TWQ: Strengthening U.S. Strategic Planning - Winter 2008
January 1, 2008
The U.S. government has lost the capacity to conduct serious, sustained national strategic planning. Although offices and bureaus scattered throughout the executive branch perform parts of this task for their respective agencies, no one place brings all the pieces together and integrates them into anything resembling a coherent, comprehensive whole. Worse still, to judge by the lack of any real effort in recent years to correct this shortcoming, there appears to be very little concern about what it may mean for the nation's security.
These institutional and intellectual deficiencies have existed for some time and cannot be blamed entirely on the current administration or its immediate predecessors. Nevertheless, the consequences of an eroding capacity for strategic planning and an apparently dwindling recognition at the highest levels of government of its importance have become painfully evident in recent years. At a minimum, the absence of an institutionalized planning process seems certain to lead to a loss of efficiency: misallocated resources, suboptimal policies, duplication of effort, lost opportunities, and costly improvisations. At worst, it raises the risk of catastrophic failure.
Although the problem is deeply rooted and no perfect solution exists, significant improvements are possible. These will require changes not only in organization but also in the mind-sets of officials at all levels of the national security system. Even the most strategically inclined top officials cannot do serious planning on their own without a staff and a process to support them. On the other hand, adding planning bureaus is pointless if leaders refuse to use them or to take them seriously.