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America Responds to Terrorism: Lessons Learned from the 1986 DoD Reorganization

August 15, 2002
Council on Foreign Relations


[Note: A transcript of this meeting is unavailable. The discussion is summarized below.]

August 15, 2002

Lawrence Korb, Director of Studies, Council on Foreign Relations

The tenth meeting of the Homeland Security RT was held on August 15, 2002, at the Council's Washington DC office, with a former staff member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who played a key role in the passage of the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act. With the proposed creation of the Department of Homeland Security, we are grappling with the largest bureaucratic reorganization in U.S. history since 1947. The speaker drew upon his vast, 'insider' experience to share the "Lessons learned from the 1986 DoD Reorganization."


  • Which lessons learned from the 1986 DoD reorganization are pertinent towards creating an effective Department of Homeland Security?

  • What should be the organizational chain of command in this new department?

  • How can the various interagency issues be resolved?


Pay attention to all elements of Organizational Effectiveness

All seven aspects of organizational effectiveness, (the McKinsey 7 S's,) must be kept in consideration as the new department is created:

  • shared values (agreed vision, purpose and principles,)

  • systems (management processes, procedures and measurements,)

  • structure (arrangement of components,)

  • skills (core competencies; necessary capabilities and attributes of the organization,)

  • style (leadership attitudes and behavior, organization's culture,)

  • staff (attributes of personnel; needed qualifications and professional development,) and

  • strategy (plan for achieving objectives.)

These issues however have only marginally been addressed in the bill for the formation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS.) Specifically, shared values between the various components is minimal; systems are not compatible; the headquarters structure of the new department has been detailed, but not organizational responsibilities on the field; the department has been organized in terms of functional responsibilities, but they do not necessarily align with their core competencies; style and staff issues have not been addressed at all. Only the strategy has been laid out in the National Strategy for Homeland Security.

Give Highest Priority to Identifying Problems and Causes

Most reorganization efforts, erroneously, concentrate 5% of time and energy on identifying the problems and causes, and 95% of the time on designing grand solutions. However, the only way in which effective solutions can be mapped is by differentiating the symptoms of the problems from the actual problems themselves. For example, one of the main problems compelling DoD reorganization was the inability of the JCS to provide useful and timely unified military advice. The symptoms of this underlying problem were manifested in their inability to formulate military strategy, undue service parochialism in operational matters, inability to effectively represent the operational commanders on resource allocation issues etc. But the causes of the problem ranged from the dual responsibilities of the service chiefs causing a conflict of interest, and leaving them insufficient time to perform both roles; limited independent authority of the JCS chairman etc

Implementation is the Second (and maybe bigger) battle

It remains to be seen, if Congress will be part of the problem or part of the solution in the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. The Goldwater-Nichols Act was enacted under aggressive congressional oversight, while during the passage of the Cohen-Nunn amendment for creating a separate special operations command, 95% of the energy was consumed in the battle with the Pentagon.

Interagency issues also need to be resolved

The task of combating terrorism is currently bifurcated between the National Security Council (NSC) and the Homeland Security Council (HSC.) There is unnecessary duplication of responsibilities between the DHS and Office of Homeland Security (OHS.) It also remains unclear how the HSC, the OHS and the NSC will interact. All of this is a consequence of the typical approach to interagency problems, that is, defending your own departmental turf, at all costs.


  • Ensure that the 7 S's of organizational effectiveness are not waylaid/ ignored.

  • Identify the causes, not the symptoms of the problems, which have necessitated the creation of the Department of Homeland Security.

  • Eliminate Homeland Security Council and the Office of Homeland Security.

  • Add Secretary of Homeland Security to the National Security Council, who should be accountable to the President for both policy analysis as well as programmatic action. Some participants argued that the Office of Homeland Security (and the position of Homeland Security Advisor) is essential since the President might prefer having his own man/woman around to discuss and receive filtered/unbiased information from. Moreover, the NSC staff does not have very good relations with first responders, Coast Guard etc, to expeditiously accomplish this task.

  • Congressional committee reorganization needs to take place in tandem, to ensure oversight of the new department. A participant cautioned however that the jurisdictional struggle in Congress over the Department of Homeland Security will be enormous, since so many committees will be impacted. The Appropriations side will be easier to manage than the Authorization side.

  • Undersecretaries in the new department have been tasked with functional/missions-oriented responsibilities, which is appropriate. Some participants argued however the Secretaries should be directly tasked with those responsibilities, who can then seek the Undersecretaries' counsel. Others argued that the Secretary always has the ultimate decision-making power; undersecretaries however must be charged with implementation.

  • Reorganization will need to be an ongoing process; this first step will not be adequate to address all the problems necessitating the creation of the Department of Homeland Security.

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