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  Interagency Panel
April 14th, 2009
  Interagency Panel stresses cooperation, reform
by Maj. Thomas R. Powers, Staff Group 5A

A panel of distinguished current and former leaders from organizations representing the interagency perspective on current operations addressed students, faculty and staff at the Command and General Staff College April 14.
The panel was comprised of an experienced, diverse set of speakers including Retired Ambassador Tim Carney; Brian Helmer, Director for External Collaboration for the Project on National Security Reform; Maj. Gen. David Morris, Commanding General, U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command; and Brenda Oppermann, consultant and international development advisor.

Carney opened by discussing his role as head of a special group assisting the Afghan government with their nationwide election this August. He discussed the differences between the last presidential election and the upcoming one, namely that this election is an “Afghan show.” At the end of the day, he said, “It is essential that the people of Afghanistan are given a choice, that they exercise their right to vote and are happy with the process.”

Helmer introduced what would be a common theme among the remaining participants. He began by stating, “National Security Reform is the number one National Security issue,” and then talked about the deficiencies inherent in the current system. He was quick to reiterate that the problem is processes, not people, and identified five institutional challenges that must be resolved.

Morris’ discussion mirrored Helmer’s comments, from a military perspective. He emphasized the challenges in overcoming bias and challenged the military audience to find common ground. “At the end of the day,” he said, “we all salute the same flag.” He focused on the challenges generated by the U.S. doctrine of Full Spectrum Operations and the interagency approach necessary to conduct stability operations. “If you’re going to execute stability operations, you’re not going to do it alone,” he said.

Oppermann put a more tactical focus on her comments. She echoed many of the challenges raised by the other panel members and briefly discussed the need for change. She then discussed how collaboration and coordination were critical components to achieve unity of effort. She shared several recent experiences in Iraq as a member of the 18th Airborne Corps civil advisory group and offered the following observation. “Even if the national process is broken,” she said, “the process on the ground can still achieve unity of effort by partnering with each other.” She spent the remaining few minutes discussing the importance of holding regular contact meetings with both interagency and non-governmental organizations operating in an area, sharing information so resources match needs and eliminate gaps in coverage.

Integration of an interagency panel into the intermediate level curriculum is designed to provide students with honest, frank assessments from experienced leaders on the United States’ ability to conduct interagency operations. As the strategic focus for operations continues to push toward a more “whole of government” approach, many students will likely face many of the same issues outlined by the panelists. Students also gained an appreciation for the challenges facing other government agencies as they develop an institutional framework that’s more flexible and responsive. As Helmer said, “It took the Department of Defense two decades to go Joint – it’s going to take Department of State a generation.”

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Last Reviewed: April 15, 2009

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