Interagency collaboration between federal agencies is key to dealing with the challenges the U.S. government faces when it comes to national security; however, success will also require leadership commitment, solid plans with clear priorities, and measurable goals, said John H. Pendleton, director of defense capabilities and management at the Government Accountability Office.
In a testimony before the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, Committee on Armed Services, Pendleton spoke about how today’s threats, ranging from terrorists to drug trafficking, are diffuse, interrelated and arise from multiple sources, making it difficult for any single agency to effectively address alone. Therefore, effective collaboration among multiple agencies and across federal, state and local governments is critical, he said.
Presenting a GAO study on how to enhance interagency collaboration, Pendleton identified four key areas of challenges: developing and implementing overarching strategies; creating collaborative organizations; developing a well-trained workforce; and sharing and integrating national security information across agencies.
“Congress and other organizations are becoming increasingly focused on this topic and have recently taken steps to improve interagency collaboration,” he said.
As examples, he used the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 20082, which directed the secretary of defense to submit a plan to improve and reform the Department of Defense’s participation in and contribution to the interagency coordination process on national security issues.
Also, the Duncan Hunter National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009,3, Congress gave authority to the secretaries of defense and state and the administrator of U.S. Agency for International Development to jointly create an advisory panel to advise, review, and make recommendations on how to improve coordination among those agencies on national security issues, Pendleton said.
“Most recently, National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 20104 required the president to designate an executive agency to commission a study on a system for the career development and management of interagency national security professionals,” he said.
Other commissions, research institutions and congressionally mandated studies also introduced proposals to reform part or all of the national security system. These proposals range from restructuring of the system to smaller-scale proposals such as increasing resources for civilian agencies. A recurring theme of many of these proposals is the need for change to improve interagency collaboration on national security matters, Pendleton noted.
In its study, the GAO recommended federal agencies incorporate desirable characteristics of national strategies; take actions to create collaborative organizations; address human-capital issues; and establish or clarify guidelines for sharing national security information. Agencies have generally concurred with those recommendations and have taken some actions to enhance interagency collaboration, but much work remains, the study noted.
“Strengthening interagency collaboration—with leadership as the foundation—can help transform our U.S. government agencies and create a more unified, comprehensive approach to national security issues at home and abroad,” Pendleton said.