The Global Fragility Act: Unlocking the Full Potential of Interagency Cooperation

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The Issue

The U.S. government has an opportunity to affect positive global change by leveraging bipartisan supported legislation dedicated to improving stability and preventing conflict. Interagency cooperation and a true whole-of-government approach is required to succeed, something the U.S. government has historically had trouble achieving. The Global Fragility Act (GFA) and its resultant U.S. Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability (SPCPS) offer a chance for interagency reform on a scale that could reduce institutional friction and improve collaboration to realize the U.S. government’s full potential. This brief aims to propose mechanisms to highlight past success, address current concerns, and offer solutions. Leveraging the GFA and the SPCPS, the U.S. government could lay the foundation for true interagency reform, a monumental task that will not happen overnight but is certainly worth the effort to leave a lasting legacy.


The 2019 Global Fragility Act (GFA) is a landmark piece of legislation to reform the way the U.S. government conducts conflict prevention and stabilization operations. Although the primary purpose of the GFA is to enhance stability and conflict prevention efforts, inherent in the goals of the law is the need to improve interagency coordination and cooperation across the U.S. government, particularly between the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). This desire to ameliorate the mechanisms of interagency cooperation has the potential, if done correctly, to vastly improve the results of U.S. conflict prevention and stability operations, and to drive government-wide reform to better all interagency cooperation outcomes. This will not be an easy task, as many more steps remain before the effort can be considered a success. The U.S. government has a “whole-of-government approach” framework for domestic emergencies—the National Response Framework—but it does not have one for international emergencies. In past interagency operations, this has led to slower response times and micromanagement from Washington, D.C., making work in the field difficult. To avoid this with the GFA, the U.S. government should act quickly and enact modest GFA reforms to ensure resilient interagency practices and facilitate country team innovation, supported by accessible funding and on-call support from Washington, D.C.

The U.S. government’s effort on the GFA and its resultant U.S. Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability (SPCPS) is at a critical point. The GFA is designed as a 10-year effort, and two years in, stakeholders are anxiously awaiting tangible results. The shepherds of this effort have great potential and responsibility to reform the way U.S. interagency efforts work and should provide tools for country teams to address needs, quickly and innovatively, in their host countries. Given the delay in palpable GFA actions, there are increasing concerns by both country teams and civil society stakeholders outside of Washington, D.C., that the overall effort is in danger of setbacks. There is a growing sentiment at the country team level that the process for getting funding under the SPCPS is too complicated and not worth the time it takes for the relatively small amount of money received given the 10-year timeframe and slow movement of the effort thus far. Furthermore, due to delays in SPCPS implementation after the fanfare of the GFA’s rollout, several nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and other civil society actors in host countries feel they have been left out of the process, or worse, that the SPCPS funding is merely being funneled to potentially corrupt host government officials. These views should be a clarion call to the U.S. government and the GFA community that there is an urgent need for steps to correct these views and to streamline the interagency cooperation required by the U.S. Congress to ensure the success of the GFA and the SPCPS.

This brief aims to propose interagency cooperation mechanisms to address several of the current issues noted through research. Recommendations are based on a historical analysis of the GFA, an analysis of a previous interagency success, interviews with the three primary agencies in Washington, D.C., and discussions with multiple stakeholders at the country team level across a majority of the priority countries identified in the GFA. It traces the development of the GFA, the SPCPS, and the country plans and includes concerns from the strategic-level stakeholders in Washington, D.C., in addition to current country team and civil society perspectives. It then analyzes a previous interagency success and proposes four modest reforms to the GFA interagency process to address the identified concerns.

GFA History and Strategic Perspective

In 2019, Congress enacted the bipartisan GFA, a landmark law that seeks to harness the full spectrum of U.S. diplomacy, assistance, and engagement over a 10-year horizon, with the overarching goal to help countries move from fragility to stability and from conflict to peace. Promoting stability is imperative to U.S. national security objectives, as fragility provides fertile ground for violent extremists and criminal organizations, undermines economic prosperity and trade, erodes international peace, and destabilizes partner countries and regions, impacting both U.S. national interests and those of allies and partners.

The GFA bill directed the State Department to devise a strategy for the initiative, recommend priority countries, and provide Congress with 10-year plans for each priority country. It appointed the State Department to lead in foreign-policy, diplomatic, and political efforts. The bill also directed that USAID lead in development, humanitarian, and nonsecurity policies and that other departments and agencies—including the DOD—provide support as necessary. As outlined in the SPCPS, the State Department chairs a working-level secretariat, inclusive of other departments and agencies as needed, to implement the strategy, address challenges that arise during the process, and conduct periodic reviews of country and regional plans.

A Change in Culture

Across U.S. government initiatives, the GFA and the supporting SPCPS are distinct from their predecessors, both marking a shift in how the United States approaches conflict and devising a unique, incentive-based framework for interagency collaboration. Indeed, the GFA and the SPCPS represent a significant change in culture for the United States’ approach to conflict, outlining four transformative goals: (1) prevention of violent conflict before it erupts; (2) stabilization through locally driven political solutions; (3) partnerships to foster conditions for long-term regional stability and private sector-led growth; and (4) management realization of an effective, integrated U.S. government response.

The initiative is particularly noteworthy because the framework itself is novel. It is a call for action across federal departments and agencies to collaboratively integrate and align diplomacy, development, and security-sector engagement toward a shared vision of promoting peaceful, self-reliant nations that become strong economic and security partners. The 2020 strategy itself was released jointly by the four leads: the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the State Department, the DOD, and USAID—signifying an emphasis on a whole-of-government approach to foster peace and long-term stability within the partner countries.

Where It Currently Stands

Figure 1: GFA Priority Countries

Source: Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, "2022 Prologue to the United States Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability," U.S. Department of State, April 1, 2022,….

Although the SPCPS itself was written in 2020, the U.S. government did not launch its implementation effort until April 2022, selecting nine priority countries: Haiti, Libya, Mozambique, Papua New Guinea, Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, and Togo. On March 24, 2023, President Joe Biden released and submitted to Congress the required 10-year plans for each priority country; these strategic plans are a first draft for how the United States can contribute to lasting stability, prevention, and peace for each of these nine nations.

A key objective of the SPCPS is the intent to institutionalize U.S. interagency coordination across all phases of prevention and stabilization activities. This coordination is meant to occur at all levels of the government and—based on the research for this brief—has been done with varying degrees of success at the tactical (post, combatant command) levels. In Washington, D.C., the working secretariat navigated significant challenges to gain approval for the first-iteration plans, and perspectives of their level of success in both achieving and aiding interagency coordination varies across stakeholders.

In his introduction letter to the March 24, 2023, release of the country plans, President Biden emphasized the importance of stability operations and interagency cooperation. According to the administration, the two overarching goals for the plans are:

  1. Building a long-term commitment to development in prioritized countries: These plans represent a meaningful, long-term commitment by the United States to building the political and economic resilience of partner societies by making strategic investments in prevention that mitigate the underlying vulnerabilities leading to conflict and violence and that are critical to achieving lasting peace.
  1. Increasing interagency cooperation across the U.S. government: Each plan emphasizes collaboration and coordination across the U.S. government and between the U.S. government and local and international partners. The plans also leverage the full range of diplomatic, development, and defense toolkit, while also being tailored to the unique challenges and opportunities of each country and region.

The White House further emphasized the interagency cooperation aspect of the GFA, the SPCPS, and the country plans in its fact sheet on the country plan release, stating, “These plans embody an integrated, whole-of-government approach that seeks to harness the full range of U.S. tools across new and existing diplomatic, defense, and development programs.” These interagency and development goals will be accomplished through partnerships, analysis, and learning. The administration’s goals are defined in the following text box.

  • Partnerships: The SPCPS and these plans reflect a commitment to innovate how the U.S. government works with partners to advance shared interests in conflict prevention and stabilization. They were developed through leadership from the field and emphasize forging partnerships at the national and local levels.

  • Analysis: In the development of these plans, the United States recognized and assessed a diverse set of resiliencies and challenges. The plans outline an initial assessment of complex and multifaceted drivers of violence and instability and will rely on data-informed analysis throughout their implementation.

  • Learning: Over the long term, the United States will use rigorous monitoring and evaluation to document lessons learned and guide decisions. The tools used will provide information to further assess progress toward key milestones while informing programmatic changes and strategic pivots.

Strategic-Level Concerns

It is true that the secretariat and the various agencies worked well together to shepherd the effort until this point, there are still some areas for improvement noted in the research. First, due to the fact that the funding for SPCPS efforts is controlled by the State Department’s Office of Foreign Assistance (F) and not the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO), which is responsible for the execution of the efforts, there is some concern that the funding for those efforts will not be equally accessible by all departments engaged in SPCPS activities. The State Department should ensure that funding for SPCPS activities is transparent and accessible by all involved departments. Additionally, some strategic-level stakeholders expressed worry that SPCPS planning may be seen as complete now that the country plans have been released. Planning is an iterative process, with improvements being driven by assessments of the situation on the ground. The country plans should not become things that are placed on a shelf and not thought of or referenced again. Country teams should be allowed to execute their mission and recommend changes to the secretariat in Washington, D.C. Removing administrative burdens in the field and shifting them to Washington, D.C., will encourage adaptive, innovative execution in each country. This need is further highlighted by the release of the integrated country plans.

Country Team Perspective

The research team interviewed various stakeholders at the country team level in several GFA-identified countries, including members from U.S. government agencies, as well as NGOs and civil society organizations. Several common areas of concern were noted across multiple country teams. These are broadly classified into two categories: concerns based on perception and those based on process.

U.S. Embassy, Papua New Guinea

U.S. Embassy, Papua New Guinea

Source: U.S. Embassy to Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu,…


During research at the country team level, the research team noted several concerns based on perception. These most likely stem from unintentional miscommunication between Washington, D.C., and the field but should be addressed going forward to ensure the success of the SPCPS and country plans. This can be accomplished through a concerted communication effort and a readily available Washington, D.C., presence for country teams to contact when needed.

First, even though improving the interagency process has been a large part of the narrative at the strategic level in Washington, D.C., some members of the country teams working directly in the SPCPS process had not directly heard of that goal. This led to the further perception that SPCPS funding is just another low dollar amount funding stream to be used for country team activities and not the shift in interagency culture focused on prevention and stabilization efforts it was intended to be. Some who held these views further felt that the focus on the GFA and the SPCPS from Washington, D.C., made the effort to get SPCPS funding cumbersome. In other words, the high visibility of the GFA rollout and the ensuing focus on the effort from Washington, D.C., has overburdened country teams that have many other crises to deal with in their standing jobs. The time spent on the GFA for perceived little return is beginning to wear thin in the minds of some.

Additionally, some on the country teams felt that the country plans were driven more from Washington, D.C., and that country team voices were not as well-represented in the country plans as they could have been. The ensuing prolonged timeline of the initiative—the GFA was passed in 2019 with great fanfare and the SPCPS was released in 2020, but the country plans were not released until two years later and it took almost as long for the first round of SPCPS funding to be released—only serves to reinforce some of these perceptions. This, too, can be seen as a result of the heavy focus from Washington, D.C., with miscommunication over the broader interagency goals of the effort.

The long time period between the signing of the GFA and any appreciable on-the-ground action has also caused concerns within the NGO and civil society spheres. Both research conducted for this brief and previous research suggest that these organizations have felt excluded from the SPCPS process. Some were consulted by country teams during the formation of the country plans, but the long delay in implementation and lack of updates during that delay has, in some cases, led to a perception that the U.S. government has pursued a different path or that the SPCPS is not actually the transformational stability and prevention effort it is meant to be. This is especially of concern in places like Mozambique, where there is already a general mistrust of the government. This and previous incidents of loans and developmental money for Mozambique lining the pockets of corrupt officials has led civil society to believe that the ruling party has struck a deal with the United States and could be similarly pocketing SPCPS money.

Even though none of these concerns are intentional moves by the U.S. government or the GFA secretariat, they should be addressed to ensure the success of the SPCPS and its country plans. The secretariat should take measures to ensure clear communication of goals with country teams and establish a means for country teams to communicate their issues back to Washington, D.C., quickly and readily. Likewise, country teams should endeavor to maintain an open channel of communication with local partners, keeping them fully in the loop on the status of SPCPS implementation.


While it may be true that concerns based on perception are fairly easy to fix with clear communication, some of the concerns noted with processes will take some concerted effort to correct. Many of these areas for improvement in process were noted based on real experience during the country and regional plan development but could also pose problems moving forward into implementation. Others are longer-standing concerns about the future of the SPCPS effort that have yet to be addressed. The two most commonly discussed items in this area were the inability to talk with the SPCPS team in Washington, D.C., when needed and the dearth of personnel available for the overall effort.

Many country teams felt there was some measure of difficulty contacting the secretariat in Washington, D.C., during the development of country and regional plans. In many cases, this was due to a time difference between work hours, but a contributing factor could also be the fact that the secretariat is not a standing body; it convenes when there is a need to and all the members work in their own departments on a daily basis, using differing communications systems and protocols. This has led to some frustration with the overall process. Several contacts expressed a desire for a 24-hour presence or watch floor in Washington, D.C., to answer questions about the GFA and the SPCPS, provide support to country teams when needed, and cut through some of the bureaucracy—real or perceived—to make the SPCPS process smoother and faster and thus more impactful.

An issue for the country team level that has been a persistent concern since the beginning of the SPCPS process is the lack of personnel resources. The State Department has sent temporary assignment SPCPS coordinators to the GFA-identified countries, but that is a temporary fix. Some country teams felt they would need an increase in staff to ensure their respective plan is implemented successfully. This concern is also supported by previous research. The additional staff could be as simple as administrative personnel—local or in the U.S. government—that will allow the decisionmakers and implementers the time to focus on impactful engagement.

Even though these perception and process issues may seem small, if left unaddressed, they could balloon into larger issues. If the U.S. government takes measures to correct these now, the SPCPS funding, however small, will have an outsized impact on prevention and stability in target countries and on U.S. national objectives overall.

GFA: A Goldwater-Nichols Moment for Interagency?

The implementation of the GFA and the resultant SPCPS could represent a watershed moment to enable interagency evolution, creating effective whole of U.S. government cooperation similar to the reforms made in the DOD by the Goldwater-Nichols Act. The act was a turning point for interservice cooperation, forcing reform and creating a formidable joint force for the U.S. military. The act’s impetus was a highly publicized failed military operation. The U.S. interagency evolution does not need to suffer a failure in order to drive lasting institutional change. The GFA could be the catalyst to removing institutional biases from the four lead government departments, but it will take the concerted effort from the GFA and SPCPS community, as well as the agency principles, to alter the course. The foreword for the 2018 Stabilization Assistance Review, which was the progenitor of the GFA, was released by the secretaries of State and Defense and the administrator of USAID under their titles instead of their names. This is not an insignificant distinction; it signifies the principles’ willingness to build an enduring interagency effort that goes beyond moment, institutional bias, or party. Wielding the same strategy, the four current principles could solidify interagency reform by taking a few steps to correct the issues at hand.

Currently, one major hurdle in the execution of the SPCPS country plans is the inability of interagency actors to communicate effectively. Across the U.S. government, departments and agencies struggle to share information with each other, especially sensitive material, due to differing information technology (IT) and communications systems. This ultimately wastes time by making administrative tasks much more difficult to accomplish than they should be. Unlike Goldwater-Nichols, it won’t be as simple as getting the joint force to work together in the same building; but in a growing digitally connected workspace, it is possible. Creating a common server, using a shared cloud, or removing firewalls to other U.S. government entities will enhance collaboration and reduce the administrative burden plaguing interagency coordination.

On the ground in each of the nine GFA-identified nations, those tasked with implementation often are rotational personnel. Removing the barriers to communication would enable them to start work immediately upon arriving in the country. For example, imagine that an SPCPS implementor arrives in a country but cannot connect to the local network because systems all run off another agency’s network that they do not have access to. Having a centralized, compatible system to operate from would allow the focus to be on the execution of U.S. government priorities instead of basic support functions.

Reform will never remove all institutional bias; the military still has interservice rivalry and interservice squabbles. When it comes to mission execution however, each branch respects the service that has the lead to accomplish the objective. Interagency cooperation will need to embrace that concept; the end state should be a whole-of-government accomplishment without one organization getting the credit. In the case of the GFA, the State Department has the lead and holds the ability to disperse funding. This can cause the perception that other agencies do not have equal access to that funding. SPCPS funds should be in a protected bin with transparent rules governing how all agencies can gain access to those funds for SPCPS priority projects. The State Department needs to embrace the leadership role as a team builder that measures success by ensuring every institution has a voice and skin in the game. Lastly, every member of the GFA team needs to respect the structure and embrace the model of mission accomplishment above agency parochialism.

To achieve these interagency goals, however, the U.S. government needs to build a robust model of interagency cooperation. A successful interagency model for the SPCPS would ideally include:

  • A defined mission directive: This allows all stakeholders to know their roles and responsibilities while giving them a common purpose to work toward. The roles laid out in the SPCPS are a good start toward this.
  • Dedicated funding all parties have equal access to: All stakeholders need to know they have skin in the game and see that the SPCPS funding is being applied in a transparent and fair manner, not being disbursed based on other agency priorities or biases.
  • Measures of Effectiveness and Learning (MELs): Having defined MELs give stakeholders at all levels an assessment of how operations are progressing toward their goals and gives country teams the ability to iteratively plan and adjust as necessary. The secretariat has already made great strides in their efforts to develop, implement, and institutionalize these measures.
  • Efficient coordination of efforts: Country teams should have a means to quickly communicate up the chain to the secretariat level and the secretariat or other empowered organization should be empowered to work on behalf of the country teams when needed to cut through layers of bureaucracy.
  • A culture of collaboration and overcoming institutional bias: This should be driven by the National Security Council or the agency leads to ensure that the GFA interagency efforts have long-standing results.

Evolutionary change within any large institution is hard, so executing it across the whole of the U.S. government will take the right leadership applying the right pressure to produce positive results and effective policy execution. Although building such a model will require overcoming some institutional inertia, this is not outside the realm of possibility and has been done by the U.S. government in the past under the Joint Interagency Task Force (JIATF) model.

Previous Interagency Success

Joint Interagency Task Force South Headquarters

Joint Interagency Task Force South HQ

Source: Joint Interagency Task Force South,

Joint Interagency Task Force South (JIATFS) is one of two standing JIATFs. It is a designated national task force that executes detection and monitoring of illicit trafficking across all maritime and aerial domains and facilitates international and interagency interdiction to enable the disruption and dismantlement of transnational threat networks. The current task force’s lineage began in 1994 when, for the first time, the DOD, the Coast Guard, and U.S. Customs Service (now U.S. Customs and Border Protection or CBP), cosigned a joint plan delineating the roles and responsibilities of each.

Over nearly 30 years, the task force has continued expansion of national and international military and law enforcement representatives. Currently, in addition to staff from the armed services, 20 countries and over 13 federal agencies have liaison officers based at the command. Interagency empowerment is achieved through the placement of respective individuals in key decisionmaking positions throughout the JIATFS organization, and the assigned interagency personnel bring their respective agencies’ and departments’ legal authorities and capabilities. The result is a robust toolbox of capabilities and legal authorities to address complicated challenges that JIATFS faces.

The Bounded Mission Focus of JIATFS Ensures Resources Are Put “On Target”

The exceptional intelligence fusion and sharing process at JIATFS is widely considered a lynchpin for mission success. The task force’s bounded mission to detect and monitor aerial and maritime transit of illegal drugs has helped prevent mission creep and has enabled success via clarity of purpose. Initial indications of an illicit trafficking event come from a wide variety of interagency sources and JIATFS has prioritized and continually improved its ability to rapidly assess and disseminate that information to ensure accurate and timely targeting leads. The success JIATFS experiences in this area is particularly relevant to success for the SPCPS, as the prevention and stabilization mission is also dependent on interagency cooperation and targeted resource allocation. A clear mission and defined interagency roles will help the SPCPS accomplish this.

The 24/7 Coordination Cell at JIATFS Smooths Operational and Tactical Coordination

JIATFS found it imperative to operate a Joint Operations Command Center (JOCC) for effective operationalization of assets and legal authorities in response to time-sensitive law enforcement information and intelligence. The JOCC at JIATFS operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and is staffed with soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, CBP officers, and members of other agencies that are extensively trained in JIATFS detection and monitoring operations. For countries and agencies without a physical presence on the watch floor, 24/7 continuity and coordination are maintained via on-call watch standers who are either delegated with—or who quickly coordinate—needed execution authority.

A challenge traced across many of the in-country teams was timely coordination with the SPCPS guiding departments and agencies in Washington, D.C. The significant lag time in response and decisions is due to a combination of factors: a large difference in time zones, a lack of IT interoperability, and a lack of decisionmaking efficiency within the current SPCPS structure. For example, the typical working hours in many of the prioritized countries and the United States overlap by just two hours, and the respective typical workdays in Papua New Guinea and the United States do not overlap at all. Although the mission of the SPCPS requires much more deliberative planning along a longer lead time than the JIATFS mission, successful SPCPS interagency coordination still requires timely responses and coordination across stakeholders. A 24/7 watch floor for the SPCPS may not be needed, but extended hour reach back, and even more importantly, a highly responsive coordination cell in Washington, D.C., is key to success for the SPCPS. Additionally, much as the JOCC has institutionalized the interagency mission and practices of the JIATFS, an SPCPS coordination cell would help institutionalize and cement the interagency skills and mechanics needed for its mission.

JIATFS Capitalizes on the Adage “Success Breeds Success”

Over the years, JIATFS has done an excellent job demonstrating and advertising quantifiable and tangible mission success, which has directly contributed to new organizations and countries seeking cooperative relationships, only further contributing to the task force’s success. This ideal situation is illustrative of the adage “success breeds success.” JIATFS investment in building out intelligence networks and operational practices, and more recently, improving coordination for successful endgame prosecution continues to provide rich return on investment and maximizes the organization’s success. Additionally, having defined and easily understood metrics for success (number of disruptions, prosecutions, etc.) not only serves as a motivational tool for employees and partners, but also makes it easier for the task force to communicate mission success to external stakeholders. This overall transparency breeds trust and faith in the task force. GFA developers understand the importance of an effective MEL implementation plan, as evidenced by the act’s requirement for such a system; however, developing an effective MEL for SPCPS implementation has proved particularly challenging. There is robust debate on even the best way to measure conflict prevention efforts, as well as concern that the metrics be tangible enough for showing progress to Congress and other stakeholders. These concerns, coupled with the intent for the MELs to help inform strategic SPCPS implementation adjustments, only increase the magnitude of importance for ensuring the country plans are iterative, and that Washington, D.C., leadership remains responsive and adaptive to country team feedback.

It is important to note that the JIATFS current model—and current success—is a product of continuous innovation with national-level support over a substantial period of time. Much like the origins of the GFA, it took executive and legislative action to nationally prioritize and address the interagency and international effort against illicit trafficking. The origins of JIATFS date to legislation from 1993 and initial stand up of the organization was a year later. The task force has had several decades since to perfect its craft. A similar SPCPS effort will not change things overnight but over time could solidify interagency muscle memory.

Although coordinating interagency and international efforts in response to illicit trafficking and conflict prevention and stability are different problem sets with different challenges, the evolution of U.S. agency and departmental efforts through the lens of JIATFS serves as an example of what can be accomplished when cooperation across agencies, departments, and even countries is institutionalized, providing for alignment and unification in a common goal and the operational models open to field feedback and adaptation.

Recommendations for GFA Interagency Success

Based on the previous successful interagency cooperation example of JIATFS, and the concerns noted in the research for this brief across the spectrum of stakeholders in the GFA and SPCPS process, the following four actions are recommended to ensure the success of the U.S. government interagency in this process:

  1. Build resilient GFA practices and procedures, to include iterative planning. This effort should be driven by the agency leads. The roles and responsibilities laid out in the SPCPS are a good start, but the process needs a further guiding hand to become institutionalized. Interagency cooperation should be a priority from the top down. To address the concerns about the plans being static, the secretariat should ensure that the planning process for the identified countries does not end with the recently released plans. These plans should be regularly updated according to the iterative planning tenets inherent in both the State Department’s Deliberate Planning Process and the DOD’s Joint Planning Process.
  2. Promote country team innovation and agility. The interagency teams in embassies have the best vantage point to make informed operational decisions. Washington, D.C., should empower them to have the foundational voice for the approved plans and allow them to be the primary voice in driving changes to those plans. This does not take away the accountability that the secretariat, agencies, and the administration have toward Congress to ensure the SPCPS is successful, but Washington, D.C., needs to adopt a monitoring and advocating role with the implementation of the country plans rather than a directive one. Allowing country teams to be agile with proper accountability will make an outsized impact on the nine GFA-identified countries.
  3. Ensure SPCPS funding is transparent and available to all agencies. This is critical to cutting through the intra-agency and interagency friction, ensuring that the funding remains devoted to only GFA strategic initiatives and that all agencies feel they have equal access to it. For example, there is a small but persistent concern that the DOD’s SPCPS efforts will not get funded due to an attitude that the “DOD already gets plenty of money.” The DOD does indeed have a large budget, but stability and peace have a small voice in the Pentagon, and an even smaller piece of that budget. If other agencies wish for the DOD to be more engaged in SPCPS efforts, they need to ensure old biases—or even perceived biases—about budgets do not get in the way of potentially good security assistance. Ideally, this transparency and equal access could be gained by moving the day-to-day decisions on SPCPS funding from State-F to State-CSO, or even the secretariat. If those decisions are being made by a group that all agencies feel they have input in, this perception of bias would likely be overcome.
  4. Enhance Washington, D.C., decision and support cell. Multiple country teams expressed a desire to have a 24-hour presence in Washington, D.C., to help them work through SPCPS implementation roadblocks. The significant geographic and time zone separation between most of the prioritized countries and Washington, D.C., makes it difficult to connect during everyone’s standard working hours. As a result, much of the coordination with Washington, D.C., is done over email with less opportunity to conduct group meetings and coordinate more easily in real time, albeit virtually. Further aggravating the actual mechanical coordination and communication mechanisms between country teams and Washington, D.C., is that many country teams negatively perceive long response times and delayed decisionmaking from Washington, D.C. The “decision lag” from Washington, D.C., prevents country teams from moving forward, and while frustrating, is understandable given the current funding and staffing available for SPCPS support and the sheer amount of new interagency coordination required in this effort. As the SPCPS is new, Washington, D.C., is still navigating how to best optimize briefing and decision processes within and across each department’s and agency’s respective leadership chains. Currently, nearly everyone working on the SPCPS has other “day jobs” with ongoing other responsibilities. The secretariat should be funded to implement a small coordination center, staffed by members of the State Department, USAID, the DOD, and other identified personnel as needed, charged with full-time responsibility to shepherd the SPCPS and work with country teams. Those individuals staffing this SPCPS coordination center should also be individuals entrusted and empowered with decisionmaking authority—or the ability to quickly obtain it—so they can work on the country teams’ behalf to cut through existing bureaucracy involved in SPCPS implementation. Most importantly, having a standing organization to shepherd SPCPS implementation, even a small one, will institutionalize interagency cooperation processes and planning and will help correct communication issues. If there was a dedicated team charged with SPCPS implementation responsibilities in their job descriptions, it would institutionalize a lasting interagency process, take administrative burdens off the country teams, and create a culture of collaboration focused on a defined mission. In the future, this organization could be scaled to include deployable teams that help country teams with arising time-sensitive issues. Finally, having a ready, on-call presence with the SPCPS as its only focus would go a great distance in building clear communications between Washington, D.C., and the field, thus correcting miscommunication and perception issues.


This year is the 20th anniversary of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a monumental act that saved millions of lives and showed the U.S. public that strong legislation can affect positive global change. If executed correctly, not only can the GFA and the SPCPS improve stability and conflict prevention outcomes through innovative solutions, but this effort can also fundamentally change how the U.S. interagency cooperates. There are some disconnects, however, between the various implementation levels of the effort that need to be addressed. To ensure the success of the GFA and the SPCPS and lay the groundwork for true interagency reform, the U.S. government should make some minor course corrections. Interagency reform will never happen overnight, but by adopting four key reforms now, the U.S. government can both bolster GFA and SPCPS efforts and lay a solid foundation for interagency cooperation and reform. This interagency reform and the longevity of stability and peace-building operations could be the legacy of the GFA. The time to ensure that legacy is now.

John Christianson, Courtney Stiles Herdt, and Ginny Nadolny are Military Fellows with the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not represent official positions of the United States Air Force, United States Navy, United States Coast Guard, or the Departments of Defense or Homeland Security.

This brief was made possible by general funding to CSIS. No direct sponsorship contributed to this brief.

John Christianson

John Christianson

Former Military Fellow, International Security Program
Courtney Stiles Herdt

Courtney Stiles Herdt

Former Military Fellow, International Security Program
Ginny Nadolny

Ginny Nadolny

Former Military Fellow, International Security Program