- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 15, 2009

Retired Marine Gen. James L. Jones, President-elect Barack Obama‘s incoming national security adviser, will be given sweeping new powers if Mr. Obama takes the advice of a little-noticed task force charged with recommending reforms to the nation’s security apparatus.

The Project on National Security Reform’s executive board last month issued a report recommending updates to the National Security Act, the 1947 law that established the National Security Council. Among other things, it recommended giving the national security adviser more budget authority over the State Department, the Pentagon and military and intelligence agencies.

The report could be considered one of the kind that is often requested but rarely acted upon in Washington, except for one thing: Gen. Jones was a member of the panel that crafted it.

Not only did Gen. Jones participate in the study, but the task force that made the recommendations also included incoming Deputy Secretary of State James B. Steinberg and incoming Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele A. Flournoy. The deputy chairman of the task force was retired Adm. Dennis C. Blair, whom Mr. Obama has chosen to be director of national intelligence (DNI).

Also, Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. held Senate hearings last year on national security reform, during which he heard testimony from the project’s executive director, James R. Locher III.

In addition to the input on agency budgets, the task force recommended renaming the position of national security adviser to make it national security manager and expanding the number of departments and agencies represented in the National Security Council. The council currently includes the secretaries of state and defense, the director of national intelligence, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the national security adviser and the president and vice president.

“I think the way to think about it is that those individual secretaries and DNI will have important jobs and a tremendous amount of power,” Mr. Locher told The Washington Times. “We need something more, though. We need that ability to integrate. We need a manager. Gen. Jones will have to play a more important role than national security advisers have in the past.”

The project’s recommendations, which would have to be approved by Congress, urge the next president to “broaden the scope of national security beyond security from aggression to include security against massive societal disruption as a result of natural forces and security against the failure of major national infrastructure systems and to recognize that national security depends on the sustained stewardship of the foundations of national power.”

That means, according to project staff members, that the U.S. policy on climate change or a new pandemic would be forged inside the National Security Council instead of being farmed out to the Environmental Protection Agency or the National Institutes of Health.

At the same time, those agencies, which normally do not participate in the National Security Council, would have representation inside that body.

With budget guidance going through the National Security Council and not the Office of Management and Budget, there is a chance that Gen. Jones could emerge as the most powerful national security adviser since Henry Kissinger held that job and the job of secretary of state for Presidents Nixon and Ford.

“Right now, there is a strong consensus that the current system is not working,” Mr. Locher said. “It was designed in 1947 for a different world after World War II and with the approaching Cold War in mind. It reinforced the departments and agencies. We created a weak integrating mechanism.”

Mr. Locher knows a few things about changing well-established bureaucracies. He was one of the main staff authors on the Senate Armed Services Committee of the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986, which increased the power of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Prior to that law’s passage, the chairman’s role in mediating the interservice rivalries in annual defense budgets was weak.

The leader of the project’s working group on resources, David Berteau, said that too often, large missions for the U.S. government overseas are designated to the Department of Defense (DoD) because the military is the one institution with sufficient personnel and budget.

“Today you go to DoD because DoD is the only readily equipped source,” he said. “The question is, is that the right way to set it up? Probably not for all contingencies. Let’s use these other guys instead, but they are not ready to go. They have no bench strength, no reserve capacity. At its top is a budget issue; at its core is a strategy issue.”

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