Not Just a Job, an Adventure: Drafting the U.S. Civil Service for Counterinsurgencies

Not Just a Job, an Adventure:

Drafting the U.S. Civil Service for Counterinsurgencies

by Michael A. Clauser

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It's become trite to state that the solution for U.S. involvement in Afghanistan is "political," and not solely "military," in nature. Both Presidents Bush and Obama made the case that the purpose of U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan was to provide a security space allowing for national and local governance to take hold and grow. But while President Bush found five brigades to surge into Iraq and President Obama committed 30,000 additional forces to Afghanistan, neither President could find adequate numbers of —foreign and civil servants to accompany our men and women in uniform. U.S. non-military civilian numbers in both countries remain low. One senior official estimated that U.S. civilian personnel in Afghanistan total around 1,000 strong, just one percent of the military footprint in that country. Even now, most of these are found in the crowded embassy in the capital. If the U.S. is serious about winning the war in Afghanistan through a political solution, Congress should change current law and begin to draft civil servants with the right skill sets and training for national objectives abroad.

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Michael A. Clauser served as the National Security Legislative Assistant to a senior Republican member of the House Armed Services Committee and House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. He previously served in the Bush Administration in the Pentagon. The views expressed in this commentary are his own and do not reflect that of the United States Government.

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Your article is exactly right. There is a need for civil servants to work downrange - they bring certain skillets, experiences and a different mindset that augments what the military brings to the fight. There are already some Emergency Essential federal civilian positions which force civilians to deploy, much like a draft, under threat of reprimand up to and including removal from the federal service. Expansion and enforcement of this designation may help to ensuring that civilians deploy.

Beyond the proposals you make, I think that another piece of the puzzle is to shift public sentiment toward the view that civilians should serve in warzones because they do provide something to the fight. This will help shift congressional opinion from the bottom up but also it will change the assumptions of those thinking about joining the federal government - that they too will likely have to deploy at some point in their career. Myself and some other former civilians who have deployed downrange have formed a non-profit to advocate for exactly this mindset change. (Our website is at: if you're interested.)

Wanted to share another piece of writing that was recently published in POLITICO about national security conservatives and soft power buffs working together to maintain critical smart power and whole of government capabilities.

You can read it here:

Interested in your thoughts.


DOD, in particular the Army, has a small quorum of thinkers of which I am part of, discussed this subject in other contexts for nigh onto eight years. What has been lacking from the military and civilian side of the U.S. government are implementers for such a statute or law. Just as our foreign endeavors require implementers to teach 'rule of law' and 'good democratic governance' to flegling governments to conclude conflicts such as in Iraq and Afghanistan so also do our institutions here at home need implementers of legislation to put the talents of our civil-servants, private sector, and former military people into action at the right place.
Three years ago, I listened to a brief form DOS during a visit to that department were I learned about the CRC. Since that was my first exposure to such developments and efforts of other U.S. government departments to join the fight, I was pleased. Today, three years later and another briefing from DOS, I am disappointed that the CRC program had not progressed in strength or shown an evident willingness to contribute in the way that program was intened. In fact it is a waste of time in its current structure.
A legistlated solution (GwN) made the DOD work jointly and progressed our military element of power into the 800 pound gorilla it is today. A legislated solution is what is necessary to bring to bear the other elements of our nations power. Michael Clauser has articulated one kind of a broad strategy to harness more civil power but it won't be easy and such a law or statute to U.S. code will shake the institutions of our government far more than Goldwater Nichols did to the DOD but it must be done.

@SteveThePlanner: Thanks for the comments, for all you did in Iraq, and for all you continue to do. I recognize the division of labor between national, state, and local government officials. Certainly there is an urgent need for implementers--and you're right--private sector consultants are the best qualified for implementing and as you know are already deployed en mass as contractors. I'm not suggesting sticking a GS-12 in Afghanistan without the right tools or experiences to succeed. What I'm calling for is a hand-picked mobilization of very senior federal government employees to mentor their counterparts in partner governments (i.e. Kabul) on how to set-up and administer functioning procedures, policies, and processes. Good governance skills. Something better taught by a Federal, and not Municipal, employee. Thanks again for the comments.

@PaulKanninen: Hear, Hear! I agree. I think federal civil servants in Afghanistan and Iraq have done amazing deeds, especially given their low numbers. So impressed am I with what they have done with these numbers, I shudder to think about the transformative effect they could have at a critical mass.

@MorganSheeran: Thanks so much. I've heard proposals like mine whispered around government halls but there does seem to be great hesitation to ask government employees to make themselves available for all national needs, at home or abroad. President Obama pressed corporations to do more for America during his speech at the Chamber, but won't ask his own civil servant workforce?

@Gulliver: Suffice it say my paper was not intended as a parody. I intend to respond in kind in the comment section of your blog when I have a moment. But I do appreciate the debate and that you took the time to read my article and put so much thought into a response. Thanks.

@RickBennett: Good point and proposal. And TRADOC wonders why it can't produce the next Clausewitz? And I hear your argument about domestic agencies being under-resourced. But I'm not suggesting a mass mobilization that will wipe out an entire FAA office or HHS directorate. Just a hand-selected mobilization of a few of the best and most needed civil servants that wouldn't leave an agency office in any more pain than if those same personnel had been activated by the Army Guard or Reserve.

@DouglasTrainer: Noted in the biography. Thanks.

@Sawbuck: Thanks for the head's up. Hadn't seen that article. Informally, the idea presented in this paper has been bandied about in private conversation. My intent was to show how it could be done structurally and simply in U.S. Code. On a related note, former HASC Chairman Ike Skelton and Rep. Geoff Davis introduced HR 6249, The Skelton-Davis Interagency National Security Professional Education and Development Act of 2010," which would seek to educate and train all civil servants for national security positions in federal government. Not quite what I'm proposing, but a necessary corollary.

Here is a WP article from the washington times from last year that speaks of a similar idea...


Interesting article, but you missed a few points.

First, if you spent any time around fed, state and local agencies, you find that they are very different, and with material distinctions for reconstruction. Feds are typically involved in funding and procedure, as in the case of USDOT. State-level DOTs are typically involved in planning, financing and building large-scale infrastructure (highways, rail, airports), and local governments are typically involved in building the kinds of small roads/infrastructure and urban/community/regional infrastructure applicable to Afghanistan. They, in turn, typically administer programs driven by experts, consultants, engineers and contractors for implementation.

So, if CRCS assigns a USDOT staffer (for 60 days?) to Afghanistan, the issues which need addressing have no more relationship to those people's skill sets than if you sent a farmer. Even local government staff, say in a planning department, spend a career processing building or zoning permits---What value would there be in that?

The skills that are actually needed for reconstruction are the private-sector consultants, contractors and engineers with lots of experience working on all sides of the equations. In Iraq, Crocker sent out a call for civilian experts---to break the logjam---and they had boat loads of experienced senior civilian experts ready to help. An Army of 50 year olds who jumped on the plane to Iraq after applying in the midst of Fallujah, etc...

Unfortunately, most of them were sent to "waste of time deployments" under some misbegotten Foreign Service Officer at a dead-end posting unrelated to their skill set.

Interestingly, the ones who often made the biggest differences, and felt the most rewards from the assignment, were those working in satellites and EPRTs where they could do what they came to do, unfettered.

As Senior Urban Planning Adviser, a post which, by definition, crossed swords with the Foreign Service to accomplish my mission, I had a "protective team" of two stars and above. Without them, I couldn't have accomplished anything. Regardless, I am, and will remain very proud of what was accomplished.

I have a few friends who stayed to go to Afghanistan, but they were only offered menial positions in god-forsaken postings with no resources. It was just "filling posts" with required "boots on the ground." Most of the folks who made a difference went home.

Senior and mid-career professionals, of the kind that Crocker asked for and got, are always available, but not unless: (1) there is a real need for their skills (a serious call); and (2) the position is high-enough up the food chain to make a difference. As a GS 12, lost in the bowels of a poorly managed State deployment, there would be no point.

As Senior Urban Planning Advisor in Iraq, one of my tasks was to develop civilian mapping, infrastructure and public service assessments. I built a partnership through MG Hertlings (MND-North) and NGA (the map guys) to implement civilian GIS mapping, and there came a time when I sought some help from ITAO (State's Reconstruction Leadership).

After a half-hour long briefing to the ITAO Director on how GIS is essential to any competent analysis and planning, she dismissed it. The reason? She said: 'We tried that fancy mapping stuff in Columbia once and it didn't work!'

We bypassed her and USAID, and Gen. Petreaus prioritized our work through his staff. Civilian GIS mapping was implemented in October 2008 through the military and NGA, not State.

As long as State's reconstruction brain trust (including SCRC) is staffed by people who know nothing about civilian construction/reconstruction, and service/operations, drafting more of the unwilling federal employees to be lead by the incompetent into the unknown will do little good.

That's my take.

Still, I appreciate you sticking your head in the noose.

Steve the Planner

As a federal civil service civilian in Afghanistan. I can say the the 350 USG civilians in the field can make a differance especially when given the resources of a Provincial Reconstruction Team. My group has DOS, USAID and USDA staff. We have made progress in strengthening the Afghan government and improving the quality of life for many people in my province.

Great post if for no other reason than to call attention to the 800 pound gorilla hovering over this whole endeavor.

Thank you to the commenters above.

I have some pretty extensive thoughts on this subject, but to put it plainly and briefly: I think this is a really bad paper. It's based on bad assumptions and bad thinking, and the author manifestly fails to consider the broader context of his argument or the implications of his proposed "solution." I'm still not entirely convinced this wasn't intended as parody. (But I spent 2600 words on it at my own blog just in case he's serious.)

I would point out that the DoD has the resources to recruit and educate, so why then would it need to take from the underresourced federal departments to do this work? Why not try to capture the shavings as we force our year groups through the command pyramid and use them for this work?

It is the most asinine thing in the world that the DoD builds excellent candidates for "thinking man slots" and then turns those fellows loose at 20 years if they are not the chosen few. The next most asisnine thing is how DoD then contracts for their services with an attendant overhead cost.

After finding myself non-competitive for higher military echelons, I for one would much rather have a cycle of education and field work instead of a series of assignments in bloated staffs. But despite the blather about how combatant commanders will tap the Services for trained forces, they can only get forces trained as the Services deem necessary and training for staff work and the arms branches are all the Services know. I think that major changes to DOPMA and Goldwater-Nichols could better use the existing officer community at 15 to 40 years service than the proposal outlined here.

It should be pointed out that Michael Clauser no longer works on the Hill or for a Member of the House Armed Services Committee for that matter.