Skip to main content

Project on National Security Reform Releases Report

“Our national security system is broken and needs fixing,” says Ambassador Tom Pickering. That’s also the conclusion of a Congressionally mandated, bipartisan study he helped direct, the Project on National Security Reform. The study’s findings and recommendations are designed to help the next President and Congress undertake the fixing process.

Following is a July 29 press release about the Project’s report. For further information, including the text of the report, go to the Project web site: – Ed.

1020 19th Street, NW Suite 250
Washington, DC 20036

David Egner Frances Hardin
202-373-6287 (o) 202-373-6244 (o)
202-631-3655 (c) 202-640-9387 (c) 

July 29, 2008


WASHINGTON – The national security system created by the U.S. government in 1947 that served the nation throughout the Cold War is outdated and needs a massive restructuring to better protect the American people from terrorism, rogue states and other 21st century dangers, according to a study issued today by the Project on National Security Reform (PNSR).

The Preliminary Findings Report – based on research and analysis by more than 300 national security experts from think tanks, universities, federal agencies, law firms and corporations – is a congressionally mandated study that paints a portrait of a national security system plagued by serious problems, despite reforms made since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

The problems the report identifies in the national security system include:

  • Frequent feuding and jurisdictional disputes between cabinet secretaries and other agency heads that force the president to spend too much time settling internal fights, waste time and money on duplicative and inefficient actions, and slow down government responses to crises.
  • Too much focus by the president and his top advisers on day-to-day crisis management rather than long-term planning, allowing problems to escape presidential attention until they worsen and reach the crisis level.
  • An increasing number of political appointees who serve only briefly in top national security posts.
  • A budget oversight process in Congress focused on individual agencies, crippling efforts to move quickly to fund emergency operations by multiple agencies.
  • A Congress increasingly polarized along political party lines on vital national security issues.

PNSR is funded by Congress, foundations and corporations to carry out one of the most comprehensive studies of the U.S. national security system in American history. It is located within the Center for the Study of the Presidency, which is a nonpartisan and nonprofit organization that was a cosponsor of the Iraq Study Group.

The project is directed by a 24-member Guiding Coalition that includes former senior federal officials with extensive national security experience. A complete list of Guiding Coalition members and the Preliminary Findings Report can be found at

Guiding Coalition Member Thomas R. Pickering – who served as under secretary of state, ambassador to the United Nations and in other top posts in the State Department for decades – said the PNSR findings will be valuable to whoever becomes the next president and to Congress.

“Our national security system is broken and needs fixing,” Pickering said. “Agencies need to cooperate rather than compete with each other as they work to protect the United States from a broad range of new dangers never imagined when the National Security Act of 1947 was signed into law. This isn’t a Democratic or a Republican issue, but a challenge facing our country that must be met by America’s leaders on a bipartisan basis.”

PNSR is scheduled to issue a Final Report in October recommending actions by Congress and the next president. The project is expected to prepare draft presidential directives and a new National Security Act to replace many of the provisions of the one enacted 61 years ago.

“Our study deals with issues vital to the protection of every American family,” said James R. Locher III, executive director of PNSR. “How will America respond to another major terrorist attack, even a nuclear one? How will we deal with future natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina at home and conflicts abroad? The way our national security system is structured plays an enormous role in the answers to these questions.”

The PNSR report emphasizes the importance of approaching national security challenges as multiple risks – such as the possibility of nuclear or bioterrorism – that may never occur but need to be managed and minimized, rather than as an overriding threat that can be eliminated.

This view forces the federal government to make hard choices about how to best spend limited funds to protect the nation. It also encourages agencies in the U.S. government, state and local
governments, the private sector and foreign governments to work together to come up with long-term plans to anticipate and reduce risks.

David M. Abshire, president of the Center for the Study of the Presidency, said: “We need a 21st century national security system that will marshal all elements of our national power to shape rather than just react, and anticipate as well as innovate in order to further our national interests.”

A recurring theme in the report is the need to get the disparate parts of the national security system to work together as a team, rather than looking out for their own bureaucratic interests.

Too often, the president himself is forced to settle disputes between cabinet secretaries, taking up his valuable time and preventing him from engaging in the broader policymaking and leadership that should be his central focus, according to the study.

One example of the problems federal agencies have working with each other is their difficulty in sharing information.

Agencies label some information as “classified” and some as “sensitive but unclassified” – keeping it out of the hands of other agencies. Some agencies have computer systems that don’t talk to those at other agencies. And some federal agencies don’t share enough information with state and local governments, which can be a problem in an area such as working to prevent terrorist attacks in the United States.

In addition to infighting within the Executive Branch, national security is adversely affected by committees in Congress with overlapping jurisdictions that oversee different parts of the national security system, according to the PNSR report.

“Protection of turf and power occurs in the committees of both houses of Congress,” the report says. “The process for multiple committee consideration of multi-agency matters is difficult, confused, and inconsistent between chambers.”

The report also finds that the federal government needs to do more to develop the leadership abilities of civilian officials in the national security system. While leadership development is emphasized in the military, “civilian agencies involved in national security have traditionally valued specialization and expertise over leadership and management skills.”

Part of the problem standing in the way of leadership development for career federal employees is the increasing number of political appointees getting high-level jobs in national security positions, the study says. This makes it harder to recruit and retain career employees who aspire to leadership roles, because they realize fewer top jobs are open to them.

The study points out that in today’s changing and unpredictable world, the United States needs a national security system that can rapidly adapt and reconfigure itself to respond to new crises, such as the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks or Hurricane Katrina.

The State and Defense Departments, National Security Council, intelligence community, Homeland Security Department and Homeland Security Council are central players in the current national security system. Other departments such as Energy, Treasury and Commerce have more recently become important players as well. Additional agencies become part of the national security system when specific issues arise.End.

Comments are closed.