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Analysis: Saving through strategy

November 30, 2010

Rebecca Williams at the Stimson Center blog, The Will and Wallet, provides an excellent background on the recommendations by the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Debt Reduction Task Force and the President’s Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform on the international affairs budget. She highlights the difficulty of viewing foreign assistance and international activities solely through State:

Even for those who see U.S. diplomatic and development efforts as a part of U.S. national security, if Congress decides it wants to reduce foreign aid as part of its debt reduction plan, State/USAID might pay more than its fair share. No single department or agency carries out all U.S. foreign assistance programs and international activities and they are not all funded out of the 150 Account. These programs are dispersed among multiple federal departments and agencies within the government, administered by 12 departments, 25 agencies and nearly 60 government offices.

When dealing with almost any national security issue today, the government faces the challenge of establishing a coherent strategy across numerous departments and agencies. Most of the time, aside from weak ad hoc communications or stale committee systems, there is no visibility on how it all ties together.

This is especially true of money. And, it happens in the in highest priority missions like counterterrorism. We interviewed a former National Security Advisor a while ago about the NSC staff, and we were told when Richard Clarke was the Counterterrorism director in the NSC staff, it took him two years to cobble together a budget display of all U.S. spending in counterterrorism. However, he never gained the authority to change it, and when he left, it disappeared. We don’t know what we’re getting for the money we’re spending on counterterrorism. No wonder we have a sprawling post-9/11 bureaucracy.

There are billions of dollars across departments and agencies for almost every national security challenge that are never coordinated and that are not aligned with any coherent strategy (even if there is a strategy, operationalizing it is another challenge). By putting tools in place where we can look across budgets and determine the outcomes they contribute to our national security challenges, we can save a lot of money, and we would be more effective.

This is from a series of posts by our staff in response to this question: How can national security transformation contribute to fiscal responsibility?

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