Overhaul of National Security System Sought

In his first television interview since his historic election, President-elect Barack Obama said he has spent the days since the election doing 'whatever it takes' to stabilize the economy. Video by AP
By Walter Pincus
Monday, November 17, 2008

"The simple truth is that the world for which the [U.S.] national security system was designed in 1947 no longer exists. Today's challenges require better integration of expertise and capabilities from across the government. . . . Instead, departments and agencies are often working against one another, the White House is unable to make timely and well-informed decisions, and there is an over-reliance on military force."

That is an excerpt from the introduction to a little-noticed, 648-page collection of national security case studies on events that range from the Allied occupation of Japan in the 1940s to the deployment of foreign troops in Somalia in the 1990s to the ongoing war in Iraq. The report was released seven weeks ago by a nonpartisan group that has studied the way the U.S. national security structure has worked over the past 60 years.

The Project on National Security Reform, financed primarily with $6.4 million from Congress, has employed the talents of 25 former senior national security officials and benefited from the advice of a "guiding coalition" that includes high-ranking officials from past administrations.

On Dec. 2, the project will make public its recommendations, including steps that President-elect Barack Obama might take after his Jan. 20 inauguration, and draft legislation to change congressional oversight of national security and amend the 1947 National Security Act.

Among the coalition's members are James B. Steinberg, frequently mentioned as a potential Obama national security adviser and Michèle A. Flournoy, one of the leaders of Obama's Pentagon transition team. Neither will sign the project's final recommendations because of their new status, said James R. Locher III, the project's executive director.

The project's examination of U.S. planning for the war in Iraq under President Bush revealed "a national security system unable to develop an integrated strategy for a post-war environment." The case study on the U.S. operation in Somalia under President Bill Clinton demonstrated "how the U.S. government can misalign objectives and resources in a disastrous fashion."

Among the recommendations: The Pentagon should enlarge its planning process for complex contingencies with inputs from other agencies. The study points out that "the Clinton administration's oft-ignored bible on political-military planning for complex contingencies, Presidential Decision Directive 56, was headed in the right direction."

But it notes that "early in the first term of President George W. Bush, the Pentagon blocked an NSC staff draft of a new contingency planning policy, all in the name of preserving the freedom of action of cabinet officers and keeping civilians out of the contingency planning business. . . . While war plan security is paramount, we need to strive for more integration in policy formulation and execution."

Echoing what Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has been saying for months, the case study volume calls for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development to receive increased funding because of the "need to become more operational, that is, able to lead in the management of grand enterprises in unsafe and austere environments."

The fewer than 8,000 Foreign Service officers in the department and USAID spend "less than one-tenth of what the Pentagon does on its many missions," on all of their functions, including security assistance, according to the study. "State cannot be equipped only with good ideas while Defense has all the money and most of the deployable assets."

The study recommends, "At a minimum, over the next five years, the Foreign Service personnel strength of State and USAID should be raised by fifty percent and the entire budget of the State Department and USAID should be doubled, across the board." Otherwise, they will remain "poor relations of the Pentagon."

The legislative branch comes in for criticism. Without naming the House and Senate armed services, foreign relations, intelligence and government oversight panels, the study finds, "Committees are organized to oversee individual executive branch departments and agencies, not to supervise interagency mechanisms or multi-agency operations, making accountability for 'national missions' a peripheral concern."

The study notes Congress's division of authority between committees that authorize spending and those that appropriate money. It criticizes "restrictions on spending and fund transfers," as well as lawmakers' "willingness to include significant expenses unrelated to emergency operations in supplemental budget appropriations [that as a result] impede the linking of resources to national security goals and objectives."

National security and intelligence reporter Walter Pincus pores over the speeches, reports, transcripts and other documents that flood Washington and every week uncovers the fine print that rarely makes headlines -- but should. If you have any items that fit the bill, please send them to fineprint@washpost.com.

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