Key Considerations for Interagency Operations

Graphic of Question Marks.

While every national security mission must be examined individually, there are some questions that every national security professional should consider before taking action. These questions are equally applicable to any phase of the policy cycle—whether developing policy in Washington, or executing an operation in the field.

  • Which organizations should be involved in this issue? This may include regional, functional, and global perspectives from multiple agencies.
  • Who is the USG lead, or co-leads if more appropriate?
  • What existing policy documents apply to the subject matter? Are there summaries of conclusions from previous meetings?
  • What is the current intelligence assessment involving the subject region, issues, or parties?
  • What are the cultural and lexicon differences between the agencies involved? For example, the term "plan" means something different to every agency. Organizational culture should be considered in the approach to an issue.
  • What is it that the US government is seeking to achieve (focused on outcomes not outputs)? Are there differences of opinion on the goals? This can have a large impact on success.
  • What are the competing forces, actors, leaders, groups that will impact the US government objectives?
  • What are the supporting objectives necessary for achieving the overall goal? Often these objectives need to be synchronized across departments.
  • What resources are needed? Also, what additional authorities, if any, are needed?
  • What is the timeline for achieving US objectives, and what factors will influence the timeline?
  • What are the restraints (can’t do’s) and constraints (must do’s) associated with the objective. There are always unknowns associated with achieving an end state, so what assumptions must be made?
  • Are all appropriate tools (elements of national power) being put to use?
  • How does the group want to communicate their objectives and approach? This is important when several organizations are involved, so all concerned speak with one voice.
  • What are the possible unintended consequences from the planned actions?
  • What other national security objectives may be affected by the proposed actions? For instance, how does a country-specific policy/action affect the region or how does a regional policy/action affect other global priorities.
  • How will success be recognized? What are the measures of effectiveness?
  • Where does this issue fit within the scope of other national security priorities?