Report: Obama to inherit broken national security system

Five-plus years after the invasion of Iraq, here’s some shock and awe for you: The 751-page report released today by the congressionally funded Project on National Security Reform. The product of two years of work, their conclusions are grim… albeit with a silver lining. First, the bad news. The United States’ national security system is ...

By , International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.
570749_081202_jones2.jpg
570749_081202_jones2.jpg

Five-plus years after the invasion of Iraq, here's some shock and awe for you: The 751-page report released today by the congressionally funded Project on National Security Reform. The product of two years of work, their conclusions are grim... albeit with a silver lining.

First, the bad news. The United States' national security system is antiquated, "grossly imbalanced," incapable of cooperating agency-to-agency, and unable to "help American leaders to formulate coherent national strategy," according to the report. National security agencies compete rather than working together, so decisions are delayed and watered down. Since budgets get doled out by agency, departmental goals often outweigh the big picture.

Five-plus years after the invasion of Iraq, here’s some shock and awe for you: The 751-page report released today by the congressionally funded Project on National Security Reform. The product of two years of work, their conclusions are grim… albeit with a silver lining.

First, the bad news. The United States’ national security system is antiquated, “grossly imbalanced,” incapable of cooperating agency-to-agency, and unable to “help American leaders to formulate coherent national strategy,” according to the report. National security agencies compete rather than working together, so decisions are delayed and watered down. Since budgets get doled out by agency, departmental goals often outweigh the big picture.

No U.S. president — no matter how wise and sleep-deprived — could possibly get a handle on that system. 

Here’s the good news: Barack Obama can fix it. Maybe.

The report offers some dramatic and common-sense reforms to get the system back in check — starting with interagency cooperation. It calls for a central security budget based on projects, not agencies. It would merge the personnel and security clearance schemes across the government. Top officials from each agency would work on meta-teams for security issues. And the report recommends creating a new, central council so that the president can make sense of it all — replacing the National Security and Homeland Security councils.

With any luck, the report’s authors hope, the new administration will get to fixing this mess sooner rather than later. The Project on National Security Reform’s executive director, James R. Locher III, tells FP in Seven Questions this week that now might be the time. It so happens that retired Gen. James L. Jones, tapped Monday to be the Obama’s national security advisor, is a former member of the report’s “guiding coalition” (basically, a steering committee). Two other big names who served on the coalition, former Clinton deputy James B. Steinberg and retired Adm. Dennis C. Blair, might also make it onto Team Obama. Check it out.

Elizabeth Dickinson is International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.

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