The Government Accountability Office, in an assessment of the implementation of the Government Performance and Results Act several years ago, said “Congress should consider amending GPRA to require the President to develop a governmentwide strategic plan.” The President’s Office of Management and Budget says the President’s annual budget serves as the government’s strategic plan. But in reality there are long-term, large-scale, multi-agency, and multi-sector challenges that need to be integrated.
Necessity created just such a process. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the White House recognized the criticality of developing a long-term national – not just a federal – approach to fighting terrorism and ensuring homeland security. President Bush used a relatively new policy vehicle – “national strategy” plans – as a way of creating an overarching strategic plan around a specific need or outcome, such as anti-terrorism.
The White House issued a 90-page National Strategy for Homeland Security, in July 2002. It addresses the threat of terrorism in the US and focuses on the domestic efforts of the federal, state, local and private sectors. It identifies major goals that are implemented via presidential directives. Since then, about a dozen other National Strategies have been issued, mainly dealing with national and homeland security issues – drug control, cyber-security, etc.
The debate is whether the Strategies have any teeth. GAO’s studies suggest there are no control or accountability mechanisms. Other countries that have attempted governmentwide strategic planning efforts have had mixed results for similar reasons. Still, some of the major challenges facing the nation suggest the need for a strategic, long-term approach.
Should the next President extend the use of National Strategies or come up with other ways to provide focus and leadership on issues of long-term national importance?