Leadership: December 19, 2003

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The U.S. Department of Defense has been earnestly pushing "Jointness" (all the services cooperating more closely) for two decades. There has been progress, but it's slow going. Now, with the war on terror, jointness has taken on a new meaning. Terrorism is not just about military operations, but involves many forms of criminal activity and requires a lot more sleuthing than your usual military campaign. So the number of organizations the Department of Defense wants to get "joint" with has expanded. Walk through the Pentagon and you'll find people from the FBI, BICE (Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement), DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency), the State Department, CIA, NRO (National Reconnaissance Office, which controls the spy satellites), NSA (National Security Agency, which creates, and cracks, codes), DHS (Department of Homeland Security) NIMA (National Imagery and Mapping Agency) and many more you've never heard of. The troops need the assistance of all these outfits if they are going to track down and catch, or kill, terrorists. Of course, the FBI and CIA are also out to make arrests. But most of the terrorists are heavily armed and not interested in surrendering. So the Department of Defense is expected to provide muscle, transportation and logistical support. But the Department of Defense also wants to be in charge, and this causes problems with some of these other agencies (especially CIA, FBI, DEA and State Department), who are used to running their own show. All of the other agencies have their own customs and ways of getting things done. "Jointness" thus requires a lot of negotiation. Since all of these agencies work for the president, not the Department of Defense, it often takes a presidential kick in the shins to get needed cooperation. And often presidential intervention doesn't always work, or only works for a while. The current Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, is a long time Washington operator, is very intense about jointness and has a close relationship with the president, but still has a hard time getting everyone to cooperate fully. A less capable operator would quickly see the other agencies drift away, or just go through the motions of jointness. 

The Department of Defense is trying to integrate military and civilian agency operations, even to the point of treating the civil service ranks as their roughly equivalent military rank. This in itself is not unusual, as it has long been done to determine what sort of quarters a civilian official would get on a warship or while staying at a military base. But the spirit of jointness takes this practice further and integrates CIA, FBI and other officials with their peers (in rank and job function) on military staffs. Building team spirit and all that. It also creates a close working atmosphere that allows the non-military officials to be come "bi-cultural" (able to understand Department of Defense procedures as well as similar ones from his or her own agency.)

A lack of cooperation between agencies working on the same problem has already had tragic consequences in the war on terror. Several of the September 11, 2001 attackers were known by the CIA, but the FBI never got the word, or often got information from the CIA and didn't follow up on it. Bureaucracy, while necessary to make a large organization function at all, can also be a killer when important data or instructions are ensnared in the workings of the system. Unlike the Department of Defense, which has something of a fetish about creating plans that will withstand all manner of misfortunes, this approach is the exception in Washington. Most other agencies tolerate a lot more "errors", mainly because their errors don't usually get people killed. But in the war on terror, lack of jointness will, again, turn out to be a fatal flaw. 


 


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