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Government in a Box

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Government in a Box

Stephen A Mackey

President Obama talked about moving the Unites States off a permanent war footing in his 2014 State of the Union Address. He went on to discuss continued threats posed by extremists in Yemen, Somalia, Iraq and Mali.  He said reliance on large scale military deployments to address these foes may be counter to our best interests and instead offered that working with host nation partners to disrupt and dismantle terror networks may offer the best chance for success.  The planning for this capacity needs to begin well in advance of when it is needed.  How can we build a light, scalable, deployable capability to meet the Presidents intent?

This challenge is not new.  In 2005 President Bush signed National Security Presidential Decision (NSPD) 44 (Management of Interagency Efforts Concerning Reconstruction and Stabilization).  This high level policy document states that Stability Operations aim to prevent foreign territory from being used as a base of operations or safe haven for extremist terrorists or others who pose a threat to United States foreign policy, security, or economic interests.  This foreshadows President Obama’s comments almost a decade later that the United States cannot afford to let portions of the globe become lawless areas where terrorists can safely plot their strikes against the United States and her allies.

Stability operations are seldom waged in great geographic neighborhoods.  The threats posed by these environments are such that United States involvement is typically led by the armed forces.  NSPD 44 tasks the Secretary of State to coordinate and lead USG efforts in the Stabilization and Reconstruction area.  The Department of State (DoS) seldom has the resources to lead in the hostile environment typical of stability operations.  Recognizing this capability gap, the Department of Defense (DoD) Instruction on Stability Operations (DoD I 3000.05, Stability Operations (2009)) assumes the DoD will be forced to lead stability operations until it is feasible to transition to another entity.  The Instruction tasks the DoD to address many issues, the most broad of which is to establish civil security and civilian control, a very wide scope of responsibilities.

The United States military is masterfully trained in many respects.  In spite of over a decade of experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, developing the institutional and ministerial capacity critical to long term host nation self-sufficiency has not been a strong suit.  During my year in Afghanistan a USG advisor to the Afghan Ministry of Defense, I often heard that we (the US and our coalition partners) fought the 12 year war in separate one year increments.  Constant turnover, lack of properly qualified advisors, and inconsistent training hampered training of the Afghans.  This situation resulted in an Afghan government with only limited skill in managing the resource allocation role critical to a functional government.

How do we remedy this?  Recruiting logisticians, strategic planners, program managers, and budget experts from across the DoD may offer a way to rapidly build host nation capacity.  Career civil servants, armed with decades of technical experience may be able to build the self-supporting governments we need as long range meaningful, partners.  Capacity creation, specifically, the ability to transform coalition funding into counter terrorism results, may facilitate rapid exit of the USG from the area in conflict.  This will save both lives and resources, and provide effective long term results.

How do we marshal this cadre?  The Biennial Assessment of Stability Operations Capabilities sponsored by the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy (Preserving Stability Operations Capabilities to meet Future Challenges (2012)) cited lack of a proponent as a key factor preventing stability operations capabilities from moving forward.  Similar to Title 10 responsibilities of a Service, the Proponent would analyze needs (informed by Combat Commanders annual assessments) and develop the tools required to address the requirements.  A critical stability operations tool is trained people.  Accordingly, a major function of the Proponent would be to analyze requirements and develop the manning templates to accomplish the mission.  The template would be a mix of DoD civilians, people loaned from other quarters of government, and rounded out with civilian contractors.  The USG civilians would be actively recruited, trained, battle rostered, and called upon to participate in periodic training exercises.  Vendors could be incentivized to maintain a pool of stability professionals available to support operations by the use of standing Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity contracts in which a key element of the contract incentive structure was their ability to rapidly deploy trained personnel.

Underpinning all of this is resource availability.  Engaging in the resourcing fight would be a key Proponent role.  Specifically, it would advocate embedding a portion of former Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funds into the DoD base budget to fund standing capacity to support contingency operations and sustainment training.  The cost of combating terrorism using host nation forces is trivial compared to combating these threats with US troops.  A small number of stability advisors building organic capacity and self-sustainment could save both dollars as well as lives.  Getting funds from Congress is not a trivial task.  However, arguing that a deployable, scalable force in readiness can save money and lives in the next stability operation, and the one after that, should give it traction.

The Fiscal Year 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) created a new Global Security Contingency Fund (GSCF).  Jointly administered and funded by the DoD and the DoS, the fund is designed to carry out security, counterterrorism, and rule of law programs.  Initially funded for 350 Million dollars annually, this is a potential funding source that can be leveraged. Recognizing shortcoming in the Defense Acquisition Workforce, Congress established the Defense Acquisition Working Development Fund (DAWDF) in the 2008 NDAA.  This approach successfully expanded the Acquisition workforce by over 5,000 members since its inception.  On a smaller scale, the GSCF funding stream may allow for the establishment of a small cadre of experienced stability operations civilians will emerge.

New funds to the DoD base budget for stability operations could “co-pay” a portion of the salaries for battle rostered DOD civilians.  Cost sharing would lessen the sting the loss of these people from their parent commands for deployments would feel.  It also provides these individuals with a not deployed “home” and career, one at which they will spend the preponderance of their working lives.  This is critical as even the most dedicated (and biggest adrenaline junky) stability operations civilian needs a career in an organization and dwell time between deployments.

Great strides have been made over the past decade in providing civilian technocrats to support stability operations.  The Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) answered the call from the field for senior level advisors with the Ministry of Defense Advisor Program (MODA) program.  This program provides senior DoD civilians to assist host nations in ministerial development.  MODA currently has 58 civilians deployed to Afghanistan and has expanded its scope to include Yemen and Bosnia.  The Afghan-Pakistan Hands program is also a great success story.  Managed by the Joint Staff, this program has about 300 members.  Similarly, the Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO) successfully provided employment opportunities in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  This took insurgents out of the fight and put them to work as members of the productive local economy.  This effort saved US and Coalition lives as well as started these troubled nations towards economic success. 

These programs are doing great things but they are operating independently.  Placing these programs under one organization provides unity of effort.  Also, consolidating these organizations provides the manning nucleus needed to begin to establish a Proponent, perhaps a new Defense Agency focused on creating and sustain a true civilian expeditionary workforce capacity.     

A Civilian Expeditionary Force Defense Agency would promote creation of a readily deployable “Government in a Box” to meet contingencies.  A recommend approach to achieve this capability is to establish a new Defense Agency subordinate to a USD.  Creating this entity offers senior level advocacy with three key constituencies.  First, the DoD organizations that own the technocrats needed for this program to be a success.  A Defense Agency Director would have peer to peer discussion with senior leaders across the entire DoD civilian workforce.  This allows for recruitment of the top quality professionals need for success.  Second, this level of representation shapes future success by gaining entry into the deliberative bodies so important in shaping the budget.  Finally, this entity would serve as the focal point in discussions with the Congress on potential cost avoidance generated by creating a cadre of DoD civilian stability operations professionals.  The recent budget discussions talk of a much leaner force.  In light of this future force, planning for the next stability operations needs to begin in earnest.  

This paper reflects my personal experiences and opinions, and is not an endorsement by the Department of Defense and the U.S. Government.

About the Author(s)

Stephen A. Mackey served tours on the Joint and OSD Staffs.  From July 2012 to July 2013 he served as the Senior Advisor to the First Deputy Minister of Defense in Afghanistan.  He is a 2003 graduate of the National War College.



Tue, 04/01/2014 - 6:59pm

By all indications the civilian expeditionary concept is on its deathbed. And good riddance. It was ill conceived, poorly implemented, and fundamentally irrelevant. Sourcing "experts" from the civilian workforce to deal with civilian governance issues may sound logical, but it is a specious proposal for a number of reasons.

1. There is no standard for knowledge or effectiveness within the civilian workforce. There are GSA minimums for education, sure. But performance isn't measured based on academic or context-specific grasp of the subject matter or skill sets. A Phoenix U. degree is equal to Harvard in the eyes of the state. And effectiveness is generally so specific within the US government context (and not objectively valued or measured), that translating it to a foreign context and expecting good results seems more like an act of desperation rather than a thought-out strategy.

2. Our civilian workforce is optimized for task execution and technocratic mastery of a specific system of governance, often circumscribed within an even narrower stove-pipe. It has no inherent or standardized understanding of how governance works. Individuals, especially very senior ones, might. But we are sending mid-ranked functionaries and not SES's or political appointees on "expeditions".

3. NSPD 44 was an agency power shuffle (or grab, depending on how cynical you want to be about agency lobbying for greater roles in GWOT as a means of access to contingency funding) of grand proportions. It assigned responsibilities without any meaningful organizational reform. It guaranteed inter-agency dysfunction by forcing a new responsibilities paradigm without a concurrent authorities restructure. It is bad regulation that needs to go away.

4. NSPD 44 also assigned authorities along an amateur theory about what governance consists of and what Departments and Agencies are capable of. For example, the State Department does diplomacy. In my 18 months in Foggy Bottom working multi-national GWOT efforts I saw no correlation between ability to conduct diplomacy and ability to govern a state. In fact, the two are unrelated competencies in every sense except for the part where the Department has the word "State" in its name. USAID's governance strategies are likewise focused more on wholesale export of Western governance theory rather than effective governance in a foreign society.

There is a lot of room for civilians (read: not military professionals) in our contingency operations. But while there are inherently military activities, there are no inherently non-military activities in the scope of promoting occupation governance and transition. Indeed, transition to a civilian cadre in support of governance is in and of itself an inherently military function, by definition. This implies that the military (uniformed personnel, not DOD civilians) is indeed the DOD's repository for the transition phase as it 1. promotes unity of effort 2. promotes unity of command 3. shortens logistical chains 4. allows for application of force in support of governance rather than just reacting to "target cycle threats".

What we should be doing is promoting competence within the uniformed structure and appropriating into it the "civilian" skill sets needed in governance, rather than plugging holes through ad hoc, check-the-skills-block, recruiting of civilian employees. In fact, it is this very approach taken during post-WWII occupations (for all intents and purposes creating the Army's Civil Affairs branch) and it is this very approach that is proposed in the 1940 USMC Small Wars Manual. It seems we have developed a distaste for history and a taste for amateur invention.


Without commenting one way or another on your paper as a whole… please allow me to correct one premise you've been misinformed about. You wrote:

"Stability operations are seldom waged in great geographic neighborhoods. The threats posed by these environments are such that United States involvement is typically led by the armed forces. NSPD 44 tasks the Secretary of State to coordinate and lead USG efforts in the Stabilization and Reconstruction area. The Department of State (DoS) seldom has the resources to lead in the hostile environment typical of stability operations. …"

You have been mislead, and/or misinformed about the DoS. As you noted, this overall authority was first ceded to the DoS during the Bush Administration, when people like Gen. Powell and Sec. C. Rice were at the helm. This authority was also the basis for the DoS assuming control over the entirety of the USAID, which formerly was an independent Federal Department.

It is not a question of the DoS lacking the resources to lead, but rather that branch of governments willingness to cooperate and fully disclose it's resources to the DoD in 'Good Faith', and the DoS's resistance to engage in a transparent, and in my own personal experience and opinion, sincere, manner with the Department of Defense.

(If you'd like several decades of GAO and OIG audits/reports supporting my opinion, please feel free to contact me and I'd be happy to provide a selection of reports that more directly addresses the areas of your specific interest.)


A. Scott Crawford

I have a few ideas that I think add to the discussion.

1. At least one commenter pointed out that there is not a lot of incentive for civilians to join this corps. I don't know if this is the case. However, the Army does maintain a reserve of Civil Affairs Officers and NCOs whom have functional expertise in civil governance. They are Soldiers but at the same time Elected Officials and Civil Servants. They go where they are told and they can leave their guns and uniforms at home when they go if need be. Sure they have had a high OPTEMPO over the last few years, but so have many Civil Servants whom have served in Iraq/Afghanistan. They also bring the experience of working outside of a large federal bureaucracy and understand local politics and bureaucracy. Many foreign governments function far more like states,counties, and towns than like our Federal Government. They are not a fix for true local understanding, but they might at least form a strong backbone of a military civil support corps.

2. In DOD, we sometimes end up being DOD centric and try to push beyond our unique capabilities. The author indicates that this is a force to be used in lieu of a large scale military deployment. In many of these instances, it would be detrimental to deploy a large force of DOD personnel to essentially conduct support to civil administration. As an alternative to an entire Agency, a small team of DOD personnel focused on coordinating IA efforts to achieve CT objectives might be a more budget acceptable option than staffing a new DOD Agency. DOS, USAID, DOJ, USDA... all have capabilities to do Support to Civil Administration. For the purposes of this discussion, the trick is getting them to use those capabilities to make an area inhospitable to VEOs. There is no right answer for how to achieve this. In some countries it might be as easy as the Chief of Mission saying that CT is a priority and giving these teams a seat at the big table. In other countries, it might be having the right personalities interacting with the right IA partners to find ways to make the same money support multiple ends. Also, much of the IA works through local implementing partners when appropriate whom make these U.S. programs much more palatable to local sensibilities.

3. I do agree that money is going to be the biggest issue, but protecting this capability in a relatively insulated organization like USSOCOM might be a way to keep the money flowing and capabilities available. Expanding on SOCOM's Civil Military Engagement Program might be a great way to achieve this, while tweaking it to make it more robust and to ensure personalities with the right experience and rank (GS or Green Suiter) make it into key billets. Just a thought, but it might be more palatable in a budget discussion that standing up a whole new agency.

Outlaw 09

Tue, 03/25/2014 - 2:28pm

Core problem---the positions are civil service and who wants to deploy when one is not sure one has a position when you return.

Secondly, ever tried to join the program---it has one of the worst recruitment processes and one never hears much back from them even if they are looking for someone with your qualifications.

Hate to say it defense contractors are quicker to deploy.


Mon, 03/24/2014 - 8:35pm

Don't. Try. It.

It is called "colonialism" - it didn't work well when the Europeans tried it. Americans neither have the resources, the patience or local legitimacy to make it work.

Take for instance Africa's Sahel region. It is not an economically viable region and is unlikely to ever be - will a US imposed Western legal system be easier to implement than a Sharia legal system - given that these states don't have the resources to fund primary education, talk less, a prison system?

What the US needs to work on is the narrative it is selling to the rest of the World. For most people in the World the lifestyle America sells is unattainable. The World's poor will never access US levels of prosperity, US isn't creating economic opportunities for many in Africa & parts of Asia (China is doing that).

So what exactly is the US selling?

I come from Nigeria, the Al Qaeda narrative is very attractive to many, because it is "easily implementable". Sharia law doesn't require long expensive Western legal education, so it has a lot of appeal to the poor.

US presence is far away - in the coastal cities (& limited). "Foreign Aid" is not a narrative, it is not a set of ideals to aspire to, it is not a way of thinking. It doesn't hit at the core of what is a battle of ideas between the West and other civilizations.

Ideology and "governance" are difficult to sell, but people understand when economic opportunities are being created. China has this right - it is simple, create economic opportunities.

Robert C. Jones

Mon, 03/24/2014 - 1:43pm

In reply to by Dave Maxwell

Concur with Dave.

I will add that such well-intended efforts are de facto illegitimate and far more likely to provoke resistance insurgency than lead to natural stability; and would also create a line of blame leading straight back to the US in a way that facilitates recruiting for transnational terrorism and provides a vector for their attacks.

The first letter in FID does not stand for "fix."

Dave Maxwell

Mon, 03/24/2014 - 1:20pm

I think we have to really think hard about imposing a government on another people. In this case I will use the three words I most dread in a bureaucracy: "Not my job." I think the author means well but as we all know just as Rome was not built in a day, governments do not come in a box. The author discusses some good concepts for stability operations but I just wish they were not rolled up in the phrase "government in a box." We really have do get out of the armed nation building business.

Current reasoning, I suggest, tells us that the "government in a box" that we are looking for is the one that already exists in the subject country.

We are no longer inclined to overthrow and replace existing regimes/governments.

This because of:

a. The exceedingly high costs involved and

b. The likelihood of counterproductive results. (Without a 50-year full-scale commitment by the US and its allies, the invaded country is as likely -- or more likely -- to [1] descend into chaos and/or to [2] adopt ways of life and ways of governance that are even more detrimental to US interests.)

Thus, in evaluating our mistakes of the past decade -- and in determining how we should proceed now -- we are no longer looking at invasion, conquest, regime change, etc., as our way forward.

Rather, as the move to diplomacy acknowledges -- and the move to downgrade stability operations clarifies -- we will seek to achieve our desired ends, now and in the future, not via the populations but, indeed, through the current governments and through the current regimes; to wit: via the "governments in a box" that already exist.