David T. Johnson
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
National Defense Industrial Association Conference on Stability, Security, Transition and Reconstruction Operations
Arlington, VA
December 16, 2010

It’s great to be here with you all this afternoon, toward the end of what I’ve heard was a tremendously successful conference. If you weren’t aware before you signed up for the past two days, one great thing about really successful conferences is that all the great discussion and debate, and the opportunity to network with your partners and peers, tends to generate even more discussion and a great deal more work to be done.

If you thought your month was off to a good start, all you need to do is gather with two hundred or so of your friends here at NDIA and hear about the challenges they’ve been working to solve, to appreciate just how big the universe is and how much is occurring just outside of your sandbox.

For the past thirty three years, I’ve had the great honor to represent America’s governmental, security, and economic interests around the world, from European capitals to active combat zones. Some of my overseas assignments were more challenging than others, but as my military friends are fond of saying, our nation confronts many of its toughest foreign policy challenges right here at home. I know that’s true, in part thanks to my current assignment as the Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.

Since taking over my post three years ago, I’ve managed more than $12 billion in U.S. foreign assistance projects, on behalf of our nation and our taxpayers, which provide critical support to our international partners so that they can develop their own capacity to fight crime, administer justice, and safeguard the rule of law. The size of the task is as large as the globe is round, and our mission to eliminate safehavens for transnational crime and terrorism is vital to America’s national security.

The challenge that I’d like to focus on today does not pertain to what it is we do at the State Department, but rather, how it is that we go about doing it. And that’s where many of you come in. If there is one thing I’d like to leave you with today, it’s that we must strengthen and recalibrate the public-private partnership we currently have and focus greater attention on sustainable development.

Before I explain further, I recognize that a little bit more background might be helpful for those of you not familiar with the Bureau that I have the honor to lead. The Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, known colloquially as INL, is our nation’s one stop shop for international counter-narcotics policy and transnational crime issues, and overseas criminal justice sector reform. Since launching our first U.S. civilian police program in Haiti in 1994, the police and rule of law component of our work has grown in strides. We’ve learned a lot of lessons along the way. Today, we support over 1,600 police, justice, corrections, and development advisors around the world working in conflict prevention and post-conflict environments.

Having travelled extensively to observe and to monitor INL programs in more than 30 countries, including places such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Mexico, and Sudan, I have been humbled by the commitment and dedication of these advisors and the thousands of additional program managers and support personnel involved in our programs. Each of these professionals serve as ambassadors of American values, and they’ve developed important relationships with foreign counterparts in the process of assisting ministries of interior, local police officials, primary and appellate courts, prosecutors, public defenders, and corrections departments, to name a few.

Our assistance works to develop the bedrock of civil society – promoting safe, secure communities where laws can be enforced, rights protected, and sustainable development can proceed. Our goal is to help our partners become stronger in exercising full sovereignty over their borders and build their capability to deny safe haven to international criminal and terrorist threats. Bringing a multitude of American expertise and knowledge to the table to accomplish these goals is a core function of my colleagues.

The private sector has played an instrumental role in the evolution of INL, and has shared in the many ups and downs inherent to deploying Americans abroad under the most extreme of circumstances. Because we often need to mobilize or demobilize rapidly, contracted experts and support staff allow us to meet mission requirements swiftly and flexibly. Your role in this has been indispensible. Consider that my Bureau alone is supported by around 4,500 private sector personnel deployed abroad.

And let me stop here briefly and talk about our contractors, a term that has taken on a negative and connotation in recent years. Frankly, it’s just a classification of employment for what are highly skilled, highly experienced Americans willing to serve abroad on a limited term basis. The private sector also allows us to reach out to state, municipal, and country governments that understand local-level law enforcement challenges. This is important since the United States does not have a federal police force from which we can draw directly. Whether it’s Larry from Charlotte, North Carolina bringing his 30 year career in law enforcement to Liberia’s police force, or Susan from the Denver district attorney’s office with 20 years of trial experience working with Afghan prosecutors, they bring an enormous and hugely diverse body of knowledge to our programs abroad. They are professionals under contract with the U.S. Government, and they join us in a shared mission. And at no time is the shared mission better illustrated than on our worst days. In more than a few instances, your staff and associates have made the ultimate sacrifice in the name of our security partnerships and objectives. Attending a funeral of a fallen colleague is the most profound responsibility any civil servant can undertake.

In addition to hiring law enforcement and rule of law experts, our programs also rely heavily on life support providers who enable us to deploy our advisors to austere, remote, and dangerous locales. And the private sector plays a very important procurement role for our assistance efforts. For example, technological assistance like non-intrusive inspection equipment to help our Mexican partners counter drug production and trafficking. Helicopters and air support to extend the reach of Mexico’s Federal Police. Renovation of facilities in Liberia to give dedicated lawyers and judges a safe, clean place to administer justice. Logistical networks to maneuver the tough roads to Juba, Sudan. . This list goes on and on. These are just a few of the examples of assistance we provide to our foreign counterparts, thanks to expertise drawn from you and your colleagues.

We have of course faced some practical challenges in partnership with the private sector as well.

As all of you know, the ability of the U.S. Government to hire, train and deploy civil servants rapidly is often surpassed by the private sector’s speed and agility. This means that we have often faced the difficult decision of sending urgently needed contracted personnel into the field to provide community security and development assistance, before an adequate number of U.S. officials have been able to deploy to provide oversight and direction. Having an appropriate workforce balance in contingency operations is a highly complicated matter, with the devil often being in the details. For example, U.S. government employees often have fairly stringent security arrangements that prevent them from travelling to certain regions of a country, or prevent them from being co-located at facilities where U.S. government contractors are operating. As we look to the future, we must figure out how to calibrate our risk management posture for all U.S. citizens working on our behalf, regardless of the employment category under which they operate.

Recruitment and hiring for a steady stream of contracted U.S. professionals is also challenging, given the realities of often under-staffed police departments at home and established domestic career tracks.

So while there are some inherent challenges to our joint work, what partnership doesn’t have its challenges? What is most important to keep in mind is that we are ultimately pursuing the same mission. Yet this mission is evolving. The internal and transnational threats we and our partners are facing around the world can’t be addressed through traditional train-and-equip programs. While providing basic security to communities will always be essential to U.S. foreign assistance, how we go about tackling these challenges most effectively needs to change.

And much of that change will affect the business model we pursue and the partners – you among them – with whom we work. While the contractor-based model I’ve mentioned has important advantages, it also brings a set of challenges:

  • First, an extensive, contractor-heavy business model carries with it a raft of inherent oversight challenges that can be tough to address, especially to the satisfaction of our appropriators
  • Second, while this model offers exceptional flexibility, the U.S. Government does not have enough rapid responders in place yet to provide immediate direction and oversight, though the Civilian Response Corps which includes a significant INL component will improve our capacity in this area.
  • Third, maintaining education and training on law enforcement practices is more challenging when personnel stay in missions abroad for many years.
  • And fourth, no matter what we and you say, there remains a desire on the part of our development partners for training to be provided by active-duty government officials.

So what's to be done? Fortunately, this isn’t an unsolvable problem. And its solution does not require us completely to abandon a business model that has served us well – and that’s our partnership with many of you

Over the past couple of years, I’ve been engaged in conversation with the police chiefs and mayors in a number of U.S. cities, and those conversations have had a very specific focus: how does the State Department gain access to your active duty officers for deployment abroad? And how do we structure programs so that your city benefits from that partnership?

The programs that have resulted from those conversations are embryonic but they are growing, and rapidly so. NYPD officers are now deployed in Haiti and will continue to be there for a considerable time. Spanish speaking Harris County, Texas and Los Angeles County, California Sherriff's Department officers and Chicago Police Department Officers have worked with us to provide an extraordinary training program for Mexico's new police investigators. And I anticipate officers from Minneapolis and Atlanta to deploy in our programs in the first quarter of the next year.

In all of these programs, we have tailored demand to meet supply: New York has the world's second largest Haitian community and has developed the community police to protect them. Houston, Los Angeles, and Chicago all have significant Hispanic communities. And we will seek to match Atlanta and Minneapolis officers with challenges that will make them better equipped to police their communities when they return from their foreign deployment.

Now, does this mean our corporate partnerships are a thing of the past? Of course not. We will need one another as far as I can see in the future: for larger missions, for specialized skills, for life support, and for many other partnerships, in fact with most of our missions. But partnering with municipal police doesn't just give us another option; it addresses issues that cannot be resolved by relying only on the business model we have pursued over the last two decades.

In addition to these challenges, we also need to internalize an overall approach that comes from our colleagues on the economic side of contingency operations: sustainable development. Though the ability of illicit non-state actors to out-smart and circumvent the rule of law grows, our capacity to assist foreign partners remains finite. Twenty-first century threats will not allow us to devote enormous resources to each country in conflict for indefinite periods of time. Rather, we are going to have to design sophisticated interventions that target key nodes of instability. These interventions will need to be specialized in nature, highly tailored to the situation on the ground, and limited in terms of time-span. As we enter each new program, or reform ones already underway, we need to design-into the programs an ability to conclude or nationalize them within a finite time span. And while the U.S. Government is building up its expertise to improve how we execute stability operations on the civilian Government side, we will also need a more flexible and adaptive private sector.

Getting to sustainable development in the civilian security and rule of law area will require a closer partnership within the private sector. This is an area that you probably understand better than I do! What we have found is that as we try to balance our traditional assistance such as police training with long-term development of criminal justice systems, we don’t have an appropriate set of private sector instruments directly at our disposal. Some firms tend to focus on defense contracts, while others focus on democracy and governance. Few have been able to mesh the two sets of services – either internally or with other partners – effectively.

While we are seeing some changes in this area, I think it is important that industry consider how to combine heavy contingency operation support with the application of international development practices that integrate exit strategies as part of the concept of operations. That’s what I mean by saying that sustainable development must be a common mission between the public and private sectors, in order to advance safe and secure communities abroad.

I have been working to see through similar changes within my own organization as it moves from being exclusively counter-narcotics focused to a more comprehensive approach to civilian security and rule of law institutional development.

In addition to improved program design and oversight, the State Department will be awarding a new base contract for many of INL's programs shortly. I’m sure many of you are aware of this! This new contract will provide the Bureau with an enhanced set of services and functions to enable us to respond not only to policing needs, but the overall criminal justice systems to which they are linked. It is a contractual message to industry that we are looking for more comprehensive approaches to how we do our important work.

As we focus more on sustainable development and more flexible responses to 21st century international security threats, the public – private partnership will inevitably evolve as well. I believe that our reforms are helping to lead a larger trend underway, spearheaded by President Obama and Secretary Clinton. We need to be more visible and pro-active in all aspects of our foreign assistance programs. We need to improve recruitment of advisors and utilize new ways to employ active duty police and corrections experts. We need to improve our program design, monitoring and evaluation methodologies to ensure that our assistance is achieving the goals our nation requires and provide our implementers with clear guidance on how to help meet them. I am pleased to say that we have begun all of these improvements in my Bureau today, and we are being paralleled by similar initiatives across the defense, diplomacy and development communities.

As I’m sure you are aware, we and many other agencies are working closely together to maximize and more efficiently and effectively use the resources we have across the whole of government as well, and we are looking closely at how to make the private sector a key partner in this.

By improving private sector services in contingency operations, focusing more on sustainable development abroad, and improving Government management and oversight, we can forge a stronger public – private arrangement. This, I believe, is the essence of the highly productive exchanges that have taken place over the last two days at this conference. From integrating U.S. national power applications to becoming smarter at how we prevent and respond to crises, and by improving our substantive and technological expertise across the pblic and private spheres, we’ll be much better placed to deal with the unpredictable and fast-moving challenges of the 21st century.

And despite the work conferences such as this one may produce, both during and after, they are an extremely useful and important element of the partnership and continued dialogue we must continue over the coming years. Thank you for your partnership, your commitment to our national security and to the safety of our global community.