When the United States military flew and rode into Iraq they decisively defeated the conventional forces led by Saddam Hussein. It was the peace that we began to lose, crippled by a fractured interagency process that had sort of forgotten there would be stuff to do once the other side was defeated. And then there was the failure to share crucial intelligence gathered before the 911 attacks, which Congress tried to fix in part by creating the Director of National Intelligence.
Soon after President Obama was sworn in we heard from senior Pentagon officials that they would be paying much more attention to tools of so-called soft power. US AID, long a crippled, rump organization, would get beefed up with the goal of building what everyone called an expeditionary capability. They said they would be willing to give money to help State and AID do their jobs better.
Well, we haven't seen much of that and the man they picked to lead AID was a 36-year-old fellow who had managed vaccine and agriculture programs at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation but had never worked in government or held a senior leadership position at a large bureaucracy. To help fix these large and persistent interagency problems, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee joined with the GOP co-chair of the House National Security Interagency Reform Working Group to write a bill.
"For many years, we’ve repeatedly heard from independent blue ribbon panels and bipartisan commissions that when it comes to interagency collaboration on national security, our system is inefficient, ineffective, and often down-right broken," HASC Chairman Rep. Ike Skelton said today. What was broken? He pointed to "lack of communication and information-sharing between intelligence and law enforcement agencies stopped us from preventing the attacks."
And there's the lack of cooperation, communication and coordination in Afghanistan. "We’ve heard about cases in Afghanistan where DOD is working on a project using CERP funds in a particular village while USAID is funding the same project across town, wasting money and undermining our credibility with the Afghan people—all because the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing," he said.
“The greatest impediment to effective national security interagency operations is that many agencies lack personnel who have the skills and experience necessary to execute mission priorities as a multi-agency team in a crisis situation," said Rep. Geoff Davis, a former Army air assault commander.
The highlights of the bill, as described the lawmakers:
- A new interagency governance structure to develop interagency knowledge, skills, and experience among national security professionals;
- Incentives for national security professionals to undertake—and their employing agencies to encourage—interagency education, training, and assignments;
- Creation of a consortium of colleges and universities to develop and offer consistent and effective interagency education and training opportunities; and
- Require agencies to maintain staff levels to continue day-to-day functions and mission operations while national security professionals undertake professional education and training.
How far this bill will get and what kind of reception it will get from intelligence, military and civilian interagency players remains to be seen. The DNI tried to create a "joint" intelligence community by requiring that senior officials serve outside their home agencies. That elicited a howl of protest and scorn from most of the intelligence pros with whom I spoke. Skelton said he and Davis looked to the Goldwater-Nichols legislation that created jointness as a model for their bill. Let's hope it can achieve half as much twice as fast.