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Lesson 7: Summary and Resources

This lesson provides summarizes course material. At the end of this lesson, you will be able to describe:

  • Some of the challenges of interagency coordination
  • Key considerations for interagency operations
  • Desired capabilities for interagency operations
  • Additional resources on national security objectives, structures, and processes

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This lesson takes approximately 20 minutes to complete.

Summary of National Security Overview Course

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The purpose of this course is to provide baseline information on US national security objectives, structures and processes involved in the National Security Strategy. It also highlights why interagency coordination is essential for success, challenges of interagency coordination, and some insights on successful interagency collaboration.

National security objectives are provided in many different forms, but the National Security Strategy, and its complementary national strategies on terrorism, WMD, and homeland security, establish the baseline for US objectives. Many departments and agencies have a role in implementing national security objectives, whether they focus on diplomacy, the economy, communications, security, law enforcement, or intelligence. Working together using all elements of power across all phases of the policy process, including coordination with Congress, increases the chance of achieving national security objectives.

In particular, interagency coordination is necessary in providing foreign assistance, developing and implementing trade policy, countering transnational challenges, and responding to humanitarian or stability crises. It is important for national security professionals to focus on common objectives, increase their understanding of interagency functions, appreciate other perspectives than their own, and develop solid working relationships with their counterparts to improve the execution of national security objectives. They should understand and support the mission of key interagency organizations, should enthusiastically support efforts to produce "whole-of-government" plans, and should seek to incorporate more interagency input into key internal agency processes.

In addition to this overview course, national security professionals should seek out additional information, contacts, and training for national security issues where they identify gaps. Finally, it is recommended that national security professionals review this on a yearly basis, since it will be updated with additional information and revised as national security objectives adapt to a changing national security environment.

Agency Culture

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Each US government department and agency brings unique culture, expertise, authorities, and interests to the interagency process. An agency’s values and philosophies define its organizational culture and shape its view and approach to any given situation. In most cases, this is a benefit, since it provides decisionmakers multiple options and approaches on national security issues.

Sometime, however, culturally misunderstandings can get in the way of effective interagency coordination. National security professionals must not just recognize, but demonstrate through words and actions respect for other agency’s contributions and unique perspectives. National security professionals should also seek opportunities that broaden their understanding other their partner agencies culture, roles, authorities, and interests.

Interagency Coordination Challenges

Key considerations of interagency operations: Authority, Security, Resources, Trust, Training, Process, Culture, Priorities, Knowledge, Communication

Today, there are many challenges to seamless interagency collaboration. In many cases, these challenges will take years to overcome. The charge to national security professionals is to continuously strive to find cross-agency solutions to these challenges. Achieving our national security objectives depends on it.

Some common challenges that national security professional will face—and must seek to overcome—include:

  • Cultural differences between agencies
  • Constraints on information sharing due to security concerns
  • Lack of familiarity with roles and missions
  • Lack of trust between agency personnel
  • Communication difficulties—e.g., terminology
  • Resource competition and diverging funding authorities
  • Priorities are unclear
  • Lack of protocols or processes to collaborate
  • Lines of authority are unclear
  • Opportunities for cross agency training and experience are limited (and sometimes not valued)
  • Opportunities for cross-agency "practice" activities are limited
  • Agency structural differences (e.g., planning or budget cycles/processes do not align; decision structures are different)
  • Size differences—some agencies don’t have the personnel to support every interagency coordination request—even if they want to
  • Different focus of agency activity (long-term vs. short-term)
  • Concern about who is going to get the credit for success

With an open mindset, time, effort, and a willingness to compromise for the greater good, it is possible to work through interagency coordination challenges. National security professionals are expected to proactively seek out collaborative forums and the support of their department or agency to solve these challenges. Too often the interagency breeds a culture where decisions are "bumped up to the next level" instead of being solved by you, the national security professional.

Key Considerations for Interagency Operations

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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?

National Security Professionals Shared Capabilities for Interagency Operations

The following capabilities were identified as critical for all national security professionals (NSPs) to possess, no matter what department or agency they support. These capabilities are essential to seamless interagency operations. National security professionals should evaluate their skills in each of the capability areas and seek opportunities that fill their capability gaps.

Strategic Thinking—NSPs must understand the country's national security strategy and the various documents that convey it. They must also be able to: envision future states in collaboration with other agencies; think strategically; and engage in interagency strategic planning.

Critical and Creative Thinking—NSPs must be able to: analyze problems in concert with other agencies; seek out, evaluate, and synthesize information from multiple sources; assess and challenge assumptions; and offer alternative and creative solutions/courses of action.

Leading and Working with Interagency Teams—NSPs in leadership roles must be able to: create a shared vision and unity of purpose amongst all the players; win the confidence and trust of all the players; effectively utilize the knowledge, skills, and resources of each team member; develop/mentor staff from other agencies; ensure collaborative problem-solving; and manage internal conflicts.

Collaborating—NSPs must be able to: work with other agencies to accomplish goals; build and maintain networks/relationships that span agencies; and promote an environment that encourages collaboration, integration, and information/knowledge sharing.

Planning, Managing and Conducting Interagency Operations—NSPs must be able to: develop interagency plans (strategic and operational); execute and monitor interagency operations (i.e., be adept at budget/financial management, project/program management, and performance management/evaluation in an interagency environment); maintain strong political and situation awareness; and navigate interagency decision-making processes (i.e., technical level, policy level, political level).

Maintaining Global and Cultural Acuity—NSPs must maintain: an integrated understanding of factors that influence national security (e.g., global/regional/country trends); knowledge of relevant foreign cultures and histories; and foreign language(s) proficiency. NSPs must also be familiar with the structures, processes, and cultures of the other agencies with whom they work.

Mediating and Negotiating—NSPs must be able to mediate disputes and/or negotiate with partners and stakeholders during operations.

Communicating—NSPs must be able to: clearly articulate information (written and verbal); read non-verbal cues; manage the expectations of diverse groups; listen actively; and tailor communications approaches to different circumstances and audiences.

Lesson 7: Summary

This lesson provides summarized course material and presented the following topics.

  • Some of the challenges of interagency coordination
  • Key considerations for interagency operations
  • Desired capabilities for interagency operations
  • Additional resources on national security objectives, structures, and processes

National security professionals are encouraged to discuss this material with their peers within and across departments and agencies.

This concludes the lessons.