U.S. National Security Decisionmaking Processes Need Trimming

For Release

April 5, 2016

A leaner, more-focused national security decisionmaking system can help the United States succeed in a period of tumultuous change, according to a new RAND Corporation report.

Increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of the National Security Council is necessary as the country contends with many more state and nonstate actors, around-the-clock public scrutiny and exploding nontraditional threats, according to the report.

The analysis makes recommendations to help the U.S. carry out improved national security strategies the nation will need in the 21st century.

“The president could force the sclerotic U.S. government to achieve coherence and sustainability in national security policy by breaking organizational stovepipes, reducing bloat at the top of the structures and the agencies, and instructing the government to both improve internal and external messaging as well as become better at looking ahead,” said Charles Ries, lead author of the study and vice president of international at RAND, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization. “Our institutions need to do less at the top, delegate more and insist on accountability. That will help ensure a focus on what is important, rather than having those issues overwhelmed constantly by the immediate.”

The study recommends that in addition to honing policy priorities, the transition team of the next administration give consideration to national security management reforms.

Among the report's recommendations is downsizing the staff of the National Security Council. The report recommends that civil-military operations be planned by a new joint office at the State Department with a military general officer as deputy. Lessons-learned efforts would help ensure the system is adaptive and responsive. Better integration of intelligence insights is necessary, as is the assignment of senior officials across agencies to help ensure the quality and coherence of decisionmaking.

“The time and attention of top decisionmakers is increasingly scarce, the threats and actors diverse, and the focus of media attention shifts ever more quickly from crisis to crisis placing policy coherence at risk,” Ries said. “Public support for an America engaged in global affairs is declining,”

The report examines trends in U.S. national security decisionmaking structures and processes over seven decades following World War II. It finds these structures ill-suited to the conduct of 21st century U.S. foreign policy.

Drawing on in-depth interviews with more than 25 current and former policymakers and career officials, as well as the growing literature on contemporary foreign policy issues, the report is the fourth in the “Strategic Rethink” series in which RAND researchers explore the elements of a national strategy for the conduct of U.S. foreign policy in a fast-changing world.

The report, “Improving Decisionmaking in a Turbulent World,” is available at www.rand.org.

This project results from the RAND Corporation's Investment in People and Ideas program. Support for this program is provided, in part, by philanthropic contributions from donors and by the independent research and development provisions of RAND's contracts for the operation of its U.S. Department of Defense federally funded research and development centers.

Special appreciation goes to the Hauser Foundation for its generous gift in support of the project and to Rita Hauser for encouraging RAND to undertake it.

About the RAND Corporation

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