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Lesson 5: Interagency Organizations

Lesson Overview

This lesson provides a description of several interagency organizations.

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

  • Description of key interagency organizations with national security roles
  • Best practices for interagency organizations

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This lesson takes approximately 20 minutes to complete.

Overview of Interagency Organizations

Interagency organizations are those where one or more executive branch organizations meet to coordinate policy development, implementation planning, intelligence, or execution of national security objectives. Interagency organizations can be permanent, standing bodies, permanent groups that only meet as necessary, or temporary groups established to accomplish a discreet objective. Membership can be specified or ad hoc depending on the particular national security issue. Some interagency organizations have fulltime staff devoted to working issues, but often are supported only by the staff of individual member agencies. In all cases, the goal is to build a common understanding of national security issues between participants, integrate and deconflict agencies roles, responsibilities, resources, and actions, and ultimately to identify or achieve national security objectives. The interagency organizations described in this course are not meant to be comprehensive, but to highlight the various types, levels, and areas of focus.

National Security Policy Development, Coordination, and Oversight

NSPD-1 outlines four coordinating bodies that consider cross-cutting policy issues affecting national security, weigh options, and make recommendations to the next higher level, in order to obtain Presidential decisions. There are interagency groups, ad hoc bodies, and executive committees that exist outside of the NSC structure that are mandated by statute or executive order or are necessary for the accomplishment of the particular agency function, but the center of interagency policy coordination resides within the NSC committee structure. The coordinating bodies described are not standing organizations with permanent staff, but they do meet frequently and therefore allow members to build lasting relationships and understanding of national security roles, authorities, processes, and capabilities.

President Clinton, speaking with advisors.

1. The National Security Council (NSC) is described in Lesson 3. The NSC is the most senior interagency forum for policy coordination.

2. The NSC Principals Committee (PC) is the senior interagency coordination body below the NSC. Attendees are similar to the NSC, but meetings are hosted by the National Security Advisor.

3. The NSC Deputies Committee (DC) serves as the senior sub-Cabinet interagency body for coordinating national security policy issues. The DC prescribes and reviews the work of the subordinate interagency groups and ensures that issues being brought before the PC or the NSC have been properly analyzed and prepared for decision. The Deputy National Security Advisor chairs DC meetings. Other regular members include the Deputy Secretary of State or Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, the Deputy Secretary of the Treasury or Under Secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs, the Deputy Secretary of Defense or Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, the Deputy Attorney General, the Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget, the Deputy Director of National Intelligence, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Deputy Chief of Staff to the President for Policy, the Chief of Staff and National Security Adviser to the Vice President, and the Deputy Assistant to the President for International Economic Affairs. Other senior officials attend, as appropriate, particularly for economic issues.

4. NSC Policy Coordination Committees (PCCs) manage the development and coordination of national security policies by multiple agencies of the U.S. Government on a more routine basis. PCCs provide policy analysis for consideration by the more senior committees of the NSC system and ensure timely responses to decisions made by the President. Each PCC includes representatives from the organizations represented in the DC and is chaired by a person of Under Secretary or Assistant Secretary rank. PCCs establish subordinate working groups to assist the PCC in the performance of its duties. (PCC structure as of December 2007).

The main products of NSC coordination committees are position papers, directives that establish policy and/or direct implementation activities, and summaries of conclusion from committee meetings. Intangible products include common understanding of: key national security issues; other agency perspectives; and the rationale behind national security policies and decisions.

Embassy Country Teams

The embassy building in Ottowa.

The United States maintains embassies in more than 180 countries worldwide, each headed by a Chief of Mission. The Chief of Mission is responsible for providing integrated advice to Washington, directing and coordinating all executive branch offices and personnel in country, and executing integrated U.S. plans and programs in the country. The Chief of Mission heads the mission's "country team" of U.S. Government personnel, which is the permanent mechanism for interagency coordination within a host nation.

The country team is composed of an embassy’s lead State Department officials, the heads of all agencies represented in the embassy, and others as appointed by the Ambassador. The Country Team meets regularly to discuss issues and coordinate all activities within the mission. Other executive branch agencies represented in a mission may include the Departments of Commerce, Agriculture, Defense, Homeland Security, Treasury, Energy, and Justice (including the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation); U.S. Agency for International Development, Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Aviation Administration, Internal Revenue Service, and Peace Corps; and Congressional organizations such as the GAO. Other U.S. Government agencies make vital contributions to the success of U.S. foreign relations and in promoting U.S. interests abroad. Most embassies are structured with 5 Department of State-focused operational areas: management, public affairs, consular operations, economic, and political. (Responsibilities of the Country Team).

While there are many country team products, those with most relevance for interagency coordination are cables that report information and provide advice to Washington-based entities, bi-lateral agreements, annual Mission Strategic Plans that outline Embassy objectives, programs and desired resources, and finally, issue specific plans. Of course, as a field entity, the country team also produces results by implementing U.S. programs and communicating with the host nation.

National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC)


Mission Statement: Lead our nation's efforts to combat terrorism at home and abroad by analyzing the threat, sharing that information with our partners, and integrating all instruments of national power to ensure unity of effort.


NCTC was created by Executive Order 13354, August 27, 2004, and codified by Congress in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act. NCTC is the primary organization in the U.S. Government for integrating and analyzing all intelligence pertaining to terrorism and counterterrorism (CT) and for conducting strategic operational planning across all instruments of national power. The Director of NCTC reports to the President on joint counterterrorism operations, and to the Director of National Intelligence on the activities of its Directorate of Intelligence, and on budgetary and programmatic issues.

The NCTC is a full-time, multi-agency organization focused on collaboration. Analysts from more than 16 agencies and organizations work side-by-side, accessing foreign and domestic information from more than 30 networks in an unprecedented effort to uncover and disrupt terrorist plots that threaten the United States. Unique in the U.S. Government, NCTC provides a full-time interagency forum and process to plan, integrate, assign lead operational roles and responsibilities, and measure the effectiveness of strategic operational counterterrorism activities of the U.S. Government, applying all instruments of national power to the counterterrorism mission.

NCTC also creates tools for collaboration, such as NCTC Online (NOL), which is a classified electronic library of CT information that allows analysts to collaborate with their peers around the world. NCTC also established a 24-7 Operations Center to provide situational awareness of developing terrorist threats and related events. Three times a day, the Ops Center hosts a secure video teleconference to coordinate the CT community's response to the latest terrorism-related intelligence. Co-located with the CIA and FBI Watch Centers, the NCTC Ops Center ensures continuous information sharing among U.S. agencies and with foreign partners.

It is the diversity of backgrounds and disciplines fused together in an integrated environment that enriches the NCTC analysis, provides alternative perspectives, and breaks down cultural and physical barriers. The Center provides a unique environment to optimize the USG's collective knowledge and capabilities to plan against, identify, and counter the terrorist threat to the nation. View video below for more about this topic.

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Economic Coordination Groups (1 of 2)

The following five economic policy coordinating bodies review policy options and develop recommendations for Presidential decision. With the exception of the National Economic Council, these coordinating bodies are not standing organizations with permanent staff, but they do meet frequently and therefore allow members to build lasting relationships.

The National Economic Council (NEC) was established by Executive Order 12835 and is the most senior interagency forum for economic and trade policy coordination. The NEC advises the President on matters related to U.S. and global economic policy, coordinates policy-making for domestic and international economic issues, ensures that policy decisions and programs are consistent with the President's economic goals, and monitors implementation of the President's economic policy agenda. The purview of the NEC extends to policy matters affecting the various sectors of the nation's economy as well as the overall strength of the U.S. and global macro-economies. Therefore, the membership of the NEC comprises numerous department and agency heads, whose policy jurisdictions impact the nation's economy. The NEC is chaired by the President. The Assistant to the President for Economic Policy is also the Director of the NEC and oversees a staff of policy specialists who support the council's decision-making.

The NEC Deputies’ committee serves as the senior sub-Cabinet interagency body for coordinating economic policy issues. The DC reviews memoranda from subordinate groups before NEC consideration and discusses controversial trade-related issues.

The Trade Policy Review Group (TPRG) develops and coordinates U.S. government positions on international trade and trade-related investment issues. The TPRG is administered and chaired by a Deputy USTR and is composed of 19 Federal agencies and offices with membership at the Under Secretary level.

The Trade Policy Staff Committee (TPSC) is the primary operating group that coordinates on trade issues, with representation at the senior civil service level. Supporting the TPSC are more than 90 subcommittees responsible for specialized areas and several task forces that work on particular issues.

Listing of executive branch agencies on the TPRG and TPSC

Economic Coordination Groups (2 of 2)

On June 5, 2008, Secretary of Commerce Carlos M. Gutierrez (left) tours the newly opened Cisco Entrepreneur Institute in Kiev.

The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) derives its authority from several Executive Orders and from the Foreign Investment and National Security Act of 2007. CFIUS is chaired by the Secretary of Treasury and its members are the Secretaries of Homeland Security, Commerce, Defense, State, and Energy; the Attorney General; Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy; and the U.S. Trade Representative. The Secretary of Labor and the Director of National Intelligence serve on CFIUS in a non-voting, ex officio capacity. In addition, the following officials participate in CFIUS as observers: the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, the Assistant to the President for Economic Policy, and the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism. Treasury staff from the Director of the Office of International Investment in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of International Affairs, performs the secretariat function for CFIUS.

The role of this interagency committee is to monitor and evaluate the impact of foreign investment in the United States and determine the effects of certain foreign acquisitions of U.S. companies on the national security of the United States. In general, CFIUS reviews of foreign acquisitions are initiated pursuant to voluntary notifications of the acquisitions by the parties themselves prior to consummation of a transaction. However, CFIUS may begin a review on its own initiative. As Chair of CFIUS, Treasury receives and circulates voluntarily filed notices of transactions to CFIUS agencies and coordinates reviews. Section 721 of the Defense Production Act of 1950 provides for an initial 30-day review following receipt of a notification. If any national security concerns remain at the end of the 30-day review, then the matter may proceed to an investigation to be completed within 45 days. If concerns still remain at the conclusion of an investigation (whether those concerns are held by CFIUS as a whole or only certain agencies), CFIUS must provide a report to the President, including a recommedation whether to block the transaction at issue. The President must announce a final decision within 15 days of receiving such a report. The statute also requires the President to inform Congress of his determination of whether or not to take action in a given transaction. Presentation of transactions for decision by the President is extremely rare. The vast majority of cases to have come before CFIUS have been resolved at earlier stages in the review process (sometimes through the negotiation of "mitigation agreements" with the parties to the transaction to address any national security concerns).

More information on CFIUS

Coordination Groups for Reconstruction and Stabilization

In addition to the NSC organizations, there are three interagency coordination groups for reconstruction and stabilization activities: Country Reconstruction & Stabilization Group (CRSG), Integration Planning Cell (IPC), and Advance Civilian Team (ACT). These three groups together comprise what is referred to as the Interagency Management System. These coordinating groups are established to manage emerging, highly complex crises and operations where there is widespread instability, multiple U.S. agencies involved, and a potential for military operations. When established, these groups provide integrated planning across agencies, coordination of interagency activities in the field, and civilian response capability. They are flexible in size and composition based on the particular requirements of a response.

When a significant crisis occurs or is emerging, the decision to respond is made through the NSC structure. The CRSG is a special PCC established to coordinate U.S. responses in Washington, prepare whole-of-government strategic plans, and facilitate operations and field support. The CRSG is unique in that it is supported by a full-time staff. The CRSG is co-chaired by the State Department regional Assistant Secretary, the State Department Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stability, and the relevant NSC staff. All agencies involved in the crisis are represented on the CRSG at the Assistant Secretary level.

IPCs are responsible for harmonizing civilian and military planning and operations for a particular response. An IPC is comprised of relevant interagency planners, regional experts, and functional experts. IPCs are sent to work with the planning staff at a geographic combatant command or a multinational headquarters. An IPC is organized around five functions: leadership, operations and information management, plans, support, and sectoral/regional expertise.

ACTs are rapidly deployable, cross-functional interagency teams that support a Chief of Mission in coordinating and conducting reconstruction and stabilization operations. If necessary, the ACT can deploy a number of Field ACTs to conduct reconstruction and stabilization operations at the provincial or local level. The primary functions of an ACT include coordinating and conducting operations, directing the activities of the Field ACTs, reporting information to the Embassy, military headquarters, the IPC and the CRSG, monitoring performance, and recommending adjustments to plans and programs. Field ACTs' primary tasks may include integrating and conducting reconstruction and stabilization operations, assessing conditions and plans, and providing reports to the ACT. ACTs and Field ACTs structure operations on major mission elements (strategic objectives e.g., such as disrupting paramilitary/criminal spoilers), rather than by individual separate agencies, with a single team coordinator named for each objective. This integrated structure supports unity of effort in operations, while simplifying integration of operations with military, international, and host nation organizations working to achieve similar objectives.

Best Practice: Consortium for Complex Operations

CCO Document cover. Consortium for Complex Organizatins. Enhancing the U.S. Government's ability to prepare for Complex Operations.

The Consortium for Complex Operations (CCO) is an interagency collaborative forum between the Department of Defense, Department of State, and United States Agency for International Development. The CCO focus is collaboration on stability operations, counterinsurgency, and irregular warfare issues.

The CCO is helping to develop a network of civilian and military educators, trainers, and lessons learned practitioners dedicated to improving education and training for complex operations. The goal of the CCO is to serve as an information clearinghouse in order to cultivate a civil-military community of practice for complex operations training and education. The CCO has hosted an interagency conference bringing together military, civilian and academic education providers and thought leaders, interagency complex operations doctrine review workshops, and various events to enhance complex operations training and education.

The CCO completed a survey of U.S. government (military and civilian) and academic courses related to complex operations, providing visibility into over 700 courses, events and institutions. In addition, the CCO launched a community of practice portal— This portal hosts searchable catalogues of complex operations curricula, training and education institutions, a directory of training and education experts, and an annotated complex operations events calendar. Finally, the CCO portal serves as an online networking tool, where the community of practice can share emerging thought, theory and practices in the discussion fora, and where complex operations experts provide commentary in the featured blogs.

Lessons Learned: Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT)


As of March 2008, 31 PRTs are operating in Iraq with three led by Coalition partners (UK, Italy and South Korea.)


PRTs are small, civilian-military units that assist provincial and local governments to govern more effectively and deliver essential services in Iraq and Afghanistan. They combine representatives from civilian government agencies, contactors, and force protection units to enable civilians to work under insecure conditions. PRTs have a mandate to improve governance, support economic development, and expand security. PRTs vary greatly in size, organization, functions, and command structure. Activities vary enormously and are heavily influenced by personalities, local conditions and lead-nation priorities.

Afghanistan: PRTs were first introduced in Afghanistan in 2002. Currently, there are 26 PRTs in Afghanistan; all are subordinate to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). The U.S. leads twelve of these PRTs; fourteen are led NATO and Coalition partners. In Afghanistan, U.S. PRTs have about 80 personnel, are led by the U.S. military and have representatives from the State Department, USAID and the Department of Agriculture.

Navy Cmdr. Larry Legree, right, with interpreter Noor Mohamed during opening of a PRT-built bridge along the Pech Valley road.

Iraq #1: In November 2005, the Secretary of State introduced PRTs into Iraq. The first ten American PRTs were led by State Department, staffed primarily by civilian agencies and operated out of forward operating bases, relying on the U.S. military for logistical and security support.

Iraq #2: In 2007, as part of the President Bush's "New Way Forward," ten additional PRTs were introduced into Baghdad and Anbar provinces. These embedded PRTs (e-PRTs) were led by State Department officers, composed of 8-12 members and operated within U.S. military brigade combat teams. They worked with municipal and district leaders.

As of March 2008, 31 PRTs are operating in Iraq with three led by Coalition partners (UK, Italy and South Korea.)

PRTs attempt to promote "whole of government" approaches to security and development challenges in the field. However, beyond broad mission statements, there is no formal U.S. interagency agreement on PRT goals, objectives, concept of operations or organizational structure, nor is there agreement on these issues with our allies. The effort at interagency coordination is primarily reflected (to various degrees) in capitals. For the U.S., no executive-level agency has been tasked with the authority to oversee and coordinate all interagency PRT activities. It remains to be seen if the PRT concept will be institutionalized for future missions.

Links to PDFs:
USIP Special Report, Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Iraq, Robert Perito
USIP Special Report, The U.S. Experience with Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Afghanistan: Lessons Identified, Robert Perito
Woodrow Wilson School, Provincial Reconstruction Teams: Lessons and Recommendations
HASC, Agency Stovepipes vs. Strategic Agility: Lessons We Need to Learn from the Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Iraq and Afghanistan

Joint Interagency Task Forces

A Joint Interagency Task Force (JIATF) is an organization under military leadership that brings together representatives from various departments and agencies to work on a specific mission. Task force members usually report to and draw upon resources from their home agencies, but are collocated in a military command structure in the field. The JIATF works together to plan and execute operations. Often there is a heavily intelligence sharing component and tactical focus to a Joint Interagency Task Force. Co-locating agencies allows improved information exchange and typically produces more integrated and more effective plans. Two examples of a JIATF are the JIATF-South and JIATF-West. Both JIATFs counter illicit trafficking operations by coordinating intelligence collection and analysis with law enforcement; promoting security cooperation; and providing a forum for coordinating various country team and partner nation initiatives aimed at countering the flow of illicit traffic.

JIATF-West coordinates largest-ever maritime drug bust. Picture of crime scene. Sacks of seized cocaine.

JIATF South is responsible for counterdrug activity in the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, and the eastern Pacific. JIATF South work is driven by contributions from across the federal government, including the State Department, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the FBI, the U.S. Coast Guard, U. S. Customs and Border Protection), Defense Intelligence Agency, Naval Criminal Investigative Service, and the National Security Agency. Great Britain, France and the Netherlands provide ships, aircraft, and liaison officers to the task force. Many countries assign liaison officers to JIATF South. The result is a fully integrated, international task force organized to capitalize on the force multiplier effect of the various agencies and countries involved. According to command estimates, JIATF-S interdicted more than 200 metric tons of cocaine that was en route to the United States in 2007. (JIATF South’s website).

JIATF West counterdrug efforts are focused on Asia and the Pacific exclusively. JIATF West staff consists of approximately 82 uniformed and civilian members of all five military services as well as representatives from the national intelligence community and U.S. federal law enforcement agencies. Law enforcement representatives include the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). JIATF West closely aligns with US Pacific Command planning, developing and implementing counterdrug programs in Asia and the Pacific. (JIATF West's website).

Lessons for Interagency Organizations

  • Physical proximity increases an interagency organization's collaboration, but may not be practical in all circumstances.
  • Informal and temporary interagency organizations have proven useful (e.g., tiger teams, special working groups, and fusion cells.)
  • Choosing a leader with the right experience and "interagency" perspective is crucial to successful interagency organizations. The leader must value the perspective and contributions of all team members.
  • Team members should be empowered to reach back to their home agency for assistance.
  • Team members should possess comprehensive knowledgeable of their home agencies mission, resources, organizations and processes.
  • The organization should be provided resources that match its mandate or vice versa.
  • The organization should have a specific mission to achieve. Team members should focus on that mission and should understand their contribution to the mission.
  • Strive for continuity of participation.
  • Participants should have a national vs. an agency-centric mindset.
  • Adaptable and flexible organizations are better able to adjust to changes in the international environment.
  • The organization should have access to national security leaders who can resolve disputes between agencies.
  • Leaders of interagency organizations should be provided with a clear mandate to perform the assigned mission by participating departments and agencies.

Lesson 5: Summary

Lesson Summary

This lesson presented the following topics:

  • Description of key interagency organizations with national security roles.
  • Best practices for interagency organizations.

The next lesson presents key national security planning processes.

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