Austin Bay

Memo to the next president: You need to fix the biggest problem in Washington.

Everyone knows what that problem is. Honky-tonk denizens would call it lack of team play. Policy wonks call it "the broken interagency process."

The phrase "interagency process" clunks in a campaign stump speech. It's not an attention-getter, nor is it a vote-grabber. Use it in a TV sound-bite, and you'll sound snake-bit. But if you don't fix it, America risks losing the 21st century's war for modernity, which we will fight for decades no matter what happens in Iraq.

The U.S. government's "interagency" is supposed to organize and coordinate America's "elements of power" in order to achieve national strategic goals. National power has four major elements: "diplomatic," "information," "military" and "economic" power (hence the acronym, "DIME").

The hub of the interagency process is the National Security Council. NSC "working groups" are supposed to use the agencies and departments that institutionally house the elements of power and implement policies to achieve objectives. (For example, the State Department institutionally embodies diplomatic power, Defense is military, etc.)

That's the intent. Unfortunately, it doesn't work with sustained effectiveness and vigor. America's World War II planning genius, Gen. Albert Wedemeyer, claimed the United States didn't do it well in that war, either, and thus "lost the peace" (i.e., entered the Cold War).

Institutional flaws frustrate the most competent people. Funding and lack of central, operational authority are problems. There is no "unified budget" for "unified action" (the buzzword for synergistic policy implementation). Instead, several dozen pieces of budgets must be patched together to pay for separate agency participation. Congress controls budgets, and "unified funding" to achieve unified operational action would diminish congressional clout. Congress could mitigate the problem by giving agencies an uncommitted contingency operations budget.

Another flaw is the "expeditionary Department of Agriculture." Right -- there isn't one. Oh, there are competent, courageous ag experts, but institutionally Defense is the only government department designed for extended expeditionary operations.

The latest media manifestation of the interagency mess cropped up in June during Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute's Senate confirmation hearing. President Bush appointed Lute as "war czar." His actual title is too big for a billboard: "deputy assistant national security advisor and advisor to the president on Iraq and Afghanistan."


Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
 
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