Study: National security needs overhaul

By Meg Beasley
Federal News Radio

A new study has found the country’s national security personnel ineffective and unable to handle complex problems. The Project for National Security Reform (PNSR) reported that the problem isn’t the people; it’s the way the government recruits and hires national security personnel.

“There is an urgent need to establish an integrated national security professional system to recruit, develop and manage national security professionals who can work in an integrated fashion, in a collaborative fashion,” said Nancy Bearg, the study director, at a forum Tuesday to announce the report. “We believe building a cadre of people that have the right education and training and experience working in agencies outside their own will be extremely beneficial in terms of effectiveness and efficiency and in national security decision making.”

The government created the current human capital system for national security personnel (NSP) in 1947 and is agency- centered. Each agency has its own system for recruitment and hiring and different standards for their personnel. President Bush tried to implement changes in 2007 but his order was largely ineffective, the Bearg and other experts say.


Retired Army Maj. Gen. William Navas described the current system as trying to order out of Sears-Roebuck catalog instead of using Amazon – one click. “You wouldn’t dream of doing that,” he said. “But that’s how we’re running our country.”

Navas said part of the problem is that the country has an outdated idea of what national security is. Most people, and agencies, assume that the Defense Department is responsible for national security. In reality, Navas said each agency has a role to play, whether its food inspection, disease control or economic security. PNSR president James Lochner referred to the State of the Union address in which President Obama said “We can’t win the future with a government of the past.”

Lochner added that the national security system is the biggest part of the outdated government structure. “From domestic natural disasters to foreign policy, from the economy to education, and from terrorism to national infrastructure, these are all parts of our national security,” Lochner said. “Government transformation starts with transformation of our national security system.”

Bearg said the new system would overlay the current structure.

“It’s evolution, not revolution,” she said. The NSP designation would be in addition to an individual’s affiliation with a certain agency. Employees will self select to pursue NSP qualification with entry and training laterally.

The biggest change the study suggested would be the creation of a National Security Board with a Senate confirmed chairman. Bearg said this component is crucial to ensure the program works across all agencies as well as state, local and tribal governments.

The study recommended a four step plan:

  • Implement training and education programs in all agencies.
  • Establish the National Security Board.
  • Assemble the various parts of the program to ensure they are effective.
  • Reach out to state, local and tribal governments as well as the private sector.

In the short term, PNSR wants Obama to sign an Executive Order creating the board and nominating a chairman. The plan calls for the Senate to confirm the chairman in order to create a governmentwide partnership. The group also wants the Office of Management and Budget to issue guidance to agencies.

Rep. Geoff Davis (R-Ky.) said reforming the personnel system is the key national security issue of the 21st century.

“Washington has been pouring more money and more people into efforts without addressing the root problems,” he said at the event.

Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.) said institutional siloing of responsibilities and jurisdictions comes up in every hearing.

“Lack of coordination is the biggest issue,” he said. “Agencies can’t understand each other and budget cuts are costing agencies midlevel personnel who have the experience in the field. How can we move forward without the right people?”

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