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Empowering Our National Security Professionals

January 24, 2011

By Nancy Bearg, Senior Advisor and Study Director of The Power of People: Building an Integrated National Security Professional System for the 21st Century

Congressmen Geoff Davis, John Tierney, and James R. Locher III discuss the report

The power of people. It sounds like a political slogan, but in the context I’m about to describe, it is not. In this case, the power of people is about the way people who work in government on complex national security issues work together. It is fundamental to our national security.

It’s not just about cooperating or coming to agreement on policies and carrying them out, but rather collaborative approaches to handling the kinds of issues of today’s world, the kind that cut across government agencies and reach into state and local government. Think of terrorist threats, economic interdependence, Katrina and Haiti, conflict over scarce resources. It means preparing people specifically to do the work of the 21st century. It’s both perspective and skills brought together to find the best approaches.

PNSR long has talked about the need to transform the overall U.S. national security system. It is outdated and not integrated or strategically managed. It is stovepiped too often in perspective and in the way people work – mainly with the equities of their own organization in mind rather than a larger perspective.

In the 21st century, business as usual will not work, especially not with the precious resource that lies at the heart of promoting our national security and prosperity in a globalized world. This resource is people, specifically in this case National Security Professionals (NSPs) who have training and experience in collaborating in a whole-of-government effort.  These people exist, but there is not a system to recruit, train, and manage them, or even to facilitate communication.

Bill Navas, Catherine Dale, Pamela Aall, and Nancy Bearg

In our new report, The Power of People, PNSR has called for an Integrated National Security Professional system to be implemented in four stages over several years. It would build on current – but insufficiently robust – efforts to designate and train individuals for the cross-cutting tasks they must do in day-to-day or crisis assignments.

We can start by increasing training and education opportunities and beginning to set up the elements of a formal, integrated human capital system for this purpose. Is that doable? Yes, and one reason it is doable is that such a system for a cadre of NSPs would not replace or interfere with the current personnel systems, but rather would be an overlay.  And it is a small subset of our dedicated national security professionals here and abroad.

This issue is bipartisan. Indeed, last year a bipartisan bill was introduced by Representative Geoff Davis (R-KY) and former Representative Ike Skelton (D-MO) to set up such a system. There is continuing, active bipartisan interest on the Hill in this concept and in the recommendations of the PNSR report.

Packed audience at the Power of People event

PNSR looks forward to debate to move this issue forward in the interest of our national security – both in legislation and in increased efforts that can be made without legislation.

The power of people. It’s always important. In national security, it is foundational. And building an excellent cadre of National Security Professionals is something practical that can be done across party lines and without breaking the bank.

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