Bill promotes jointness among national security agencies

Thursday - 9/30/2010, 7:15pm EDT

Jason Miller, Executive Editor, Federal News Radio

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Two House lawmakers want to apply the approach that brought the Defense Department closer together under the Goldewater-Nichols law to national security agencies.

Congressmen Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) and Geoff Davis (R-Ky.) introduced the Interagency National Security Professional Education, Administration and Development (INSPEAD) System Act of 2010 (H.R. 6249) Wednesday mandating training, education and, in the end, more jointness.

"If we look at our national security apparatus as whole, I believe it is broken," said Davis during a press briefing on Capitol Hill Thursday introducing the legislation. "It doesn't communicate between the agencies because there is not an ability to understand both the priorities of the organization and a common mission."

Davis and Skelton believe this bill would not only fix the communication, but create the same collaboration many believe DoD has achieved.

"At its heart, this is about creating a new interagency national security culture," Skelton said. "We looked at lessons learned from Goldwater-Nichols and came up with a plan to create the right incentives and the right system to develop interagency national security professionals across the government. The genius of Goldwater-Nichols is that you had to have joint education and joint experience. This bill would apply those same rules to our interagency system."

The bill would require senior-level federal employees with national security roles in at least 13 agencies from the departments of Homeland Security to Treasury to Agriculture to Health and Human Services to undergo specific training and education requirements, and spend at least two years on detail to another agency.

"Our bill will create a new program that offers opportunities for national security professionals to undertake interagency training, education and rotational assignments and it provides incentives for them to do so," Skelton said. "It also provides incentives for their home agencies to encourage them to develop these skills and requires agencies to maintain staff levels to continue day-to-day operations while employees undertake these opportunities."

The bill also would authorize a consortium of colleges and universities to develop curriculum and training programs.

The legislation calls for agencies to establish pilot programs for education and training of these workers within a year of the law's enactment.

Davis said the bill is necessary because servicemen and women too often are performing non-military functions.

"There are redundant operations, often the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing," he said. "Many of these non-uniform functions that are performed by the military or sometimes redundantly run, in fact are better performed by the agencies concerned."

Davis added that instead of having an Army colonel provide agriculture assistance to a local community, the Agriculture Department could send an expert to the country.

This issue has been a problem for some time. For instance, a Treasury official was ready to go to Iraq shortly after Saddam Hussein's government fell in 2003 to set up a basic banking system. Davis said that the official never left the U.S. because the interagency process just didn't work.

Davis said there are several other examples he could cite where DoD ended up doing non-military work.

"It becomes an issue of resource allocation," he said. "If we bring the synergy that will come from these personnel changes, you actually won't need as many people to do the same thing and you will be able to do more effectively."

There still are plenty of questions around the legislation, including cost and timing to get passed.

Skelton fully admits that he doesn't know the cost yet, but it will follow pay-go rules, meaning Congress will have to find off-sets to pay for the training and education.

Secondly, the chances of the bill becoming law in the short term are slim. Skelton said it took four years from the first hearing until Goldwater-Nichols became law.

He is optimistic, however, and plans a hearing early in 2011 with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and State Department Secretary Hillary Clinton.

This is not the first attempt to improve interagency national security collaboration. President Bush issued an executive order in 2007.

Skelton said the executive order fell short because it didn't have the power of law behind it.

James Locher, the executive director of the Project on National Security Reform, said the White House must lead this effort, and last time, it was too decentralized.

"It will be a bigger challenge because we are talking about 15-16 departments and agencies with very different responsibilities and very different cultures," Locher said. "But the world we are facing requires that we be able to work across all those departments and agencies and a key piece to that is the human capital system."

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