For any nation, coordinating the diverse elements of national power — diplomatic, economic, intelligence, military, and law enforcement to name a few — is inherently difficult. The stakes of poor coordination among the various agencies that wield the instruments of national power, however, are exceptionally high — a reality that struck home for all Americans and most of the world on September 11, 2001. Although the United States government’s “interagency community” — including departments, independent agencies, and many other organizations — is one in which the power of a unified whole would be greater than the sum of its parts working separately, unifying the whole has been elusive. As illuminated by testimony to the 9/11 Commission, a systemic problem is widely acknowledged. The problem, however, is much deeper than the legal and bureaucratic impediments and much broader than the intelligence and law-enforcement agencies currently under scrutiny. Rather, the essence of the problem is that the entire interagency community is dominated by individual agency cultures rather than a common interagency culture.
These organizational cultures — characterized by different sets of values, goals, policies, and procedures, as well as leadership and decision-making methods — often conflict with one another, thereby making coordination and cooperation problematic. Even after enactment of the National Security Act of 1947, through which Congress intended to “provide for the establishment of integrated policies and procedures for the departments, agencies, and functions of the government relating to the national security,” individual agency cultures have grown stronger — to the detriment of interagency unity. As National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice noted in her opening testimony before the 9/11 Commission, “Integrating our counterterrorism and regional strategies was the most difficult and the most important aspect of the new strategy to get right.” While the Homeland Security Act of 2002 and other post-9/11 efforts such as the formation of the Terrorist Threat Integration Center have made significant improvements in coordination and integration, these efforts are unlikely to achieve the full desired effect without a paradigm shift from strong individual agency cultures to a strong interagency culture.
Presuming that the organizations that make up the interagency community are so bureaucratically entrenched in their individual cultures that they cannot embrace a broader interagency culture is neither prudent nor correct. In the past, similar forecasts were made about the U.S. military’s ability to overcome strong individual service cultures and form a strong “joint” culture to improve interservice coordination. Not only have these predictions proven wrong, but the overwhelming success of joint military operations has encouraged calls for an even stronger joint culture. Moreover, the critical role of the individual services and their unique characteristics within the overarching joint culture is still recognized. Indeed, the services have not been amalgamated and creation of a single service is unlikely to happen. Likewise, a strong interagency culture would provide the fundamental basis for the parts of the interagency community to work together as a cohesive whole without merging or marginalizing individual agencies. With a strong interagency culture, individuals within the interagency community would be far more likely to cooperate to achieve broader interagency goals even when those goals are not fully in line with their own agency’s goals.
Four strategic factors impede achieving this shift. First, the interagency community lacks a formal overarching concept of operations or “doctrine” for coordination — for either routine or crisis response situations. Second, the interagency community lacks an independent authority responsible for the development and training of personnel in such a doctrine. Third, individual agencies use different regional structures to organize their policies and operations both abroad and domestically. Fourth, personnel policies within most, if not all, agencies develop personnel who are primarily dedicated to their own agency rather than the interagency community. These factors are similar to those that thwarted interservice coordination within the U.S. military prior to the development of its joint culture. Drawing on the U.S. military’s joint experience, this essay details these four factors and proposes specific reforms to overcome them.
Integrated operations doctrine
Through the national Security Act of 1947, Congress established the National Security Council (nsc) “to advise the President with respect to the integration of domestic, foreign, and military policies relating to the national security so as to enable military services and the other agencies of the Government to cooperate more effectively in matters involving the national security.” The act, however, did not explicitly call for the development of a doctrine — a core set of principles, procedures, and technical definitions — for interagency coordination. In contrast, through the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986, Congress did mandate the development of a doctrine for coordination among the military services. The U.S. military’s resulting experience with “joint doctrine” manifests the importance of having a common formal doctrine for diverse organizations that must work together in complex situations.
For the U.S. military, a joint operation — where each military component (air, land, and naval) works together to maximize efficiency and effectiveness — is not a new concept. Until World War ii, however, joint operations were conducted without permanent agreements and thus never resulted in a lasting culture of “jointness.” After World War ii these ad hoc arrangements proved ill-suited for the complexity of modern military operations. Although the 1947 act made the Joint Chiefs of Staff (jcs) permanent, strong service cultures and the lack of other permanent joint mechanisms continued to prevent a joint culture from taking root. Problems such as those encountered during the invasion of Grenada in 1983 highlighted shortcomings in the existing jointness of planning, intelligence, communications, and the chain of command. Each service had its own plan, intelligence was not disseminated well, units from different services could not communicate with each other, and there was confusion over who was in charge. Such critical deficiencies prompted the U.S. Congress to require and provide for a more formal and enduring relationship. In 1986, Congress codified joint doctrine by specifically tasking the chairman of the jcs with “developing doctrine for the joint employment of the armed forces, formulating policies for the joint training of the armed forces, and formulating policies for coordinating the military education and training of members of the armed forces.”
The resulting development and implementation of joint doctrine has enabled the growth of a joint culture within the military that, while respecting individual service cultures and preserving appropriately unique traditions and characteristics, ensures that all service activities are conducted within the parameters of joint policies. Moreover, by providing an overarching framework for interservice coordination and by codifying procedures for joint operations, joint doctrine has enabled the services to focus their own service-specific policies, procedures, equipment, and budgets on interoperability and conducting joint operations. Though it took many years to mature — and continues to evolve today — joint doctrine has been directly responsible for the success of many military operations, both small and large, most recently the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Without joint doctrine, a joint culture would not have grown and many of these operations might have failed or even been impossible to undertake.
Ultimately, all elements of national power, not just military, are necessary to protect U.S. interests at home and abroad. Although coordinating and integrating the efforts of multiple agencies to produce a cohesive result is not a new concept either, the interagency community lacks a doctrine parallel to the military’s joint doctrine. As a result, the structure and procedures used for interagency coordination have changed with each presidential administration, thereby exacerbating the problem. Even though any doctrine must be flexible so that it can properly evolve and even rapidly transform when necessary, it should do so only according to changes in concepts, technology, or other substantive factors, but not personal preferences. A new president can, as seems fitting, alter grand strategy — the national strategic objectives the interagency community strives to achieve. To the greatest extent possible, however, the detailed mechanics used by the interagency community to achieve that grand strategy should not be altered.
Past efforts to improve and codify the procedures for interagency coordination have had limited success. The first significant efforts were made in the late 1990s, prompted by several grave failures in interagency coordination earlier in the decade such as that experienced in Somalia. These efforts, including Presidential Decision Directives (pdds) 25 and 56, provided specific guidance for interagency coordination with regard to managing peacekeeping and complex contingency operations. Most notably, pdd 56 included a format for a generic political-military or “pol-mil” plan to provide the interagency community a framework in which to facilitate coordination for certain complex contingency operations. The generic pol-mil plan contains extensive planning factors to be considered by the interagency community in any given operation. The substantive value of these planning factors is manifested by the fact that they have not significantly changed since the plan’s first draft in 1996.
While these planning factors remain valid, there are several reasons the pol-mil construct is fundamentally flawed and cannot be part of a viable interagency doctrine. First, although it intends to encompass all elements of national power, the plan format emphasizes diplomatic and military considerations thereby marginaling the other elements of national power, such as economic, intelligence, and law enforcement. Second, it promotes division by implicitly recognizing two distinct communities, military and nonmilitary, rather than one interagency community. Third, it fails to incorporate the importance of vertical coordination (among federal, state, and local governments) as well as the complete breadth of horizontal coordination (among the different entities of government, the private sector, and the international community). Fourth, it perpetuates the dominance of individual agency cultures in the interagency community by building each interagency task force around a “lead agency.” For example, “Joint-Interagency Task Forces,” used in multiagency counter-drug operations, report to the regional military commander. Likewise, even though many agencies contribute to them, the fbi’s “Joint Terrorism Task Forces” are fbi-centric.
Instead of using the pol-mil construct to build interagency task forces, a broader integrated approach would be more conducive to coordination and cooperation. Like the U.S. military unified joint commands and joint task forces, which bring together elements from each of the services under one joint headquarters formed by personnel from multiple services, integrated task forces (and other entities) would have an integrated headquarters staff formed by personnel from multiple agencies and would bring together elements from all agencies as required. The leader of each major integrated task force would be designated by, represent, and report to the president. Unlike joint doctrine, which allows senior officers from each service to be eligible to lead joint military commands, the increased complexity and sensitivities of the interagency community demand that leaders of interagency task forces not be from a specific agency. Rather, leaders of integrated task forces should be accomplished leaders without strong ties to any agency but with some experience in the dynamics of the interaction among those agencies. Ideally, former elected officials such as governors, congressmen, and mayors would fill these leadership positions.
Just as the individual military service chiefs are responsible for training and equipping the individuals and units of their services for participation in joint military operations, individual agency heads should remain responsible for training and equipping their agency’s personnel and organizations for participation in integrated interagency operations. During different phases of an operation, specific components of an integrated task force might be considered the main effort, but none should ever be considered the lead. Joint military operations do not have lead services or lead components; they are, simply, joint efforts led by a joint headquarters with a single commander. A component that has been designated the “main effort” does not lead the other components (the joint force commander does that). Rather, designation as the main effort simply requires that priority of support be given to that component during the time so designated.
Forming integrated headquarters and task forces and conducting integrated operations, however, cannot be done without a doctrine. Properly developed, an integrated doctrine would provide the framework necessary to help ensure that all national policies, plans, and operations are integrated and none is centered on any one agency. Ultimately, such an integrated doctrine would cultivate a strong interagency culture in which individual agency goals would be subordinate to national interagency goals.
An independent national authority
An organizational doctrine is most likely to be respected and followed when there is a single authority, properly designated and independent of the organizations subject to the doctrine, responsible for its development. Though the National Security Act of 1947 established the nsc as the nation’s highest authority responsible for coordinating interagency efforts, it did not specifically task the nsc to develop an interagency doctrine, but rather to manage the process of interagency coordination. Moreover, the nsc staff has become, through practice, more like an agency itself — directly involved in the process and less independent of it. Additionally, since 1947 several other formal entities with responsibility in interagency coordination have come into being, albeit with varying degrees of authority. Specifically, the National Economic Council, Domestic Policy Council, and, most recently, the Homeland Security Council (hsc) — all a part of the Executive Office of the President — have a direct role in achieving effective interagency cooperation. Of these and others, only the hsc has influence over interagency coordination similar to the nsc as provided in Homeland Security Presidential Decision 1 and the Homeland Security Act of 2002.
The hsc’s role is essentially the same as the nsc’s. Of note, the new Department of Homeland Security consolidated 22 agencies whose primary functions directly affect homeland security into one department, thereby greatly enhancing coordination of and accountability for those functions. Quickly following through on their mandates, both the hsc and the Department of Homeland Security made great strides in consolidating domestic incident response plans and procedures for interagency coordination — the first national “all hazard” Initial Response Plan was published on September 30, 2003, and the National Incident Management System was published in March 2004.
Since there are now two organizations, the nsc and the hsc, diligently working at the highest level of the federal government to improve interagency coordination, their efforts must be bridged. Even though their jurisdictions differ, there is almost always going to be an overlap in their missions. Many, if not most, national security threats have domestic components or implications, and many, if not most, homeland security threats originate abroad. Clearly it is not prudent to deal with each type of threat distinctly. In fact, eventually it may be prudent to consolidate the hsc staff as well as the other interagency councils within the nsc staff structure. Moreover, the potential for two different processes — one used by the nsc staff and the other by the hsc staff — to create more rather than less confusion requires urgent attention.
The importance of addressing this situation is demonstrated by the U.S. military’s experience with joint doctrine. Development of joint doctrine is headed by a section of the Joint Staff, which provides all staff support to the chairman of the jcs. Because the Joint Doctrine, Education, and Training Division has no operational authority and reports to neither the services nor the regional commanders, but rather to the chairman, it is appropriately independent. Each of the services and the unified joint commands, however, has an opportunity to review and provide input for new or revised portions of joint doctrine, which must be approved by the chairman prior to publication. As a result, joint doctrine is respected and, once published, must be followed by all military forces except when, in the judgment of commanders, “exceptional circumstances dictate otherwise.” Joint doctrine addresses all types of military operations and is applicable both abroad and domestically.
A doctrine developed by an independent authority with input from all agencies as well as state and local governments would be of similar benefit to the interagency community. Although the nsc has tasked the National Defense University (ndu) with training and educating senior personnel in the process of interagency coordination, the nsc has tasked no one with developing and codifying a doctrine. Moreover, as an element of the Department of Defense, ndu is not independent and therefore is unlikely to gain the full support of other agencies. Furthermore, since ndu has been tasked only by the nsc, interagency procedures it develops are unlikely to fully reflect hsc concerns and priorities. An Office of Integrated Doctrine, Training, and Education within the Executive Office of the President, but not part of any other staff such as the nsc and hsc, would be an ideal location for such an independent authority.
This same office also could oversee training of personnel. A national interagency university would be necessary as the focal point for educating senior personnel from all agencies. Individual agencies, working from interagency doctrine, would continue to operate their own schools and centers to train their personnel in agency as well as interagency policies and procedures. Given the current situation in which both the nsc and hsc staffs have significant interagency coordination responsibilities, the doctrine developed by this office should be approved by both the national security adviser and the homeland security adviser, possibly even the vice president, prior to publication.
Such an authority should be established as soon as possible for several reasons. First, just developing the doctrine will take a long time. Even though joint doctrine offers a good model, interagency coordination is far more complex than interservice coordination. Second, an independent authority is necessary to ensure that other ongoing initiatives, such as the fielding of interoperable equipment to first responders, dod’s “Force Transformation,” and the continued evolution of joint military doctrine ultimately support an integrated doctrine. Finally, just as joint doctrine serves as the foundation for U.S. involvement in multinational military operations today, an integrated doctrine would serve as the foundation for U.S. involvement in multinational multiagency operations in the future.
The regional lens through which U.S. government agencies look at the world is just as important to interagency coordination and cooperation as the procedures they employ. Unfortunately, individual agencies currently use notably different regional structures to organize their policy and operations both abroad and domestically. While these structures likely make sense within the organizations that use them, the disparity among them significantly inhibits interagency coordination. Any advantages gained by specific agencies from their unique structures are offset by the greater disadvantage to coordinating and unifying the broader national interagency effort.
This situation is similar to the one faced by the U.S. military until just after World War ii. Before then, each service’s regional structure reflected its parochial view of the world. Recognizing that the adverse impact on interservice coordination outweighed the benefits to the services for their individual regional structures, the newly formed Joint Chiefs of Staff required all the services to adopt a single structure. Since 1946, a “unified command plan” for a single global regional structure has been in place. In addition to requiring each military service to share the same regional view of the world, the services are required to support and participate in a unified regional command structure. Specifically, there is only one military command for each region, and the headquarters for those commands are joint — composed of personnel from each service. Although services do maintain small components within each regional command to represent service interests, ultimate authority for military operations within each region rests with its commander, regardless of the service from which he or she comes.
Although the geographic regions around which the nsc organizes its regional policy coordination committees are identical to those around which the State Department organizes its regional bureaus, the unity of regional structures used by the interagency community ends there. Most significantly, the geographic regions used by the nsc and the State Department bear little resemblance to those used by the dod or the Central Intelligence Agency (cia). In fact, the nsc-State Department regional structure for the world has six regions, whereas the dod has five and the cia has three. This disparity prevents a regional unity of effort — let alone clear lines of responsibility and authority — from being achieved and thus impedes efficient and effective planning and conduct of policy and operations. For example, the State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs must coordinate with three regional military commands to cover all of the countries in its region. Moreover, because each agency relies on its regional structure as a frame of reference, there is great potential for the agencies to give confusing or even conflicting advice to the president, since their advice will be based on different regional structures and therefore different regional assumptions, dynamics, considerations, and priorities.
Aligning these various regional structures into a single structure would foster unity of effort, enable far better planning and conduct of policy and operations in each region, and ensure that all advice to the president comes from the same frame of reference. Perhaps, had there been a single interagency regional structure in 1994 whereby the dod, State Department, cia and other agencies had a common frame of reference, the genocide in Rwanda could have been prevented. Moreover, a single regional structure would facilitate interregional coordination, which is especially important when achieving national crisis response goals requires shifting limited resources between regions without adversely affecting readiness in the regions providing the support. It also would facilitate better coordination with international organizations, regional organizations, nongovernmental organizations and individual nations — all of which play an increasingly vital role in achieving U.S. national objectives. Furthermore, any critical reasons an individual agency may have for a specific aspect of its current regional structure should be applicable to all agencies in the national strategic context — the one important to the president. Though every agency likely would have to adjust its current regional structure, all should participate in the development of a single structure.
Exacerbating this disunity is the different degree of authority placed on the regional leaders of the different agencies. Specifically, the regional military commanders are the senior military commanders in their regions. They are responsible for all U.S. military activities — with the exception of certain special operations — in their regions.1 In contrast, the assistant secretaries heading the State Department’s regional bureaus have less practical authority than the U.S. ambassadors to the individual countries in their regions. Paradoxically, in many cases, the regional military commanders have more diplomatic influence in a particular country in their region than the U.S. ambassador there does. Moreover, from a basic leadership or management standpoint, it is simply impossible for one person (the president or the secretary of state) to directly lead or even manage some 200 people (all the ambassadors). Thus, serious consideration should be given to appointing regional ambassadors. Such regional ambassadors, of necessity, would be senior to the individual ambassadors to nations in their regions and would provide the appropriate link to the president, the secretary of state, the State Department’s regional bureaus, and the regional leaders of all other agencies.
For the same reasons, the goal of a single regional structure should be applied within the nation’s borders as well. Unfortunately, the domestic regional structures used by U.S. federal agencies are even more incongruous than their foreign ones. In fact, the number of regions currently in use varies from three to 33. Even in cases where two agencies have the same number of regions, the regional boundaries often differ. Many agencies have different regions from their parent departments, whereas some have no regional structures but rather require all local offices to report directly to their national headquarters. Some domestic regional structures do not even follow state boundaries, so that some states fall into more than one region. While the Department of Homeland Security may succeed in aligning the regional structures of the agencies now under its authority, many others are not under dhs’s authority and will remain unaligned without action to that end. This situation is simply not tenable given all the other complicating factors in planning national policy and conducting complex operations.
While there are many competing considerations and interests, even collectively they do not outweigh the need to improve interagency coordination to protect national interests and counter present and future threats to the U.S. Although every agency likely will have to endure short-term difficulties to adjust to a unified regional structure, all should be involved in its development to ensure the best structure for long-term integration from the national strategic level down. Due to the immense disparity in existing structures, achieving an interagency consensus for a single domestic regional structure probably will be even more difficult than for a foreign one. But a single structure for regional policy coordination committees in both the nsc and hsc would greatly enhance unity of effort at both the national and regional levels. As currently required by law for the regional military commands, a single regional structure should be reviewed periodically and adjusted to address changing situations.
Ultimately, it is people and ideas that will matter most in developing a genuine interagency culture. While current personnel policies in the individual agencies provide for some interagency exposure, overall they foster the development of individuals with an agency-specific focus. Again, the U.S. military experience with joint doctrine offers a guide for building a common culture through personnel policies.
In addition to mandating the development of joint doctrine, the Goldwater-Nichols Defense Reorganization Act of 1986 also mandated the establishment of personnel policies to ensure the development of officers with significant joint experience who would form a core of experts in joint operations dedicated to the joint culture. For example, the act requires that officers who successfully complete assignments to joint staffs receive favorable consideration at promotion boards. Additionally, all officers are required to receive formal training in joint doctrine and must complete a joint assignment prior to being considered for promotion to general or admiral. These policies have ensured that all services fully participate in joint staffs and that a joint culture prevails regardless of the service from which the commanders come.
Also important to developing a joint culture among the military services have been interservice personnel assignments. Not to be confused with liaison duty, personnel on such assignments have actual positions in units from services other than their own for a substantial (though limited) period of time, ideally two to four years. Known as personnel exchanges when such assignments are reciprocated, these assignments allow individuals to become deeply familiar with the specific capabilities and cultures of other services, making them better prepared to plan, conduct, and lead joint operations. Additionally, such personnel represent their own service’s capabilities and culture to the personnel in the unit or office to which they are assigned. These assignments enhance unity of effort by building personal bonds and facilitating interoperability at all levels and in all functional areas.
Similar policies and programs would produce similar results for the interagency community. Accordingly, personnel from all agencies should be required to receive training in interagency coordination. Even though not on the same scale as the military’s joint staffs, which have thousands of personnel assigned to each, the interagency community does have opportunities for assignments to interagency staffs. These staffs, such as the working groups and committees of the nsc and hsc as well as various other interagency task forces, coordination groups, and fusion cells have hundreds, if not thousands, of positions. Assignments to these groups should be made at all levels of seniority and be required for promotion to the highest ranks in each agency. Although most of these staffs are not full-time assignments (that is, the personnel assigned have primary duties within their parent agencies), they represent an opportunity to work with personnel from other agencies. With regional alignment as proposed earlier, permanent integrated staffs could be formed to coordinate policy and operations in each region. Then personnel on integrated staffs would have duties only within those staffs — just as military personnel assigned to joint commands have duties only within those commands and not with their parent services during those assignments.
Interagency personnel assignments also would enhance a common culture within the interagency community. Although some agencies already have interagency exchange assignments, these assignments are mostly at the headquarters level. Assignments among all agencies to regional and local offices (and operational military units), however, are necessary to develop an interagency mindset early in the careers of personnel and to ensure integration at all levels. Many positions at all levels in every agency could be effectively filled by personnel from other agencies. For example, Department of Justice personnel could serve in legal sections, Department of Homeland Security personnel could serve in security and force protection units, and cia personnel could hold billets in intelligence sections. Personnel from the various law enforcement agencies could be assigned to military police units or security sections of other federal agencies, and vice versa.
Such assignments also should include personnel whose jobs are common to all agencies (for example, human resources, administration, and communication) as well as regional experts and analysts. Reflecting the tenet that the interagency effort is a national and not just a federal one, interagency personnel assignments should be made with state and local governments as well. For example, state police could have officers assigned to military police units on bases in their states as well as the regional federal law enforcement offices that include their states. For military personnel, rotating assignments among duty positions and units at the tactical, operational, and strategic level are critical to developing a well-rounded perspective that understands the priorities, dynamics, and nature of the big picture, the details involved with execution at the tactical level, and the operational area in between. Interagency assignments among local, state, and federal personnel would benefit from similar exposure. Finally, as noted earlier, an integrated doctrine likely will become the foundation for multinational operations. Therefore, all agencies should start (or expand) personnel exchange programs with their counterparts from other nations. For example, the Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could exchange personnel with the corresponding agencies from other nations. Such exchanges would likely enhance efforts to prevent and control the spread of infectious diseases across international borders.
In the short term, interagency personnel assignments would have an immediate impact on improving operations at the tactical level. For example, instead of relying on National Intelligence Support Teams (nists) — with personnel from various intelligence agencies to augment military units as they deploy for contingencies — such personnel should be exchanged routinely. National intelligence personnel assigned to operational military units could ensure that the units have access to national-level intelligence during operations and have trained with it beforehand as well. Personnel in such assignments can facilitate working through barriers such as noninteroperable communications systems, nonmutual security access regulations, and differences in terminology and procedures until they are eliminated. Moreover, nists, which bring communications gear that gives them direct access to national intelligence organizations, would be more effective if they were augmenting colleagues from their parent agencies already assigned to the units (and already equipped with the gear).
Over time, ideas and knowledge would be exchanged more freely and frequently, resulting in a better understanding of other agencies’ (and other countries’) capabilities, improved and more uniform procedures at the tactical/local and operational/regional levels, and the development of more interoperable equipment. Upon returning to their parent agency, these personnel would share what they learned and be able to recommend changes to improve their agency’s ability to conduct integrated operations. Close personal relationships would develop and endure, producing more leaders with broader experience and better able to serve at the top of their organizations (especially when planning and conducting integrated policy and operations). The key to this proposal is that such assignments, successfully completed, must enhance each individual’s potential for promotion to senior ranks within their parent agencies, as is the case within the military services.
The attacks of September 11, 2001 and testimony before the 9/11 Commission investigating them leave no doubt that there remains room for substantial improvement in the process of interagency coordination. Even before September 11, 2001 several independent studies and commissions had made hundreds of recommendations to improve interagency coordination. Many of those recommendations have since been implemented and have led to some improvements. None of them, however, has truly tackled the broader requirement to integrate and unify the interagency community as a whole. The updated National Response Plan (nrp), dated December 2004, makes great headway in creating a basic framework for domestic interagency coordination and cooperation, most notably in identifying planning assumptions and considerations, articulating roles and responsibilities, and thinking through necessary interagency actions for a variety of incident scenarios. Although procedures in the nrp and the associated National Incident Management System attempt to outline a framework for a unified interagency command structure, what they actually achieve is a framework for unity of effort. This collaborative command structure, where agencies are expected to “work together effectively without affecting individual agency authority, responsibility, or accountability,” does not achieve the genuine unity of command that is required. Moreover, as noted previously, Department of Homeland Security documents have applicability only in the domestic context.
With the recent enactment of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, the president has signed into law what will likely be the most dramatic change in interagency coordination since the enactment of the National Security Act of 1947. As important as this new legislation is, it is focused on the intelligence community rather than the broader interagency community. For example, the requirement for personnel to have assignments outside their parent agency to be eligible for promotion applies only to intelligence professionals and intelligence agencies. In order for any of its specific improvements to be truly effective, an overarching doctrine to unify and integrate all interagency coordination must be established. Although doing so will require a shift from the current competing strong individual agency cultures to a strong unified interagency culture — an admittedly difficult requirement — the U.S. military’s experience with creating a strong interservice culture provides a model upon which to do just that. Simply expanding joint doctrine to include interagency coordination, however, will only preserve its military focus and discourage the full involvement of nonmilitary agencies. Moreover, using joint military terminology and concepts (and watering down their military meaning) for use in the interagency context creates more confusion rather than less. To solve this puzzle the interagency community must have its own overarching doctrine and a single strong interagency culture.
Although the national interagency community is much larger and far more diverse than the military (interservice) community, building a strong interagency culture is achievable. Many, if not most, members of the interagency community respect — even admire — their colleagues from other agencies and try to work together in all endeavors. But they all face the same grim reality every day: Their own agency’s future budgets are dependent upon their agency’s success or failure. Consequently, personnel are compelled to treat interagency coordination as a zero-sum game.
The proposals here, however, would fundamentally change the rules. Moreover, they could potentially result in significant savings — thereby offsetting the cost of implementing them. Codifying interagency procedures would reduce time lost in ad hoc efforts. Integration of regional staffs could produce substantial savings in funds and free hundreds of personnel for other assignments, including assignments to advanced professional education courses, without leaving positions in the operational organizations vacant. But most important, the interagency community as a whole would be more efficient and effective.
With a strong interagency culture the community will be far better able to coordinate among the agencies and with external organizations including state, local, and foreign governments; international organizations; nongovernmental organizations; academic institutions; and the private sector — which not only has a vested stake in America’s security, but holds most of the resources necessary to protect it. Moreover, it will enable actual integrated operations, and not just improved coordination and cooperation. Finally, it will enable more effective oversight by Congress — though Congress must make changes in its current committee structure for this benefit to be realized.
Although new legislation will be necessary to achieve an enduring interagency culture, progress can be made without it. By executive order, the president can establish the basic doctrine, create — within his Executive Office — an office with the authority to develop it, and direct all executive branch agencies to submit proposals for aligning their regional structures and implementing personnel exchange programs such as those described here. While there will no doubt be parochial resistance to such an effort, the U.S. military was able to overcome substantial similar resistance to the development of a joint culture. The interagency community can do likewise. Just as joint culture unifies the military services without destroying individual service traditions, an integrated culture can unify the interagency community without destroying individual agency traditions. Without a strong interagency culture, the U.S. will continue to wrestle its way through tough interagency challenges inefficiently and possibly ineffectively. Such an approach, dependent on the raw determination and selfless devotion of countless individuals, will be unnecessarily difficult and costly — in money and lives.
1 In addition to the regional commands, the U.S. military has several joint functional commands. These commands, notably U.S. Special Operations Command, U.S. Strategic Command, and U.S. Transportation Command, have global responsibility for their functional areas. Usually the functional commands are in a supporting role to the regional commands, though in certain special cases the roles could be reversed. This is an evolving area within joint doctrine and not further explored in this article. Of note is the recently established National Counterterrorism Center, which may prove to be an analogous construct to these functional military commands.