff, 1990—2005 
(Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, Army War College, 2006), 4. 

6. Locher, “Taking Stock of Goldwater-Nichols,” 14. 

7. Clark A. Murdock et al., Beyond Goldwater-Nichols: Defense Reform for a New Strategic 
Era — Phase-I Report (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies, March 

2004) , 14. 

8. Condoleezza Rice, testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 15 Febru¬ 
ary 2006. 

9. National Security Council, The National Security Strategy of the United States (Washing¬ 
ton, DC: The White Flouse, 2006). 

10. Ellen Laipson, ed., with Olga Romanova, Improving the Interagency Process to Face 21st 
Century Security Challenges (Washington, DC: Flenry L. Stimson Center, 2005), appendix B. 

11. The Project for National Security Reform, Center for the Study of the Presidency, http:// 
www.pnsr.org. 

12. Neyla Arnas, Charles Barry, and Robert B. Oakley, Harnessing the Interagency for Com¬ 
plex Operations (Washington, DC: National Defense University Center for Technology and Na¬ 
tional Security Policy, August 2005). 

13. Ashton Carter and John White, Keeping the Edge: Managing Defense for the Future, 
(Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001) 265-83. 

14. Ibid. 

15. Sunil B. Desai, “Solving the Interagency Puzzle,” Policy Review 129 (February & March 

2005) : 57. 

16. U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century (USCNS/21), Road Map for Na¬ 
tional Security (Washington, DC: USCNS/21, 2001). 

17. Elizabeth Johnson, “Office of Management and Budget/Defense Department Relations, 
1970-1986,” The American University, 1987. 

18. Robert M. Gates, Testimony before the FLASC, 15 April 2008. 

19. Kathleen T. Rhem, “Increased Interagency Cooperation Vital in Global War on Terror¬ 
ism,” American Forces Press Service, 5 April 2006, http://www.defenselink.mil/news/newsarticle 
.aspx?id=15550. 

20. USCNS/21, Road Map for National Security. 


[ 70 ] 


Strategic Studies Quarterly ♦ Fall 2008 


A Time for Action 


21. National Defense Panel, Transforming Defense: National Security in the 21st Century 
(Washington, DC: National Defense Panel, December 1997). 

22. Michele A. Flournoy and Shawn Brimley, “In Search of Harmony: Orchestrating ‘The 
Interagency’ for the Long War,” Armed Forces Journal (July 2006). 

23. Richard Clarke, Kennedy School of Government, interview by author 2 April 2008. 

24. Gates, testimony. 

25. Martin Gorman and Alexander Krongrad, “A Goldwater-Nichols Act for the U.S. Gov¬ 
ernment: Institutionalizing the Interagency Process,” Joint Force Quarterly 39 (October 2005): 
51-58. 

26. Michael Donley, “Rethinking the Interagency System,” Occasional Paper #05—01 
(March 2005), 5, http://www.hicksandassociates.com/reports/HAI-occasional-paper.pdf. 

27. Robert Cutler, “The Development of the National Security Council,” Foreign Affairs, 
(1956), 441-58. 


Strategic Studies Quarterly ♦ Fall 2008 


[ 71 ]