TWQ: The 21st Century Force Multiplier: Public–Private Collaboration - Spring 2012

For about the last decade, the U.S. government has been recruiting private business and non-profit collaborators to volunteer expertise, exchange information, and even operate together to enhance national security, provide humanitarian assistance, or promote economic development around the world. The main objective of such collaboration is to improve effectiveness. The federal government has worked to harness expertise it doesn’t have—in the cyber arena, for example, by working with industry experts to help the U.S. government, its NATO allies, and the business community itself improve their cyber defenses. In the development field, Uncle Sam tapped into the operational experience of multinational businesses to bring clean water to poor communities in developing countries. With the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) leading the way, the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and State, among others, have been steadily increasing collaboration with private entities. Indeed, the most recent National Security Strategy calls on the executive branch to work with the private sector, repeatedly referring to public–private partnerships.

Transparent, fair relationships between the government and private sector entities can harness non-governmental know-how, resources, and patriotism to help address the complex national security and foreign policy challenges of the day. To be most effective, however, the government needs to decide where it needs private sector assistance most and focus on those areas. It will also have to work to clarify the legal, regulatory, and policy parameters of such interactions. Agencies will need to improve the internal processes for organizing and implementing public–private collaboration. Finally, measures of effectiveness will need to be developed, improved, and used to inform ongoing efforts. If these tasks are accomplished, public–private collaboration can be a particularly timely variant on decades-long efforts to improve the functioning of the U.S. military and government agencies.

James Stavridis and Evelyn N. Farkas