Security Professionals for 21st Century Threats

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By Peter J. Roman – On May 17, 2007, President George W. Bush issued Executive Order 13434 (“National Security Professional Development”) that establishes U.S. policy “to promote the education, training, and experience of current and future professionals in national security positions in executive departments and agencies.” If implemented effectively, this Executive Order will address the deficiencies of Federal security professionals that were manifested in the response to Hurricane Katrina.

Executive Order 13434 is comprised of four components that are designed to promote the development of security professionals across the Federal government.

  • First, the Executive Order directs the President’s Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Advisor, Frances Fragos Townsend, in coordination with National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, to develop a National Strategy for Professional Development. The National Strategy must present a framework that ensures that security professionals have “access to integrated education, training, and professional experience” that enhances their “mission-related knowledge, skills, and experience.” This National Strategy must be submitted to the President by July 2007.
  • Second, the Executive Order creates a Security Professional Development Executive Steering Committee that is responsible for facilitating the implementation of the National Strategy. The Committee will promote an integrated approach to national security professional development in the Federal government by coordinating, “to the maximum extent possible,” the programs and guidance issued by each department. The Steering Committee is chaired by the Director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and includes the Attorney General, the Director of National Intelligence, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, and the Secretaries of Agriculture, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Labor, State, Transportation, and Treasury.
  • Third, the Executive Order directs each department with national security responsibilities to “identify and enhance” their existing professional development programs and infrastructure as well as establish new programs, as necessary.
  • Fourth, the Director of OPM is directed to develop a program of interagency and intergovernmental assignments and fellowships as well as guidelines for career advancement. The Secretaries of Defense, Homeland Security, and State, and the Director of National Intelligence are directed to provide similar guidance to their respective departments and the intelligence community.

Executive Order 13434 demonstrates that the Bush administration recognizes that the Federal government requires a coherent and systematic strategy for developing security professionals to meet current, emerging, and future threats. Many of the Executive Order’s key elements are derived from recommendations in the White House’s report on Hurricane Katrina, The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina: Lessons Learned. The principal difference between them is that the Executive Order applies “national security professionalism” broadly, so that it encompasses both traditional national security institutions as well as departments with homeland security responsibilities.

Some Federal departments and agencies have recently instituted significant changes in their professional development programs. On June 25, 2007, Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Mike McConnell instituted a Civilian Joint Duty program for the entire Intelligence Community. Modeled after the military’s joint duty requirements established by the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986, DNI McConnell’s directive requires that civilian intelligence professionals complete an assignment outside their department before they can be promoted to senior ranks. The Defense Department has created a pilot program at the National Defense University on cultivating National Security Professionals. The Department of Homeland Security has recently expanded its educational and training programs, including its successful collaboration with the Naval Postgraduate School.

The ultimate success of Executive Order 13434 and the forthcoming National Strategy will depend on the implementation processes undertaken by the Steering Committee and the OPM. Despite the constructive new initiatives mentioned above, many departments and agencies will be inclined to do the minimum necessary to comply with the Executive Order and subsequent implementation directives. Some will be tempted to claim that existing education, training, and career assignment initiatives are sufficient, while others with less sophisticated programs in place may consider that the Executive Order applies to only a small cadre of their personnel.

Further, all departments and agencies face the pressures of performing current missions and operations with a professional workforce that is already stretched very thin. Departments and agencies must balance the impact of taking personnel away from the organization’s primary operations and functions with the need to develop the professional cadre for the future. Unfortunately, departments and agencies are often forced to sacrifice professional development activities because they do not make an immediate contribution to the organization’s missions and operations.

These organizational imperatives could undermine the development of the national security professional development system envisioned by the Executive Order and the forthcoming National Strategy. Departments and agencies have the incentive to comply with the Executive Order in a manner that is least disruptive to their other missions, operations, and functions. This could result in a national security professional development system that treats educational, training, and assignment requirements as “boxes to be checked”-a common problem in both public and private sector professional development programs. This professional development system would require expending great cost and effort to check the boxes without accruing benefits commensurate with the investments. Such professional development systems inevitably lose their legitimacy among all involved because the activities do not expand the knowledge and skills that professionals need to succeed in their assignments.

These are only a few of the challenges that the Steering Committee and OPM will face as they implement the Executive Order and forthcoming National Strategy. It will take years of dedicated effort by this and future administrations to overcome these organizational impediments and construct an effective national security professional development system. If successful, it will provide the nation with national security professionals who possess the knowledge, technical skills, and experiences necessary to meet 21st century security threats.


For more information on related topics, see the Homeland Security Program.

Peter J. Roman is a Senior Associate and Co-Director of the Domestic Preparedness and Homeland Security Program at the Stimson Center.

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