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Lesson 4: National Security Processes and Missions

Lesson Overview

This lesson provides an overview of the basic processes used in national security and the key missions requiring interagency coordination.

At the end of this lesson, you will be able to describe:

  • The basic policy process and key supporting processes
  • How intelligence supports the policy process
  • Key mission areas that require effective interagency coordination
  • Considerations for successful interagency coordination

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This lesson takes approximately 40 minutes to complete.

Basic Policy Process

While there is no single approach, the policy process has four general steps:

  • Policy Development
  • Implementation
  • Execution
  • Assessment

The required time, importance, agencies involved, and the number of subordinate processes in each step will vary with each new policy.

Circular Flow chart: Policy Development, Implementation, Execution, to Assessment with Assessment returning back to Implementation and Execution.

Policy Development

Opening Markets for American Goods: President Bush gives signature with Condoleezza Rice.

Policy development is the process that establishes broad strategic guidance or statutory mandates on what national security interests to pursue or how to respond to a national security issue. Policy development can be proactive or reactive.

National security policy can be developed by the President or his staff members, Congress, the interagency coordination process, or individual agencies. There are many influences on the policy development process, including private interest groups, foreign governments, international organizations, and even government personnel responsible for executing policy (e.g., ambassadors, combatant commanders).

The policy development process involves analyzing U.S. interests, risks and opportunities; developing policy; making decisions on U.S. objectives, strategic approaches, and/or executive department responsibilities; and ideally, establishing priorities. Whether or not the President is the decisionmaker, policy development requires interagency coordination to analyze the effect on other U.S. policies. At times, the President or Congress may establish policies unilaterally that do not involve the outlined steps.

National security policies are communicated in the form of national strategies, policy directives, executive orders, Presidential determinations, summaries of conclusions, statements from the President or cabinet officials, memos, and legislation.


Military and civilian leaders meet at conference table.

Implementation is the process of translating policy into specific courses of action that can be executed. Implementing policy often involves developing implementation plans, and aligning the necessary resources and legal authorities. Most policy implementation also involves identifying: organizational structures for coordination or execution; subordinate policy goals; necessary funding; personnel; actions to be taken in support of policy goals; and, assignment of responsibilities.

Executive departments are most often responsible for implementing national security policy. Often, policies are captured in agency directives and instructions to provide consistent policy guidance. Interagency coordination is essential to ensure implementation plans and resources are complete and complementary. The Office of Management and Budget also plays a key role in coordinating the President's budget request. Congress uses its budgetary and oversight authority to shape policy implementation. Finally, interagency working groups often develop plans and strategies to implement policy goals.

Planning processes vary widely across the U.S. government, ranging from formal, complex processes to much more flexible and informal methods. Key national security planning processes are covered in detail in Lesson 6.

Whether reallocating funding mid-year or requesting new or additional funding for the next fiscal year, there are formal national security budgeting processes. For example, the Director of US Foreign Assistance at the Department of State leads a fully integrated, strategic budgeting process for State/USAID foreign assistance funds. The Department of Defense, also leads a national security budget process, the "Planning, Programming, Budgeting, and Execution" process (PowerPoint presentation). DOD’s budget process is unique in that it addresses long-range defense capabilities. DOD also has a centrally managed process, "Global Force Management" (PowerPoint presentation) that allocates another resource—military forces.


delivery of foreign aid. Men stacking water bottles.

Execution is the application of plans and resources to achieve policy goals. Execution spans a wide range of activity in support of national security. Examples include: communicating U.S. policy to a foreign government; freezing assets of an organization supporting terrorism; delivering AIDS education to an African village; negotiating a free trade agreement with a foreign government; interdicting WMD shipments in the Persian Gulf; or searching for terrorists in the Afghanistan countryside.

All departments and agencies execute policy both in Washington and in the field. The President or cabinet officials can also play an execution role, particularly during crisis situations by communicating U.S. policy to and negotiating with foreign leaders.


Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and U.S. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testify.

Assessment is the process of measuring, documenting, analyzing, and judging the results of executing a policy. Assessments can also be performed to analyze a perceived change in the strategic environment. Assessment often produces recommendations for change in current policy or the manner in which policy is implemented or executed.

There are many players that perform assessments. One of the best known forms of assessment is a Presidentially or Congressionally established commission. Examples of this type of assessment include the 9/11 Commission, the Baker-Hamilton Commission (also known as the Iraq Study Group), and the Tower Commission. The President also uses White House staff, particularly the Office of Management and Budget and the National Security Council staff, to evaluate policy, implementation efforts, and the results of execution. More informally, the President also receives feedback from outside experts (individuals or organizations), the media, and foreign leaders.

Congress has a strong assessment role and uses the Government Accountability Office, the Congressional Research Service, the Congressional Budget Office, committee staff, and hearings to produce assessments on national security issues. 

Internally, departments and agencies also perform many types of assessments.  At the broadest level, each agency is required by the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 to produce program performance reports that evaluate achievements against objectives.  Agencies assess both the results of execution (outcome) and the effectiveness of implementation (output).

To perform assessment it is helpful to have clearly identified policy objectives, relevant and complete metrics and data, and an independent viewpoint.  Using assessments requires striking a balance between flexibility and accountability—knowing when to change the policy outcomes sought and knowing when to hold implementers and executers accountable.

Intelligence in the Policy Process

The mission of the Intelligence Community is to create decision advantage for a wide array of intelligence customers—policymakers, military commanders, law enforcement and homeland security officials. (See Intelligence plays a key role in each step of the policy process. Policy developers require intelligence on political, economic, social, proliferation, and military issues that affect national security to inform decisions on what policy to pursue and in the establishment of national security priorities. This requires close coordination within the Intelligence Community to provide accurate and comprehensive intelligence. A key organization, the National Intelligence Council provides strategic intelligence in the form of estimates to support and inform the policy process. Products range from brief analyses of current issues to "over the horizon" estimates of broader trends at work in the world. The most well known, National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs), are written judgments concerning national security issues that represent the coordinated views of the Intelligence Community regarding the likely course of future events. See also the National Intelligence Council's unclassified website.

Intelligence is vital to implementation and execution as well. In particular, intelligence is a necessary input to planning efforts and to the safety of U.S. personnel working around the world. Assessment processes also use intelligence products when analyzing policy effectiveness. For example, intelligence can be useful in verifying treaty compliance or analyzing strategic opportunities.

The intelligence cycle: Planning and Direction, Dissemination, Analysis and Production, Processing and Exploitation, Collection.

The process of creating reliable, accurate intelligence is dynamic and continuous. The intelligence cycle begins with questions, through planning and direction converts acquired information into intelligence, and makes this intelligence available to policymakers, implementers, analysts, and those executing policy. The five steps of the intelligence cycle are shown above.

More information on the intelligence cycle

National Security Missions

Lesson 3 addressed the core functions of each agency involved with national security. This lesson will focus on the key missions that require effective interagency coordination throughout the policy cycle to be successful. There are very few national security missions, or even individual agency functions that involve only one department or agency. Often there is overlapping responsibility or authorities even within a single agency. Further, policies, plans or actions taken to address one national security issue almost always impact other areas of national security. As a government, more can be achieved when integrated solutions, drawing on the expertise of all relevant departments and disciplines, are built to address national security issues. This applies within and across the stages of the policy process. The remainder of this lesson focuses on several national security missions that require effective interagency coordination to be successful—ones that involve multiple departments and agencies contributing their expertise, resources, and actions.

Washington, DC: Representatives Attending Earth Observation Summit. NASA Photo/Bill Ingalls

Delivering Foreign Assistance (1 of 2)

Foreign assistance is a key soft power tool used by the United States to achieve its policy objectives, and further its national values. The goal of US foreign assistance is to help build and sustain democratic, well-governed states that respond to the needs of their people, reduce widespread poverty and conduct themselves responsibly in the international system. Foreign assistance is provided for a wide variety of purposes, ranging from the amelioration of humanitarian crises, to the advancement of economic growth, to the strengthening allied and partner military and police forces, to the encouragement of free elections and open political systems. Assistance can be used to achieve short term needs, such as the prevention of famine, or long term objectives, such as the elimination of HIV/AIDS or the democratization of closed polities. Currently, the US organizes its assistance into five categories, named for the objectives that they pursue: peace and security, governing justly and democratically, investing in people, economic growth, and humanitarian assistance. These categories cover the broad spectrum of US foreign assistance and its objectives. The Foreign Assistance framework articulates these objectives. View more information.

The U.S. government provides assistance to foreign countries in the form of grants, loans, debt forgiveness, commodities, and technical assistance on a wide range of issues. Assistance is most commonly implemented through nongovernmental organizations and private companies, though it can also be executed directly by a U.S. government agency, an international organization (such as the World Food Program), or through a direct cash transfer to a recipient country (e.g. Israel). Given the wide array of official and non-official sources of assistance, significant coordination is necessary to utilize scarce resources efficiently. Within the U.S. government alone, there are 50 separate organizations that contribute expertise and carry out assistance overseas. Further, many non-government U.S. sources, including foundations, corporations, private and voluntary organizations, colleges and universities, religious organizations, and individuals, also contribute direct assistance. The additional number of other donors, i.e., foreign countries, individuals, and international organizations, that provide assistance results in a very complicated environment that necessitates coordination. The World Bank or the United Nations often lead donor coordination efforts within developing countries.

Within the US government, the coordination of key bilateral foreign assistance policies, strategic goals, and resource allocation occurs through the NSC interagency coordination system, in concert with the Office of Management and Budget. The Office of the Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance exercises leadership of foreign assistance planning, budgeting, and performance management. Chiefs of Mission are responsible for the coordination of assistance within their assigned countries, while combatant commanders lead the execution of military assistance programs within their area of responsibility. Missions produce annual assistance plans for funds allocated to them by the Office of the Director of US Foreign Assistance. These plans are reviewed and approved by the Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance on behalf of the Secretary of State. Similar processes are used to approve plans and allocate resources for assistance programs managed by other departments and agencies.

Delivering Foreign Assistance (2 of 2)

Egypt: Young Boy and Girl Harvest Farm Crops

The effectiveness of foreign assistance should be judged by the objectives for which it is spent. Assistance allocated for short-term political or security support to allies in the War on Terror should not be judged according to the metrics of long-term economic development. Likewise, immediate results should not be expected of assistance that is allocated in order to build the long-term, sustainable capacity of a developing country. While the identification of U.S. policy objectives is critically important to the efficacy of U.S. assistance, equally important are the details of implementation, including procurement, financial management, budgeting, and contract oversight and performance management. A poorly executed foreign assistance program can frustrate the most well constructed policy.

Finally, foreign assistance requires frequent interaction with Congress, since it appropriates funding and authorizes foreign assistance activities. Congress provides an oversight role over the allocation and execution of foreign assistance by placing legislative restrictions on the use of foreign aid, ordering audits of foreign assistance by the Government Accountability Office, and holding hearings and informal meetings. Interest groups, including business associations, labor organizations, veterans groups, and foreign nations often influence Congressional legislation. Earmarks and directives which mandate how assistance should be allocated restrict the control of Executive Branch officials over foreign assistance resources and often impede its utility as a soft power tool. The Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, as amended, and the Arms Export Control Act are the primary laws governing the provision of foreign assistance, though a variety of security assistance is also authorized through the National Defense Authorization Act.

List of US organizations directly involved in providing foreign assistance

International Trade Policy

Free Trade Agreement Partners and the US Trade Balance, 2006. Bar graph.

Text description of this graph.

Trade is the process of exchanging products and services through market operations. As a major developed nation, the U.S. relies heavily on trade and trade significantly impacts the American economy and industry. Trade is also a powerful anti-poverty tool, spurring economic growth and increasing opportunity. The US develops global, regional and bilateral trade policies. Trade arrangements used by the US government include free trade agreements, trade and investment framework agreements, bilateral investment treaties, bilateral market access agreements, and the extension of duty-free treatment to certain goods of developing countries under the Generalized System of Preferences and other trade preference programs. Other trade policy tools available to the government include economic sanctions and export controls of goods, services and technologies relevant to the national security. Trade policies must account for both economic and political objectives. The Constitution gives Congress the power to regulate commerce with foreign nations. At the same time, it is the President that has the sole power to conduct the foreign affairs of the United States. Given these respective powers, the Legislative and Executive branches necessarily must work together to develop, implement, execute, and assess international trade policy. Within the Executive Branch, the United States Trade Representative (USTR) has primary responsibility for developing, and for coordinating the implementation of, United States international trade policy, including commodity matters and, to the extent they are related to trade policy, direct investment matters. USTR works closely with other departments and agencies to coordinate trade policy, resolve disagreements, and frame issues for presidential decision. Other agencies are responsible for other aspects of U.S. trade policy, such as administering sanctions and export control regimes.

Dozens of government agencies, commissions and international organizations play a role in some aspect of international trade. View list of trade-related organizations. To gain the most impact in any functional trade area requires effective coordination of objectives, policies, plans, and activities. Departments and agencies must coordinate with each other (and Congress) to:

  • Negotiate trade agreements
  • Provide information, assistance and financial support for U.S. exporters
  • Develop markets for US products
  • Promote US business interests overseas and US trade interests within international organizations
  • Collect and analyze detailed trade-related economic data
  • Enforce U.S. laws and U.S. rights under international trade agreements
  • Assist foreign nations to participate effectively in a global, rules-based trading system
  • Administer and enforce trade sanctions
  • Regulate imports, monitor import safety, and assist importers
  • Oversee tariffs schedules
  • Control sensitive exports
  • Protect US trademarks, intellectual property, and trade secrets; prosecute violators
  • Review civil actions arising out of import transactions and federal statutes affecting international trade

Best Practice: US Government Export Portal

JAXPORT, Jacksonville Port Authority, Jacksonville Florida brings together resources from across the U.S. Government to assist American businesses in planning their international sales strategies and succeed in today’s global marketplace.

From market research and trade leads from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Commercial Service to export finance information from Export-Import Bank and the Small Business Administration to agricultural export assistance from USDA, helps American exporters navigate the international sales process and avoid pitfalls such as non-payment and intellectual property misappropriation. is one of the Presidential E-Government initiatives created to provide better customer service for businesses interacting with the Federal Government. The U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration manages as a collaborative effort with the 19 Federal Agencies that offer export assistance programs and services.

See also

Transnational Challenges

Globalization has created or exacerbated the transnational challenges faced by the United States. Immigration, piracy, crime, disease, WMD, narcotics, and terrorism all impact multiple nations and require different approaches to counter potential threats. Transnational issues present a particular coordination challenge, since they require collaboration between multiple disciplines, agencies, levels of government, US Missions, and foreign governments. Three national security missions that highlight the need for coordination on transnational challenges are international narcotics trafficking; proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; and international terrorism. To successfully counter these threats, the expertise of regional and functional diplomats, various law enforcement organizations, the intelligence community, financial and trade experts, homeland security professionals, cyber professionals, legal professionals, military forces, and many others must be shared and integrated. The need for and challenge of coordination becomes even greater when there is a nexus between these transnational threats.

Countering international narcotics trafficking involves detecting, monitoring, and interdicting the flow of illicit drugs throughout the supply chain; providing assistance to other nations fighting illicit drug production, transit, and financing; building international cooperation on counterdrug efforts; seizing drug funding; and bringing traffickers to justice. Major US players include the Office of National Drug Control Policy, State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, the, Department of Justice, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Global Security Affairs, US Southern Command, US Northern Command, Department of Homeland Security, the Drug Enforcement Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, US Agency for International Development, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Internal Revenue Service, the Central Intelligence Agency, National Drug Intelligence Center, Department of the Treasury, Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, Department of Commerce, Bureau of Al­cohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), US Marshals Service, State and local law enforcement, and the Coast Guard.

Countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction involves various measures to prevent the spread of WMD or the materials and technology used to manufacture or employ WMD. The United States assists other nations to better secure and dispose of WMD; builds partnerships to reduce and eliminate WMD threats; conducts diplomacy to build consensus and negotiate agreements on WMD issues; monitors and gathers intelligence on potential WMD proliferators and development programs; controls sensitive exports; evaluates and improves physical security measures; interdicts WMD; and implements sanctions against proliferators. Major US players include the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Global Security Affairs, US Strategic Command, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, FBI’s Chemical Biological Sciences Unit, FBI’s National Security Branch, Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration, Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, DHS’s Office of Domestic Preparedness, and multiple components of the intelligence community. Of particular importance is seamless coordination between intelligence, law enforcement and military organizations.

Countering the threat from international terrorism. Uniformed American men with masks transporting suspect materials.

Countering the threat from international terrorism requires that US departments and agencies plan, conduct, and structure operations, from the very outset, as part of a whole-of-government approach.  Counterterrorism operations have a heavy intelligence and information sharing component.  Other functions involve assisting other nations to have the capacity to counter terrorist threats, conducting diplomacy to build consensus and negotiate agreements on terrorism; monitoring and improving US security measures; implementing sanctions against terrorist groups and supporters; disrupting all aspects of terrorism; and capturing or killing terrorists. Major US players include the Department of Homeland Security, State’s Coordinator for Counterterrorism, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Interdependent Capabilities, US Special Operations Command, US Northern Command, US Central Command, Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, Treasury’s Office of Terrorist and Financial Intelligence, FBI’s National Security Branch, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Directorate for Preparedness, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Transportation Security Agency (TSA), U.S. Secret Service , Department of Energy, Central Intelligence Agency, Office of the Director for National Intelligence, National Counterterrorism Center, and the Agency for International Development.

Responding to Humanitarian Crises

U.S. agencies provide humanitarian assistance to foreign nations every year to save lives, alleviate suffering, and reduce the economic impact of natural or manmade disasters. Responding to humanitarian crises is time critical and requires synchronized effort between U.S. government responders, the host nation, and non-governmental and international organizations. The Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (Sections 491- 493) establishes the President's authority to respond to humanitarian crises, and includes criteria for when and how the U.S. government responds and basic guidance on how the interagency should be organized to provide humanitarian assistance.

The U.S. Chief of Mission is responsible for requesting U.S. assistance in a humanitarian crisis via a disaster declaration cable, coordinating with the host nation, and defining the goals for U.S. assistance. The Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance at USAID is responsible for providing foreign disaster assistance and coordinating the response of the U.S. Government to disasters abroad. Other U.S. agencies contribute capabilities and expertise, as necessary. The OFDA Director, or designee, is responsible for overseeing Washington-based support, coordinating interagency contributions, and supporting field operations. Often the relevant State Department regional bureau coordinates interagency contributions. The State Department Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration also administers U.S. refugee assistance and admissions programs. At times one of the NSC interagency coordinating bodies will chair recurrent meetings during a crisis to resolve issues and provide direction. A crisis must exceed the host nation’s ability to handle and they must formally request assistance before the United States can respond.

Pakistan: Catholic Relief Services distributes supplies in Purri

At the beginning of a crisis, OFDA dispatches an assessment team to determine the scope of the disaster’s damage, identify initial needs of victims, and recommend U.S. assistance, if necessary. The decision to use U.S. capabilities is made through the Washington interagency coordination process. For large or extended operations, OFDA deploys a Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) to assist the Chief of Mission with management and coordination. The DART is comprised of specialists trained in a variety of disaster relief skills (e.g. health, nutrition, water and sanitation, engineering, logistics, communications, disaster management) and is organized into six functional areas: management/liaison, operations, planning, logistics, administration, and communications. Disaster relief may include relief commodities, services, transportation support, grants to relief organizations, and/or technical assistance.

OFDA may request support of other U.S. agencies, most often DOD, to supplement the relief efforts of the affected country’s civil authorities or humanitarian relief community. For instance, OFDA may request use of DOD aircraft to airlift relief commodities or support nongovernmental organizations when commercial aircraft are unavailable. DOD may also provide logistical support, supplies, infrastructure repair, transportation, airfield management, communications, medical support, distribution of relief commodities, search and rescue, and/or security. When DOD is involved in disaster relief, OFDA will assign liaisons to work at various levels of military organizations to ensure that relief efforts are mutually supportive and not duplicative.

Funding to respond to humanitarian crises can be provided through appropriated foreign assistance funding, supplemental funding, DOD Operations and Maintenance accounts, and DOD’s Overseas Humanitarian, Disaster and Civic Aid.

OFDA’s Foreign Operations Guide

More about search and rescue operations

DOD Directive 5100.46 Foreign Disaster Relief

Responding to Instability (1 of 2)

Afghan men ride bicycles as they pass newly constructed buildings in Kabul, Afghanistan.

The United States has been involved in or contributed significant resources to more than 17 post-conflict operations since the end of the Cold War, and over the last 15 years has spent over five times as much on stability operations as compared to major combat. The results of our participation and resources expenditures have been mixed at best. Experiences in Iraq, Afghanistan, and even the crisis in Georgia reinforce the need for more integrated responses to instability. When a crisis unfolds, US departments and agencies need to be ready to respond effectively and efficiently.

In an effort to improve US responses to instability, NSPD-44 designated the Secretary of State as the lead for reconstruction and stabilization missions. Within the State Department, the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS) is charged with developing and managing interagency planning, doctrine, training, and operations related to this mission. S/CRS leads an interagency team in all activities from preparation through response. Finally, S/CRS has been charged with building a rapid response and civilian reserve capability to provide needed civilian personnel and expertise to this mission.

Instability can result from political or economic collapse, military conflict, increased ethnic or sectarian tension, or severe environmental degradation. The primary objective in any reconstruction and stabilization operation is to identify and reduce the drivers of conflict and instability and strengthen the legitimate local institutional capacity. Some operations will require actions that address immediate problems, such as direct governance, but operations should always be conducted with a view towards creating sustainable host government capabilities. The decision to respond to instability is almost always made by the President and usually depends on the impact to US national security, the magnitude of the instability (e.g., displacement, mortality, genocide), the response capability of the host nation or its neighbors, and the availability of US resources.

Responding to Instability (2 of 2)


Principles for Conflict Transformation

  1. Create unity of effort in all phases of response
  2. The people of the country in question must own stabilization and reconstruction
  3. Emphasize building local capacity (public and private; national and local)
  4. Recognize interdependency and balance political, security and development progress
  5. Take the long view, but show results quickly
  6. Learn and adapt
  7. Move from reaction to prevention
  8. Mix and sequence instruments of power to fit the context
  9. Match goals and resources
  10. Focus on addressing the sources of conflict and instability

Once a decision is made to respond, one of the first steps that can build a more effective and coordinated response is developing a shared understanding among US departments and agencies about the sources of instability. The Interagency Conflict Assessment Framework is a tool used to develop this common perspective by analyzing the core grievances, drivers of conflict, windows of vulnerability or opportunity, and mitigating factors. This framework also inventories current programs and activities that may contribute to addressing the conflict drivers.

Another tool developed to enable more integrated responses to instability is the Essential Task Matrix. This matrix divides tasks into five broad technical areas: economic stability and infrastructure; justice and reconciliation; security; humanitarian and social well-being; and governance and participation. Each area list potential tasks that must be undertaken in responding to instability. It is important to remember that each case will be different based on the local conditions. Not every task is necessary for every response and the task matrix is not meant to list every possible task—just those tasks that should be considered when analyzing what kind of response and what kind of US capabilities are necessary.

Because many departments and agencies will contribute expertise to each technical area, it is necessary to identify the seams early in the process. Tasks will need to be sequenced and prioritized to maximize the impact to the local situation, which requires coordination both within and across technical areas. It also requires coordination with non-US responders, whether they are other nations, international organizations, or non-governmental organizations. The need for rapid response also reinforces the need for effective interagency and international coordination from the start.

Considerations for Successful Interagency Coordination (1 of 2)

As noted, each of the national security missions described by this lesson requires effective interagency coordination to achieve the desired results. Below are several insights on interagency coordination that can be useful throughout policy development, implementation, execution, and assessment.

  • Common objectives: Identifying and synchronizing agreed upon goals early in the process helps to align agency plans, resources, and activities, even when executed separately. Often, this starts with Presidential guidance.
  • Interagency knowledge: Participants must understand their organization's role in a particular mission and how that role best integrates with the functions of other organizations. This maximizes limited resources and interagency efficacy.
  • Understanding different perspectives: Understanding and appreciating the goals and perspectives of partner organizations is critical to developing effective interagency approaches. Organizations are concerned with minimizing uncertainty, maximizing their autonomy, and increasing (or at least maintaining) their resources and standing. Understanding these individual organizational perspectives is necessary to address problems that span organizational boundaries; Plans, structures, or solutions that ignore organizational dynamics are less likely to succeed.
  • Leadership and accountability: Choosing a leader with interagency experience, an understanding of strategic intent, the ability to act as an honest broker between agencies, and empowering that leader to direct interagency activities is crucial to national security missions. It is also important to develop personal relationships among organizational leaders to enhance interagency cooperation and to hold leaders accountable for achieving desired outcomes.
  • Integrated solutions: To achieve maximum impact, particularly with scarce resources, it helps to develop comprehensive solutions that draw on all national tools. Representatives from all departments and agencies with relevant tools should actively participate in the development of objectives, options, and implementation plans. A side benefit is that integrated packages are more easily promoted with stakeholders (e.g., Congress.)
  • Seams: Very few national security issues neatly fit into one agency's area of responsibility. Identifying areas of overlapping responsibilities early in the process (or prior to an incident) can help departments and agencies identify the most effective use of resources and ensure that agency actions are complementary.
  • Interagency coordination requires a heavy investment in time: Frequent, routine interagency interaction helps to build trust, collegiality, and understanding of agency missions and perspectives, and a shared definition of national security issues. In addition, it takes time to develop the personal relationships that can so often enhance interagency cooperation.

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Considerations for Successful Interagency Coordination (2 of 2)

  • Practice makes perfect: Exercises help to identify coordination, planning, and resource issues BEFORE an event occurs. Exercises also help to enable a speedy U.S. response to crises when time is critical by building personal relationships and knowledge of issues and procedures.
  • Proactive planning: Anticipating potential national security issues before they arise and producing strategic and operational plans helps to identify potential courses of action, resource needs and coordination issues. Proactive planning also helps to speed the government's reaction in a crisis, since a baseline exists for crisis response.
  • Resources and authorities: Most successful interagency operations are provided ample resources and the necessary legal authorities required to accomplish the assigned objectives. Lack of resources or the need to redirect resources often causes conflicts between agencies.
  • Prioritization: When an issue is a top priority, it is more likely to receive necessary resources, and interagency issues are more likely to be resolved.
  • Coordination at multiple levels: The most effective interagency operations establish coordination mechanisms at multiple "levels." This may include principal/deputy level coordination, working group coordination among Washington-based policy and budgeting organizations, regional or functional planning coordination, and multiple tiers of field coordination. Each level can reinforce unity of effort and resolve coordination issues.
  • Incentives: Setting expectations for interagency cooperation, providing incentives for cooperation with other agencies, and holding agencies and personnel accountable for interagency coordination encourages desired interagency behavior.
  • Communication is key to success: Developing a shared set of documents and information, particularly using a web portal, helps to provide a common information base. Keeping open lines of communication, even when there are interagency disagreements is also important. When organizations stop talking, coordination erodes and success becomes less probable. Additionally, developing and communicating the same message to all stakeholders will help to gain the broad support needed to successfully accomplish national security missions. Stakeholders can include relevant government organizations, personnel within an organization, Congress, the public, foreign governments, international organizations, non-governmental organizations, etc.
  • Flexibility. The international environment is constantly evolving, so adaptability and flexibility are necessary to quickly shift plans, resources, and actions to changing circumstances.

Knowledge Review

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Lesson 4: Summary

This lesson presented the following topics:

  • The basic policy process and key supporting processes
  • How intelligence supports the policy process
  • Key mission areas that require effective interagency coordination
  • Considerations for successful interagency coordination

The next lesson reviews key interagency organizations involved in the national security.


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