Organizing America for 21st Century Comprehensive Defense

Organizing America for 21st Century Comprehensive Defense

In today’s world, preserving American prosperity, freedoms, and influence requires that the U.S. government architect a comprehensive defense that integrates economic policy as a constituent component of national security policy.

The third group of agencies designated “Comprehensive Defense Advisor Agencies,” or CDAA, comprise agencies for which comprehensive defense subject matter only infrequently intersects with their areas of responsibility. CDAA agencies may nonetheless occasionally hold expertise or information of relevance; or such agencies might wish to stay apprised of comprehensive defense activities that may intersect with their authorities or operations. The participation of CDAA agencies is also documented in interagency agreements, but unlike CDSA interagency agreements, these agreements need not anticipate specific tasking or program management responsibilities. Should the need arise to task a CDAA agency with significant program management or support responsibilities, those efforts can be documented at that time.

In operation, the National Security Council and the CDLCA define the top-level objectives and principles for the nation’s comprehensive defense. The CDLCA tracks and monitors progress against these goals. The CDLCA also functions as a “sorting hat” for emerging comprehensive defense issues and as the means for assigning to a participating agency the program management responsibility for achieving specific goals and objectives.

The agency charged with program management of an issue or objective may elect to form a task force comprised of members from outside that agency. Task force members comprise the personnel of supporting agencies as desired to provide needed expertise, surface agency stakeholder concerns, and to coordinate solution sets. In this manner, actions proposed by a task force would have been already coordinated internally and supported by its constituent members. This organizational approach also forms networks of communication between agencies that build trust and cooperation.

Task force members may optionally include members from academia and industry. The expertise of these stakeholders should not be discarded in the crafting of a comprehensive defense. Industry participation becomes particularly important given adversarial attempts to co-opt domestic industry for its own purposes, the international nature of supply chains, and the need for a robust industrial base in critical technology areas. University faculty are frequently the nation’s subject matter experts on matters of scientific and policy research and provide thought leadership in the understanding of complex issues and their solutions. For these reasons, if not otherwise included as direct participants on the task force, each task force should optimally include a team of industry and academic advisors.

One additional point of inter-agency coordination merits consideration. Within individual agencies, personnel sometimes identify issues pertinent to comprehensive defense, but for which the responsibility or expertise for resolution resides outside the identifying agency. In the current organizational design, such “orphan” issues often get dropped. Each participating agency should, therefore, ensure a means of surfacing such issues internally so that they can be raised to the CDLCA. The CDLCA  can then perform its sorting hat function to assign an appropriate agency to program manage or otherwise handle the issue.

The reality is that nation-states now actively pursue competitive strategies that target our economic and innovation ecosystems. Adversaries are watching and learning from the economic statecraft responses to the war in Ukraine. Those adversaries will learn important lessons about hardening themselves against such practices as well as advancing their own capabilities to pursue them. Defending the  United States now means managing these new types of national security risks. The federal government is not currently optimized to efficiently undertake the whole of government, comprehensive national defense of the type necessary. The good news is that maximizing comprehensive defense capabilities does not require the formation of new agencies or massive new programs within agencies. Existing agencies do not lack for capacity, authority, or talent. By marshaling current resources along the lines presented herein, the United States can prevail in the face of these new global challenges.

This paper is not an official government publication or policy paper. The views and opinions expressed herein are solely those of the authors.

Jeanne Suchodolski is currently employed as the Director, Innovation Protection Policy for the United States Navy.

Suzanne Harrison is an author, economist, and intellectual property expert. She received her M.B.A. from the University of Chicago.

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