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The Army in Interagency Operations

Newsletter 11-22
March 2011

CALL Newsletter 11-22: The Army in Interagency Operations Newsletter

What is to be Done? Aligning and Integrating the Interagency Process in Support and Stability Operations

Dr. Joseph R. Cerami, Texas A&M University

Reprinted with permission from the Strategic Studies Institute. This article was originally published
in December 2007 as Chapter 17 in The Interagency and Counterinsurgency Warfare:
Stability, Security, Transition, and Reconstruction Roles

Having Dean Acheson, Robert Lovett, and Paul Nitze in mind, [Senator] Jackson believed that people with experience and good judgment could surmount faulty organization, but not the reverse; no organizational gimmick could make up for the absence of public servants lacking these essential qualities.

- Robert Kaufman1

Introduction: Defining the Problem(s)

Some authorities, like Senator Jackson in the epigraph above, posit a stark difference between the importance of effective organizations and that of effective people, as if they were polar opposite choices on a reform agenda. We shall argue here, however, that effective organization and effective people are coequal in their contribution to institutional endeavor. That is to say, no effective and efficient structure will make up for poor staffers, and no wise men, even the likesof Cold Warriors Acheson, Lovett, or Nitze, can enjoy the fruit of sound policy without sound implementing organizations. Starting with the assumption that "everything changed" as a result of the international terrorist attacks on the U.S. homeland on September 11, 2001 (9/11), one of the U.S. Government priorities should be a heightened awareness of the need for large numbers of both effective people and organizations.

Wise policymakers and cabinet officers have always been needed, but in this age of globalization, information, CNN and Al Jazeera, non-state actors, catastrophic biological and nuclear terrorism, and the rest of the familiar litany of near-term security challenges - leadership solely from the top will never be sufficient given the range of tasks facing the United States in national and homeland security.2 Rather, effective people at all levels working internationally and domestically in multiple public, private, and nonprofit organizations, are necessary, especially for effective interagency implementation of support and stability operations (SASO), the primary concern of this chapter.3 Management experts point out that the first step of complex problem solving is to define the problem, and they are absolutely right.4 To put it bluntly, without a consensus that the interagency and national security systems are broken, there will be no recognition that there is a problem to be solved, and the current unsatisfactory state of affairs will continue.

We Can Do Better: Aligning and Integrating Processes and Agencies

Aligning and integrating the work of U.S. interagency processes and agencies are indispensable to the creative design and effective implementation of national security policy and strategy. Interagency processes and long-range planning by the U.S. Government, to include coordinating the efforts of the National Security Council as well as Defense, State, and other cabinet departments, remain major shortcomings, as demonstrated in the case studies and analyses in this volume. These studies and analyses also highlight the significance of public leadership and management, in terms of setting strategic direction, aligning and integrating the efforts of various domestic and international stakeholders, and emphasizing performance measures.

The connections among executive leadership, policy effectiveness, and government performance are the subject of continuing research in the public management literature. For instance, the book Government Performance: Why Management Matters, by Patricia Ingraham, Philip Joyce, and Amy Donahue, offers an insightful performance framework, finding that effective management leadership is indeed vital. The Ingraham et al. studies apply to performance management at all levels of government - federal, state, and local. The present volume extends the scope of public management research to emphasize interagency and international leadership. More specifically, it deals with military and civilian roles as policymakers and implementers, aligners, integrators, and results managers, or what Ingraham et al. call "grounded leadership."It deals with the roles of the leaders and followers in charting the direction of and in implementing effective public policy.5 The public management research of Ingraham et al. stresses the vital role of strategic leadership and management for coordinating complex administrative systems across agencies and within government.6 Thus the present chapter extends the Ingraham et al. analysis from the federal government generally to the Washington node in particular and to the country team and international dimensions.

Ideas and Insights for Interagency Reform

Military and civilian public managers have to think more broadly about their domestic and international interagency responsibilities. What is to be done about the current problems facing leaders extending from the entry level all the way up to executive levels, and for managers in the new mix of public, private, and nonprofit organizations engaged in what the United Nations (UN) is addressing more broadly as governance and institution building issues?7 Below are five broad questions, along with ideas and insights in response, that address both the structural and personnel problems facing the United States and especially its interagency operations for counterinsurgency warfare. These questions and comments were compiled by members of the Bush School Capstone research seminar, the culminating seminar in a 2-year master's degree program in International Affairs.8 This semester-long study addressed the topic of aligning and integrating military and civilian roles in stability operations by focusing on the key issues. Following are summary discussions addressing each of the five:9

1. What are the military and U.S. Government agencies' historical roles and missions in stabilization and reconstruction efforts in counterinsurgency warfare (as drawn from case studies)?

The historical record reflects varying degrees of agency participation in stabilization and reconstruction. There was no evidence in the cases examined that, once the hot war ended, there was an automatic and immediate transition to civilian leadership and control of post-conflict support, reconstruction, or institution-building. For instance, in post-World War II Japan, the military ran operations for seven years in a hierarchical structure headed by General Douglas MacArthur. Some thinking about a transition to civilian control was discarded after early successes became institutionalized. In other cases, the guidelines on roles and missions were not clear. At times, an effort to be adaptable and flexible became a way to avoid addressing the difficult questions related to interagency as well as organizational responsibilities, accountability, and oversight.

Under ambiguous and dynamic circumstances, however, it is usual for the military, because of its organizational and resource capability, to fill the void. Especially in crisis situations, the tendency for existing routines and established relationships will become hard to change over time, regardless of prescribed agency roles and missions. For instance, in the case of Afghanistan provisional reconstruction teams, there were in place individual agency guidelines; yet, because of the ad hoc nature of team recruiting, lack of interagency training, and short-term deployments and operations, individual agency representatives were often unaware of their agency guidelines, responsibilities, and authority. At times, because of ongoing military conflict, civilian agencies were subsumed in actions by the better organized and resourced military components. Roles and missions under ambiguous conditions and in times of transition become especially difficult to sort out. Research did not find examples of planned transitions or orderly phasing from conflict to post-conflict to reconstruction activities.

Specific ways of providing incentives for aligning and integrating agency roles and missions may best be coupled with performance management techniques. For instance, in the evolution of provisional reconstruction teams, there were no apparent measures of success. In most cases, successful interagency operations resulted from the efforts of experienced leaders, such as military officers with Balkan peacekeeping service. Synchronizing diverse agencies would benefit from established performance standards, with systematic accountability, reporting, and oversight processes.

2. What are the recommended ways to improve leadership (for integrating and aligning roles and missions) in the interagency coordination of military-civilian operations?

A well-supported view is that training and education programs are needed, especially prior to deployment. Unfortunately, the nature of crisis action becomes an excuse for a lack of preparedness. In fact, however, the often sudden onset of crises demands a long-term, progressive system for preparing and certifying leaders and teams for complex contingency operations. The history of U.S. Government efforts in interagency education and training is not promising. For instance, where is the interagency equivalent to the military's national training centers? It may not be an overstatement to conclude that what is needed is a massive transformational effort to create a civilian agency training and education culture. A formal leadership development process would be evolved so as to explicitly link synchronized and progressive professional education, training, assignments, and promotions within a system providing opportunities to interact in diverse agency and international contexts.

In addition, there is a need for formal interagency knowledge management processes. The architecture for an interagency knowledge or learning system should include several components such as data bases, on-line learning courses, and simulation networks; pre-deployment training and certification systems; individual leadership development survey and planning instruments; subject matter networks; and an interactive center for interagency lessons learned.

At the same time, the Federal Office of Personnel Management efforts to enhance individual leader develop and education should be expanded. The leadership literature stresses the need for continuous learning, constant assessments, 360-degree feedback, and progressive assignments. These efforts to foster the development of a sense of military/civilian professional solidarity, partnership, and public service are critical for interagency coordination.

The military services stress their professional ethic. Can we define and develop the concept of an interagency professional ethic that transcends natural but sometime harmful agency loyalties? The military service's efforts to move officers from branch to combined arms to joint training, education, certification, and promotion may serve as a model. A new interagency professional culture that systematically trains in accord with and promotes its ideals can extend the scope and reach of individuals positioned to improve the effectiveness and value of their agencies as well as serving the national interest in stability, support, and reconstruction efforts. Leadership can be developed over time with thoughtful approaches based on legitimate research knowledge. Shifting from adhocracy, crisis management, and fire fight into enlightened responses by a trained and ready professional interagency cadre is not beyond the reach, capacity, or imagination of the U.S. Government.

3. What are the military and civilian leadership skill sets for conflict and post-conflict environments?

Several researchers stress being able to see the nature of individual and collective tasks within the context of the strategy and operational priorities. Linked to this concern for the big picture was the need to understand interagency resource capacities and constraints affecting achievement of unity of effort on a local, regional, country, area, and wider geographical basis. One researcher also notes the need for guidelines and standards providing a baseline for integration of interagency functions at each operational echelon, while aligning activities at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels.

Baselines, guidelines, and standard procedures can be perceived as barriers to creativity and innovation, and these findings strongly reinforce the importance of flexibility and adaptability in dynamic situations. Without serious efforts to synchronize overall efforts, however, there is the open-ended possibility for endless reinvention and inefficiencies. These problems are especially pronounced in situations of high personnel and organizational turnover, where the possibilities for false creativity and wasted motion are very real. Therefore, educated, experienced, and high-performing individuals, teams, and organizations are a necessary condition for interagency effectiveness.

Communication skills are especially important for enhancing interagency effectiveness at all levels. Real concerns about overcoming turf and stovepipe pathologies cannot be erased by achieving false consensus among diverse agencies for the purposes of group cohesion and conflict avoidance. Time must be allocated for agencies to ensure that interagency communications do not obfuscate facts related to core competencies, capabilities, possibilities, etc. The attitude of "I don't speak State Department" should be the beginning of an in-depth conversation to discover the true intent and meaning of interagency written and oral communications. The requirement for cross-cultural savvy applies to both interagency and intercultural communications.

A common lexicon for unifying understanding of key terms would improve interagency communications. While there is no substitute for face-to-face, on-scene interpersonal dealings, there is no excuse for the present lack of a common vocabulary to undergird a deeper understanding among agencies.

4. How should military and civilian agencies develop those leadership skills needed in the short term and the long term?

Systematic, progressive, and career-long leadership, education, and development focused on interagency skills must become part of the culture of the U.S. Government's military and civilian agencies. Interagency subject matter expertise and experience should become part of selected individuals' career progression and be linked to promotion and other incentives, such as advanced civil schooling opportunities at prestigious schools of public and international affairs. Research studies, reports, and publications should elaborate on interagency work, stressing its importance, its career-enhancing effects, and its critical benefits for the U.S. Government and the national interests. It is also essential to formalize mentoring systems to support nontraditional career paths that extend opportunities for interagency and international work. As previous national studies of U.S. Government performance have stressed, there is in an age of globalization an urgent need to break away from stove-piped agency education and promotion systems.

At the same time, creating a reservoir of interagency talent will have to focus on individual as well as team development. Creative solutions using on-line educational technology should provide educational support for individual and team training and development. New and distributed educational networks that can meet individual as well as team/organizational training and educational development needs can substitute for or supplement full-time, long-term, traditional schooling. In a period of increasing demands and decreasing personnel, there is a need for more focused and efficient skill development programs.

5. Does the U.S. Government have a means for rating the effectiveness of civil-military coordination?

The ad hoc and personality-driven nature of many civil-military operations by the U.S. Government has been fairly characteristic, especially in the crisis atmosphere of Afghanistan and Iraq. It is noteworthy that the successful case of postwar Japan included more than two years of pre-deployment preparation, study, policy development, and capacity-building among several U.S. agencies. Nontraditional measures of effectiveness are needed for nontraditional missions and tasks, such as those required for successful support, stability, and reconstruction activities. What does it mean to conduct successful interagency operations over time? What standards are needed to measure effectiveness in interagency operations in a counterinsurgency context? The metaphor of "nested bowls" for aligning and integrating the military's strategic, operational, and tactical levels could well be useful for modeling interagency efforts to coordinate horizontally and vertically. In short, there is a need to relate local, task-oriented, mission-essential objectives with regional or national programs, priorities, resources, and oversight functions. Furthermore, all of this must be accomplished in the context of the grand strategy, viewing the U.S. national, host country, and, in most cases, international institutional levels through a big-picture lens.

The amount of information available through modern information technologies is staggering for any organization. Aggregating efficient, real-time, and focused information for improving interagency effectiveness in counterinsurgency operations will continue to be a major challenge. A search for the "deeper meaning" of useful and actionable intelligence and information requires new ideas, new systems, and real creativity. Along the same lines, more imagination would be helpful for satisfying real information needs while countering the false creativity of allowing all agencies to go their own way so far as agency-specific information reporting and coordination documents are concerned. There is certainly a need for accurate and meaningful processes for measuring interagency communications and effectiveness. Using surveys to rate employee satisfaction along with program performance measures, e.g., "balanced scorecard" techniques for assessments of interagency processes, feedback, and opinions, is the type of step that would help in creating useful knowledge.10

Current systems developed and underpinned by agency traditions, cultures, and communication patterns all serve unwittingly to splinter common management processes into complex information, personnel, finance, accounting, and logistics systems. The effect is to undermine any potential foundation for creating an interagency culture that reins in the hydra-headed monster, unifying and integrating its impulses. Everyone with interagency experience knows that we can do much better.

Concluding Thoughts: Continuous Improvements and a Generation's Work

The efforts reflected in the Capstone research project, the Interagency Research Symposium, and assembling of this volume have contributed to defining the nature of the problem. Much work remains to be done in improving agency and interagency structures, as well as educating and training a core of interagency civilian and military professionals. Aligning and integrating the efforts of various agencies and people from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors in effective interagency endeavors remain key tasks for the U.S. Government in the years ahead. This is especially so in the case of support and stability operations.

Those of us involved in the different aspects of the effort recognize the huge national commitment it will take to effect necessary changes. The U.S. ability to provide international leadership requires adapting to and, in some measure, shaping the 21st century security environment, by both forming and implementing effective national security policies and processes, and improving organizational designs and leader development. The strategic environment in an age of globalization is sure to require our leading international coalitions, especially in counterinsurgency warfare and complex contingencies.

Providing effective national security in the short and long term depends in large part on continuing to improve current policies, strategies, and operations while initiating interagency and national security reforms. This volume provides a foundation for defining the nature of the interagency problems in counterinsurgency warfare and thus an approach for meeting these thus far intractable challenges through improved interagency effectiveness.


1. Robert G. Kaufman, Henry M. Jackson: A Life in Politics, Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2000, p. 105. Kaufman provides this insight in his discussion of Senator Jackson's Senate Committee on Government Operations, Subcommittee on National Policy Machinery, Organizing for National Security, Vol. I, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office,1961, pp. 12-45. For the role and influence of the Jackson subcommittee, see Robert David Johnson, "The Government Operations Committee and Foreign Policy during the Cold War," Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 113, No. 4, Winter 1998-99, pp. 645-671.

2. Even during the times of the State and Defense Department giants like Acheson, Lovett, and Nitze, there was great consternation about the ambiguities in the strategic environment, the lack of interdepartmental coordination, and internal agency malfunctioning, including turf issues and interpersonal conflicts among political, civilian, and military leaders. For a straightforward, credible, and personal account of these problems during World War II and the Cold War, see Dean Acheson, Present at the Creation: My Years in the State Department, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1969.

3. A reviewer of War and Peace points out that Tolstoy's genius was to make the commonplace not seem ordinary. Clifford Fadiman, "Foreword," in Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1942, p. xxxvi, in commenting on the view of Van Wyck Brooks notes: "It is true that to make the obvious not commonplace one has to be a Tolstoy." This chapter is not arguing that genius is required to gain an awareness of the many problems in the interagency. Many, if not all, of the complex issues and proposed solutions outlined here are said to be common knowledge in the national security policy community. The point of this monograph is to collate, analyze, reassess, and record "what we all know" about the nature of the problems as well as recommended approaches for problem solving - with the purpose of building a consensus on the need for interagency and national security reforms.

4. See, for instance, David A. Whetten and Kim S. Cameron, Developing Management Skills, 7th Ed., Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2007.

5. Patricia W. Ingraham, Philip G. Joyce, and Amy Kneedler Donahue, Government Performance: Why Management Matters, Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003, p. 152. Ingraham notes that although her research group's extensive examination of federal and state government performance and management capacity "had not originally intended to study leadership - indeed, were advised not to do so - leadership surfaced as an important influence in the effective governments we studied." She goes on to write, We found that strong leadership in public organizations was most often best described as a team effort, spanning political and career staff boundaries. ... We found further that these leaders and teams had the ability and the will to move from strategic vision-setting to a very practical view of making the vision happen. This included a willingness to be involved with implementation. ... Leadership was somewhat situational, in the sense that effective leaders and leadership teams captured opportunities for change or created them if necessary. One consistent characteristic of strong leaders and teams, however, was a sound organizational base. Understanding the organization and the management capacities it required well enough to foster and sustain effective system creation was central. We called this leadership model "grounded leadership."

6. Ingraham, pp. 20-21.

7. See, accessed June 14, 2007.

8. The May 3, 2007, session reviewed the Capstone groups' key findings, drawn from their individual research projects, as well as their insights from participating with subject matter experts during the research symposium held at the Bush School on April 5-6, 2007. Participants at the May 3d session included Patrick Baetjer, Christopher Cline, Carlos Hernandorena, Brian Polley, Katherine Rogers, Amanda Smith, and Tyson Voelkel.

9. These research questions are adapted from a Creative Associates International, Inc. conference panel and report on "Stabilization and Reconstruction: Closing the Civilian-Military Gap," held in Washington, DC, on June 20, 2006. The conference co-sponsors were the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies of the National Defense University, the Bush School of Government and Public Service, and the Triangle Institute of Security Studies. The questions were refined after discussions with the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Stability Operations.

10. Robert S. Kaplan and David P. Norton, The Balanced Scorecard: Translating Strategy into Action, Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1996.

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