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The Roots of the United States’ Deteriorating Civilian Capacity and Potential Remedies

What an Engagement Strategy Entails: Is the United States Government Equipped?
Policy Dialogue Brief
October 2008

Executive Summary

The roundtable discussion identified past and present challenges confronted by the US government in revamping its international affairs agencies.

The record of past initiatives highlights the importance of contemporary domestic and international political imperatives as well as attitudes toward public service at the time of the initiative.

The purpose of strengthening and reforming the civilian agencies should be to integrate US foreign policy tools into a coherent whole with clear strategic objectives.

The essential ingredients of holistic reform are authorities to empower the agencies, resources to leverage the desired change, and top-quality personnel to execute the plan.

Participants heard about a new “hybrid model” proposal with prescriptions to bolster USAID’s preeminent role in economic development, strengthen the State Department’s ability to plan and mobilize resources, and give the international affairs agencies an institutional ally in the White House.

On June 12, the Center for a New American Security and the Stanley Foundation convened the second of a series of roundtables as part of their joint project, What an Engagement Strategy Entails—Is the United States Government Properly Equipped? The meeting focused on past lessons and current realities for the reform of US civilian international affairs agencies to orient them toward the adoption of a coherent and integrated global engagement strategy. For the historical context, the project commissioned a paper from Sarah Harting and Nora Bensahel of the RAND Corporation. A second piece reviewed the major options for strengthening the civilian agencies, proposals that are bound to be on the next president’s foreign policy agenda. This paper was written by Anne Richard and Paul Clayman, both of whom have been responsible for budget and planning issues in their government service. Participants in the meeting shared the assessment that filling the civilian capacity gap is a formidable challenge, and any effort must take stock of the historical background and potential pitfalls.
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