Combating Terrorism:

Observations on National Strategies Related to Terrorism

GAO-03-519T: Published: Mar 3, 2003. Publicly Released: Mar 3, 2003.

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In GAO's past work, we have stressed the importance of a national strategy to combat terrorism. We stated that such a national strategy should provide a clear statement about what the nation hopes to achieve. A national strategy should not only define the roles of federal agencies, but also those of state and local governments, the private sector, and the international community. A national strategy also should establish goals, objectives, priorities, outcomes, milestones, and performance measures. In essence, a national strategy should incorporate the principles of the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993, which requires federal agencies to set strategic goals, measure performance, and report on the degree to which goals are met.

We view the new strategies as a positive step forward. While it will take some time for us to fully evaluate whether they form a cohesive and comprehensive framework, there are some positive indications. The new strategies show cohesion in that they are organized in a hierarchy, share common themes, and cross-reference each other. For example, they provide high-level goals and objectives on the issues of national security in general, and how combating terrorism fits into that larger picture, how to provide for homeland security, and how to combat terrorism overseas. In addition, they provide more detailed goals and objectives for specific functions or areas that include military operations, weapons of mass destruction, money laundering, cyber security, and the protection of physical infrastructures. In addition, the collective strategies are more comprehensive than the single strategy they generally replace because, consistent with our earlier recommendations, they include not just the federal government, but also state and local governments, the private sector, and the international community. There will be many challenges to implementing these strategies in a manner that is strategy-driven, integrated, and effective. Given the recency of these strategies, it is premature to evaluate their collective implementation. Regarding the question of whether these strategies are driving programs, it is important to note that these strategies reflect a host of pre-existing programs: some of the programs to implement the new strategies have been in place for several years. Nonetheless, the strategies address the implementation of some programs more vigorously than before. Regarding the integration of programs, it is important that federal agencies have clear roles and responsibilities to combat terrorism. Given the number of agencies, it is also important that there be mechanisms to coordinate across agencies. We have identified federal agency roles and responsibilities and coordination mechanisms for both homeland security and combating terrorism overseas and will continue to evaluate their effectiveness. For example, we recently have designated the implementation and transformation of the Department of Homeland Security as a high-risk federal activity. Moreover, implementation must extend beyond the federal level to integrate these efforts with state and local governments, the private sector, and the international community. Regarding the effectiveness of these strategies, performance measures will be important to monitor the successes of programs. One key to assessing overall performance that we previously have identified is that strategies should define an end-state of what the strategies are trying to achieve. Some strategies meet this test, but they generally do not include detailed performance measures. This raises the importance of individual federal agencies having performance measures and reporting their progress. Beyond federal agencies, national measures of success may require a dialogue on appropriate performance measures for state and local governments, the private sector, and the international community. Congress also has an important role in authorizing, funding, and overseeing the implementation of these strategies to protect the American people from terrorism both at home and abroad.

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