The National Security Enterprise: Navigating the Labyrinth

  • Published

The National Security Enterprise: Navigating the Labyrinth edited by Roger Z. George and Harvey Rishikof. Georgetown University Press, 2011, 384 pp.

Navigating the Labyrinth argues that national security planning needs to be more coordinated and effective based on the challenges found in this century. Each contributing author examines specific components and cultures that make up the national security enterprise. In three distinct sections, they describe the interagency process within the executive branch, the role of Congress and the Supreme Court, and, finally, the outside players, including lobbyists, think tanks, and the media. The editors of Navigating the Labyrinth are both professors at the National War College and previously served in executive-branch agencies.

Each author acknowledges there can be no structural fix for the bureaucratic maze unless there is an awareness of the specific components that make up the current system of national security policy planning and execution. The lack of understanding of other components clearly harms the overall effectiveness of US projection of hard military power, economic statecraft, and soft-power diplomacy. One author notes that unfortunately, “civil servants too often see few professional benefits from involvement in interagency activities, which take them out of sight of their day-to-day management.”

A fundamental tension described repeatedly is that cabinet secretaries are too busy running and representing their departments to effectively coordinate government-wide policies. There have been attempts to alleviate this situation, most notably the National Security Act of 1947 and creation of the National Security Council. Among the variables that shape an agency’s dynamics are the nature of the threat environment, constitutional frameworks, leadership quality, and access to technology.

A successful bureaucracy is partially measured by the ability to create a link between policy and resources. Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is credited with beginning the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), a parallel mechanism to the Quadrennial Defense Review completed at the Pentagon. The need for an overarching strategic policy document is not new. Secretary of Defense James Forrestal in 1947 was so concerned that the OSD would be ineffective in steering a department-wide policy that he remarked, “This office will probably be the biggest cemetery for dead cats in history.”

Since the 9/11 attacks, Congress has reorganized the federal bureaucracy significantly to address threats. The creation of the Department of Homeland Security combined 22 federal agencies and 170,000 workers. Another new office, the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), is charged with coordinating the programs and findings of the intelligence community (IC) and monitoring the work of the National Counterterrorism Center. The book conveys the challenges that impede cooperation when six cabinet departments host intelligence community elements. The goals of information sharing, greater use of open source (unclassified) information in analyses, and improved cooperation with law enforcement have been difficult to reach. A positive step is that now the DNI can communicate directly to the president if and why there are analytic disagreements on a specific topic.

Agencies clearly can work together. For example, the CIA identifies targets for drone strikes in Afghanistan, but CENTCOM gives the go-ahead for coalition forces to conduct the strike. Issues such as cyber security involve even more stakeholders—the National Security Agency, FBI, and Department of Commerce, to name just a few. Now more than ever, mission overlap and bureaucratic hurdles should be tackled.

This book could be improved with more in-depth case studies that test the current bureaucratic decision-making framework, especially countering cyber security threats. Although the differing priorities and approaches of each military service are considered, it would be helpful to recommend concrete approaches for working together. Closer collaboration among service branches and the OSD is equally important for policymaking and budget requests.

Some presidential administrations have chosen to use special envoys to cut across traditional agency and departmental divisions. This weakens the power of cabinet secretaries and bolsters White House control over major policy initiatives. The reader is left wondering, when is this helpful with diplomacy and national security?

Personnel in many different agencies will find this book insightful. Financial management analysts will find the chapter about the role of the Office of Management and Budget useful in understanding the cycle of agency budget submissions. Younger civil servants would find several of the recommendations contained in the book applicable to their own careers. The authors make the case for more rotations across the national security structure for both civilians and military at intervals throughout a career in government. Congressional staffers will likely be surprised that the DHS is currently overseen by 86 congressional committees and subcommittees.

Too often the national security enterprise involves a process of overcoming bureaucratic battles, incompetence, limited budgets, and misaligned priorities. Understanding how the national security “puzzle pieces” are unique is the first step to make them work in tandem. In this way, events around the world can be shaped to US security advantage.

Merrick Garb

Deputy Chief of Staff for Manpower, Personnel, and Services 

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."