Pat the Builder
Patrick F. Kennedy aims to manage the cantankerous intelligence community.
Patrick F. Kennedy looks neither like an ambassador nor a senior intelligence official, although he's both. There's no rarefied or especially secretive air about him. And this is striking, because as the first-ever management chief for all U.S. intelligence agencies, Kennedy will have to rise above the fray like a diplomat and keep watch like a spy.
Last year, Kennedy became the deputy director for management at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, hand-picked by his old boss turned national intelligence director, John D. Negroponte, to implement a bold plan to integrate the 16 agencies in the so-called intelligence community. Their historic disorganization and feuding have been blamed for spectacular intelligence failures, most recently the inability to decipher Iraq's weapons-building plans.
Kennedy was part of the administrative and management ranks of the State Department for three decades, serving his first tour, in 1973, as a regional administrative officer in Africa. He was assistant secretary for administration for more than eight years, concurrently serving a one-year stint as acting undersecretary for management. He worked with Negroponte twice, first as the ambassador to the United Nations for management and reform when Negroponte was the United States' permanent representative to the international body, and then as the chief of staff for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, when Negroponte was the U.S. ambassador there.
On the DNI's organizational chart, each of the deputy director boxes is tagged with a catchy, two-word mission statement: Know it (deputy director for analysis), Get it (deputy director for collection). Kennedy's slogan, however, is less straightforward-Build it.
Build what? Simply put, but not simply accomplished, the "it" is integrated intelligence, Kennedy says. The idea is to instill in every agency a sense that it's part of a collective effort to gather, produce and disseminate intelligence. Intelligence reform officially began when President Bush signed the 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, which created the DNI's office, Integrated intelligence is supposed to harness the expertise of many agencies at once.
In theory, this should help them avoid marginalizing dissenting views on questions such as: Does Iraq's purchase of aluminum tubes mean Saddam Hussein is building a nuclear centrifuge or rocket shell casings? In the communitywide report addressing that question, released before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the CIA downplayed the State Department's assessment that the latter case was true.
Kennedy says he'll provide the infrastructure, meaning the money and the people, to allow integration to happen. The Office of the DNI intends to be a policy and standards-setting agency, he explains. On the budget side, Kennedy informs the agencies of the DNI's strategic priorities for national intelligence, and then helps Negroponte present the annual intelligence budget to the president. When it comes to personnel, Kennedy's office is implementing new requirements for promotion and advancement, most significantly a rule that career employees won't be promoted into senior executive ranks unless they've served stints at more than one agency.
None of Kennedy's tasks comes without controversy and bureaucratic pain. The Defense secretary, whose intelligence agencies consume the lion's share of budget funds, traditionally has held the most sway over how money is spent. The fiscal 2008 budget cycle is the first that the DNI, and therefore Kennedy, will be involved in from beginning to end, and so there's still time for a much-anticipated debate involving Kennedy and Negroponte and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Asked how he'd handle a Pentagon power grab, the diplomat in Kennedy surfaces. Intelligence budgeting is a consultative process, he says. Kennedy and his staff hold budget briefings with all the intelligence agencies. If an element of a budget request is out of step, Kennedy says, they ask the agency to explain the discrepancy, and possibly correct it by resubmitting the request.
But what are the carrots and the sticks? Even a casual observer understands the reluctance of a well-entrenched agency to let go of the purse strings to a bureaucratic upstart like the DNI, particularly when it's run by intelligence outsiders. (Like Kennedy, Negroponte also is a career diplomat.) Kennedy says the DNI's office issued some "amended budget guidance" for the fiscal 2007 submission. Of course, it being the intelligence budget, that guidance is classified. But no major public budget battles have emerged thus far, so Kennedy appears to be getting along in his first year.
As for the personnel portion of the Build it mission, Kennedy faces an uphill climb. There's no doubt he understands the basics of human capital. "The biggest asset, the real asset of the intelligence community is the people," he says, and his State Department career reflects an affinity for personnel management. But Kennedy correctly recognizes that intelligence agencies have hired and promoted on their own terms and have not successfully standardized their practices.
Kennedy is not about to try: "Our goal is not to replace those [personnel systems] or boil them down." He doesn't favor creating a new national intelligence university, for instance, to train analysts and intelligence gatherers. The agencies need to be left to what they do best-the National Security Agency collecting electronic signals, or the CIA running intelligence operations. There are some common areas, however, such as management and language training, where they can pool resources and school employees in one place, Kennedy says. The hope is that getting different employees in the same room will have an integrating effect, he adds.
But there can be no doubt that intelligence personnel reform isn't all feel-good. By implementing the multi- agency service requirement for promotion, the Office of the DNI is telling agencies that the plum assignments and higher pay won't come from carving out a specialty, or ensconcing oneself in a single career track at one agency.
Critics of the DNI's approach say intelligence agencies need specialists, particularly in long-understaffed areas such as counterterrorism. But Kennedy's philosophy is that there are enough experts; what the intelligence community really needs, and lacks, is better management, to include more coordination of analysis, a less fiefdom-oriented approach to budgeting and a smarter recruitment plan. On that point, Kennedy says the Office of the DNI now is setting up a sort of all-points booth at college and university job fairs. Rather than seeking out individual agencies, job candidates can come to the DNI table, discuss their interests and let recruiters help them decide which agency would be a good fit. The office also is working to capture résumés electronically, so if one agency takes a pass, another can have a look, Kennedy says.
He might have just the kind of builder's mind needed to reform, or perhaps reshape, budgeting and personnel. When asked why he feels qualified for his job, Kennedy talks about helping build budgets at the State Department, or integrating agencies during departmental reorganizations in the 1990s. And this is where the real Kennedy seems to emerge. He's a career Foreign Service officer, yes. And now he's a senior intelligence director. But at heart, Kennedy is a management nut. He appears to live it, breathe it and, unless he's a career masochist, loves it. No one could call Kennedy unqualified. Over the next several months, he'll find out whether anyone will call him successful.