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Friday, April 27, 2007

DNI's 100 day plan

By Michael Jacobson

In mid-April, nearly two months into his tenure as the nation's second Director of National Intelligence (DNI), Michael McConnell announced a "100 day plan," outlining what he hopes to accomplish during this period. McConnell stated that his plan to improve the “integration and collaboration” of the US Intelligence Community (IC) marks the “next stage in intelligence reform.”

McConnell's 100 day plan – which is intended to build on the October 2005 National Intelligence Strategy released by John Negroponte, McConnell’s predecessor -- focuses on transforming the IC in six key areas. These include: creating a culture of collaboration, accelerating information sharing, improving collection and analysis on the hardest targets, and modernizing the IC’s security and financial practices. McConnell also reorganized his office to create a directorate to manage the IC’s acquisition of new technologies.

To succeed in achieving the ambitious goals laid out in his 100 day plan, McConnell will have to be more aggressive in this role than his predecessor. There are promising signs in this regard. McConnell complained in a recent speech about his insufficient authorities, pointing out that he does not have direct power to hire or fire 15 of the 16 IC heads, as they are part of Cabinet level departments. In fact, McConnell’s 100 day plan calls for the DNI’s duties to be clarified and aligned, and notes that “more is required to realize fully the intended benefits.”

McConnell cannot wait though for additional authorities before moving to take strong action. While McConnell may regard his powers as insufficient, the reality is that the position comes with considerable authority. The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism and Prevention Act of 2004, which created the DNI, imbued the position with significant control over the IC’s budget, personnel, tasking, and acquisition. The DNI plays a particularly important role in the budgetary arena, where he has the power to “develop and determine” the IC budget. The DNI can also reprogram or transfer funds and personnel within the IC without the consent of the affected agencies (with certain limitations). In addition, the DNI can use his control over IC funds as leverage, as he can withhold money from IC agencies should the need arise. The statute also explicitly gives the DNI responsibility for managing the IC’s tasking, and assigns the DNI a key role in all IC acquisitions.

While the issue of DNI authorities is important, perhaps an even more significant issue for McConnell is that he does not have a deputy in place. This position has been vacant for nearly a year, since General Hayden vacated the slot to become the head of the CIA. As the DNI, McConnell has two primary functions: leading the IC and serving as the President’s chief intelligence advisor. As McConnell noted at a recent press conference, he is spending hours every day fulfilling the latter role – particularly in preparing for and participating in the morning intelligence briefing with the President. This leaves him with far too little time to focus on leading the IC – the primary reason the DNI position was created. A strong deputy could play an important role in managing the IC and in implementing the DNI’s strategic vision of transformation. The DNI cannot adequately perform both functions on his own.

While the success of McConnell’s 100 day plan is important to his ultimate record as the DNI, more critical is the tone he sets during this period. Taking strong actions from the outset will go a long way towards establishing the DNI’s control over the IC agencies. Without an aggressive approach, the DNI will be hard pressed to make the changes that the IC needs.

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