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Gates Lauds Moves to Bolster Civilian Agencies

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 15, 2008 – Calling civilian government agencies a “combat multiplier,” Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said last night that he’s encouraged by moves to bolster the support agencies can provide to fight the war on terror.

Speaking at the Academy of American Diplomats here, the secretary said there is bipartisan support on Capitol Hill to devote more resources to the State Department and other civilian agencies.

Since the war on terror began, President Bush, defense officials and military officers have stressed that all parts of the federal government must work together to combat extremists -- that the military can put in place conditions for security, but civilian agencies are the repositories of expertise on governance, economics, agriculture and so on. Countries like Iraq and Afghanistan need these skills to cement progress in place.

“There is a need for a much greater integration of our efforts,” Gates said. “There is clearly a need for a better way to organize interagency collaboration.”

Defense personnel have always worked in the State Department, but now State Department personnel are assigned to DoD, especially with the combatant commands. The newly formed U.S. Africa Command, for example, has a large number of State Department personnel assigned to the organization. U.S. Southern Command also has a large number of personnel from civilian agencies as integral members of the command.

The civilian expertise is especially needed “when we're being out-communicated by a guy in a cave,” Gates said.

The problem with the civilian agencies providing the personnel has not been a lack of will, but a lack of capabilities, Gates said. The State Department has about 6,600 Foreign Service officers. To put it in perspective, that’s barely enough to crew one carrier battle group in the Navy, the secretary said.

The upshot is that when civilian agencies cannot deploy personnel, servicemembers step in to take up the slack. The provincial reconstruction teams in Afghanistan and Iraq are primary examples of this, Gates said. The teams, which have slots for officials from the departments of agriculture, commerce, treasury, justice and so on, were staffed by military personnel so they effort could get up and running quickly.

“There aren't deployable people in agriculture and commerce and treasury and so on that are prepared to go overseas,” Gates said.

And these skills are desperately needed, he emphasized. “My view is we are not properly structured to deal with the challenges of the 21st century, which are very complex and have to do not only with security issues but economic development, rule of law, governance and so on,” Gates said.

The State Department has asked for a further 1,000 Foreign Service officers and a significant increase in budget for fiscal 2009. Legislation on Capitol Hill would establish a Civilian Reserve Corps. The proposal is in three parts: a couple of hundred full-time people ready to respond at a moment’s notice, a cadre of civilians in agencies around the federal government who could be called up to serve anywhere in the world, and civilians in private life who could -- like the National Guard -- serve when “federalized.”

“The military calls it a force multiplier when they get these civilians on the ground,” Gates said.

The national security organization is essentially unchanged since it was enacted in 1947. DoD has let a contract to see what a new National Security Act would look like if it were enacted this year, the secretary said.

“I, frankly, don't have the answers,” he said. “We've got a contract out … to some academic institutions and think tanks to see if we can't come up with some ideas.”

He said he hopes the results from the study will give the new administration some options to pursue in the challenging security environment.

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