November 25, 2003

Cultural barriers a challenge for Pentagon in homeland mission

By Chris Strohm

The Pentagon's homeland defense command is facing cultural barriers as it works with other federal agencies, according to a senior defense official.

"We have found, given dollars and time, any technical piece is solvable, and that's not the same with the cultural piece," said Air Force Maj. Gen. Dale Meyerrose, director of architectures and integration at Northern Command, in an interview Tuesday with Government Executive.

Created in Oct. 2002, Northern Command consolidates all existing military homeland defense and homeland security operations. When it started, the command coordinated information and activities between three or four different organizations. A year later, the command works daily with 24 organizations, Meyerrose said, and has interacted with 650 agencies and individuals over the past year.

After about 50 joint exercises, Meyerrose says he is convinced the biggest challenge facing interagency coordination is bridging cultural barriers. Meyerrose is charged with establishing effective communication with other agencies, so that in a time of crisis there is not only unity of command among all Defense players, but strong communication links between Northern Command and the dozens of domestic agencies it must work with.

However, the number of agencies working with the NORTHCOM could change depending on how the organizational structure of the Homeland Security Department shakes out. NORTHCOM currently coordinates with multiple agencies under the Homeland Security umbrella, but in the future might have one central contact point with the department.

For the past year, Meyerrose has encouraged Defense organizations to adopt a "need to share" rather than a "need to know" mentality, where they find reasons to exchange information that will enhance interagency situational awareness, collaboration, decision-making and command and control activities.

A major exercise conducted over the summer showed the gap that Northern Command fills between agencies, said

Gen. Richard Meyers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at a "town hall" meeting with Defense employees last week. NORTHCOM successfully coordinated information and activities between organizations during the exercise and, as a result, was granted full operational status by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in early October, Meyers said.

The exercise "looked at all the places where the seams might occur between the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, the states, and so forth, and even among our own services," Meyers said. "We've got to all pull together if we're going to be successful in this mission and I think that's what [Northern Command] brings."