Smart Intelligence

By Limor Ben-Har and Myra Howze Shiplett

January 28, 2009

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence recently announced guidelines that will revolutionize the way 16 agencies in the U.S. intelligence community manage their employees. The move will encourage greater innovation, cooperation and cross-pollination among national security agencies and functions.

The guidelines create descriptions of intelligence jobs and skills, making it easier to assemble teams of experts from different agencies to respond rapidly to crises and to work together on assignments. They also address the joint-duty program, which requires employees to complete at least one assignment outside their home agency before they can move up to senior-level positions.

Employees who gain experience working in another agency are more likely to cooperate with colleagues across agency lines. The current stove-piped system, which discourages joint assignments and interagency cooperation, has hampered collaboration and policy implementation at historical junctures.

America's national security system, created in 1947, has failed to keep pace with changing threats. At the request of Congress and the Defense Department, a coalition of think tanks and experts established the Project on National Security Reform to identify problems and develop recommendations to transform the national security system into an interagency community that can respond to today's threats and opportunities.

In December, the coalition released its recommendations in a report titled "Forging a New Shield." The report flagged the need to strengthen the national security workforce as an essential core reform. People are an organization's most valuable resource, but the intelligence community -- and the rest of the national security system -- fails to make the best use of its talents.

Through a broad range of measures such as the establishment of core values, common job descriptions and new incentives for collaboration across agency lines, the coalition will strengthen efforts to create a national security workforce that functions as a unified team.

Without a culture of collaboration national security agencies struggled to bring in the right people at the right time to build provincial reconstruction teams in Iraq. The botched federal response to Hurricane Katrina is another example of what can go wrong when agencies fail to work together.

The Project on National Security Reform has developed more than 100 case studies of success and failure during national security crises. A continuing theme in most failures was the inability to quickly get government agencies at all levels to work together to take necessary actions.

Presidential leadership is essential in serious national security reform. President Obama must work with Congress and Cabinet secretaries to ensure that the system encourages a culture of unity and collaboration. But the right incentives and programs have to be in place to turn the president's directives into reality. The coalition's recommendations call for developing an incentive system linked to goals in the periodic national security strategic assessment.

National security challenges are growing in magnitude and frequency, and without meaningful change they will be hard to overcome. Success will require a system that is holistic, highly integrated, collaborative and fast. Human capital management policies and programs must support these values.

New policies, such as the ODNI's guidelines, are critical to attracting and keeping employees with the proper skills. The Project on National Security Reform recommends significant investments in training to make sure agencies have the talent needed to carry out their missions.

Structural and procedural reforms alone will not solve the national security system's problems. They must be buttressed by an effort to build a shared culture and opportunities for education and assignments that keep employees on the cutting edge. An integrated national security workforce must be a major component of this effort.

Limor Ben-Har is a senior fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency. Myra Howze Shiplett is president of the RandolphMorgan Consulting LLC and heads the Human Capital Working Group for PNSR.

By Limor Ben-Har and Myra Howze Shiplett

January 28, 2009