Strengthening Statecraft and Security: Reforming U.S. Planning and Resource Allocation

June 01, 2008

The Budgeting for Foreign Affairs and Defense project is pleased to present a report by Dr. Cindy Williams and Dr. Gordon Adams, “Strengthening Statecraft and Security: Reforming U.S. Planning and Resource Allocation” recently published by the Security Studies Program at MIT. The findings and recommendations of this report draw on two years of research and discussion with policy officials and think tank experts concerned about the weaknesses of America’s national security policy machinery faced with the complex agenda of security challenges facing this and the next administration.

As Williams and Adams say in the report “The U.S. government spends roughly three-quarters of a trillion dollars each year on programs that support U.S. participation in world affairs, national defense, and homeland security. Weaknesses in organizations, processes, and tools for planning, resource allocation, and budgeting mean that the nation is not getting its money’s worth for that investment.”

The report examines national security planning and budgeting processes with respect to four critical areas of policy: nuclear terrorism, biological defense, post-conflict reconstruction and stabilization, and security assistance. In all four areas, they find that the stovepipes of national security planning and budgeting are broken, the inter-agency process for establishing priorities and making tradeoffs does not exist, and the Congress is not organized to cope with cross-committee challenges.

The paper makes three sets of recommendations for reform to Congress and the next administration. First, there is need for a more coherent planning and budgeting apparatus in the Executive Office of the President to deal with cross-cutting national security issues like stabilization and reconstruction, countering nuclear terrorism, and homeland security.

Second, the key executive branch agencies need to better link strategies to budgets. Currently, only the Defense Department engages in planning that links policies and requirements to budget plans, and that process has been badly compromised over the past eight years. The foreign affairs agencies and homeland security agencies fall far short of the ideal when it comes to integrated planning. The new budget process at the State Department and USAID is an important first step but needs to be developed further and extended to other civilian national security agencies.

Third, the Congress needs to take create a process for resource allocation for issues that cut across the committee and subcommittee structure. Congress should also mandate that the Executive Branch write a Quadrennial National Security Review (QNSR) and prepare a National Security Planning Guidance (NSPG) And the Congress should no longer use supplemental appropriations to fund ongoing activities. As Dr. Adams and Williams say in the paper, “The routine use of the emergency supplemental tool to set policy and provide budgets for recurring activities poses important problems. Avoiding their use for ongoing activities could lead to improved oversight in the executive branch and in Congress, and could help lawmakers to restore fiscal discipline.”

Cindy Williams is a Principal Research Scientist of the Security Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Formerly she was an Assistant Director of the Congressional Budget Office, where she led the National Security Division in studies of budgetary and policy choices related to defense and international security. Dr. Williams has served as a director and in other capacities at the MITRE Corporation in Bedford, Massachusetts; as a member of the Senior Executive Service in the Directorate of Program Analysis of Evaluation of the Office of the Secretary of Defense at the Pentagon; and as a mathematician at RAND in Santa Monica, California. Her areas of specialization include U.S. national security policies and budgets, military personnel policy, and command and control of military forces.

Gordon Adams is a Distinguished Fellow at the Henry L. Stimson Center and a Professor of International Relations at the School of International Service, American University. He has been a Professor of the Practice of International Affairs and Director of the Security Policy Studies Program at the Elliott School of International Affairs, The George Washington University and Deputy Director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London. He was Associate Director for National Security and International Affairs at the Office of Management and Budget, where he was the senior White House budget official for the full range of U.S. military and international affairs activities in the Clinton Administration. Dr. Adams was the founder of the Defense Budget Project, a non-partisan research center in Washington, DC, which became a leading analytical institution working on the defense budget, defense economics, and defense policy issues.