Discussion Needed to Change Interagency Process, Pace Says
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 17, 2004 The discussion has to start on how best to employ the full strength of the United States government, said Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman Marine Gen. Peter Pace.
Winning the global war on terrorism will call on the expertise of all aspects of the federal government. Departments not now known for having a national security mission will assume new importance as the United States and its allies face down the terrorist threat.
Is there a better way to coordinate missions that span several federal departments? Pace thinks so.
Now, an interagency process "tees up" decisions for the president. "And we do a pretty good job of defining the problems and devising solutions," Pace said in an interview.
It's after the president makes a decision that the process slows up. Each department or agency takes its share of the mission and goes back into its "stovepipe" to do the work. "State does what it has to, Defense does its part, Treasury and so on," Pace said. There is no one below the president ensuring the agencies work together.
Pace proposes a "joint interagency task force" structure where a Cabinet chief or designated leader in an agency would be in charge of a mission for the president. That person would lead an interagency group and be empowered to direct employees in other agencies in accomplishing the mission for the president, Pace said.
The process would also eliminate a problem inherent in stovepiping that of having rips in the seams between agencies. "If you could get somebody to be the 'interagency JTF commander' for a particular event, then that person would have responsibility across the seams and you have a good opportunity to close those gaps," Pace said.
Without that person, no one below the level of the president is looking at the totality of a project. It would depend on the goodwill of people in the agencies to identify the seams and work to ensure nothing is missed, he said.
But there would be a check and balance to any joint interagency task force leader. In the military system, the joint task force system works very well most of the time. But for those times when a person disagrees with a decision, then that person has a responsibility to report through service channels back to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
So if a sailor disagrees with the way naval force is being used, then he can report those concerns back through the Navy to the chief of naval operations. "The same sort of system would work with an interagency task force," Pace said. "A State Department employee could report through State channels to get his concerns to the secretary."
Changes to the interagency process would also make it quicker and more flexible, Pace said. "Whether it would be fast enough, I don't know," he said. "It would certainly be faster than the current system."
Pace stressed that an interagency set-up would not be limited to counterterrorism missions or other national security/homeland security concerns. Any mission that requires a group of agencies to work together would benefit from this idea, Pace said.
The make-up of an interagency task force would, by nature, have to be flexible. "The number of individuals needed to be members of counterterrorism task force is reasonably small -- Defense, State, Treasury to start," Pace said. "You don't need every department to be part of the interagency joint task force that gets stood up initially. You may need people later, and they can be brought in later."
The real benefit to the American people will come after various groups of government employees work together, get to know each other and begin to trust employees in other agencies, Pace said. The general quoted Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's statement that "we don't know what we don't know. We don't know what synergy can be created as we work with other agencies, because we don't know how to work with them."
He said civilians and military personnel should spend tours in other agencies. This will let the people understand the culture in another agency and how to work with those people. "They will find that there are great Americans in other agencies," Pace said. "Just like we found after we were forced to become joint, that the other (military) services had great people working in them."
Pace said there must be an education component to the interagency process too. He suggested that the National Defense University and other military schools might increase the number of civilian attendees. He also suggested that the schools might try different curricula, which could eventually spin off into a totally different institution.
He said that civilian employees should have the same incentives to become interagency qualified that military officers had to become joint promotions and pay. "The (Goldwater-Nichols Act) mandated that I have joint education and a joint tour, if I wanted to be promoted beyond colonel," he said. "We can do the same on the civilian side. Pick a level GS-13, 14 or SES and say to get promoted beyond that level you must have had a tour in another department of the government. That's doable."
A huge percentage of senior civilians are eligible for retirement in coming years, and now is the time to institute these sorts of changes. "You don't want to 'move the cheese' of the people in the government now," Pace said. "But if we tell people when they first come into government that this will happen, and they agree with it, then you can move forward."
The general stresses that these are just suggestions. "I don't have the answers," he said. "I just hope I can spark discussion about what the best ideas are."
Given the challenges facing the United States, though, he hopes people of all agencies will realize the benefits of the proposal. "There is a synergism that comes from working together, sharing ideas and pulling on the oars together," he said. "We need to capitalize on that."