Report: Establish CTOs in Every National Security Agency

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A Center for American Progress report outlines what the next administration should do to improve foreign policy and national security in its first 100 days.

The next presidential administration should elevate technology in the U.S. foreign policy and national security apparatus, according to a new report.

Nine months ago—before Joe Biden became the Democratic nominee—experts at the progressive think tank the Center for American Progress began to hammer out actionable foreign policy recommendations for the first 100 days of the next administration, culminating in a report CAP released Monday

A new Biden administration or a second Trump administration has to move government technology beyond keeping computers running and making sure help desks are functioning, Katrina Mulligan, managing director for national security and international policy at CAP, told Nextgov. Particularly in national security institutions, Mulligan said, technology is no longer a tactical issue alone—it’s also a policy issue. 

“Yet we don’t have chief technology officers at most of our national security departments and agencies, and if we do most of them are really running the kind of IT infrastructure, they’re not engaged in policy, and that needs to change,” Mulligan said. Mulligan served a decade in the executive branch during which she worked at the White House, the Justice Department and in the intelligence community. 

Establishing chief technology officers at every national security department and agency is one of the top tech recommendations in the report. It’s an organizational adjustment that would immediately create a connective tissue across the national security community engaged in substantive, high-level technology discussions, Mulligan said. 

Another move to elevate technology as a principal issue in national security and foreign policy CAP recommends is to designate a liason from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to—or a task force within—the National Security Council. 

“This liaison or task force should lead on cross-cutting issues such as 5G, quantum computing, and artificial intelligence,” the report reads. 

Both these bureaucratic changes could lead to efficiency gains, Mulligan said. Coordinated efforts by government technology leaders may result in better procurement processes and more strategic investments in technology. 

Other key technology components in the report include recommendations to: 

  • Use existing hiring authorities to beef up the State Department with expertise on several issues such as cyber, tech and AI. 
  • Make revitalizing the USAJobs portal, which CAP calls “outdated and ineffective,” a priority project for the U.S. Digital Service. 
  • Increase regulations on large technology companies to address issues like privacy and disinformation as well as beef up the government’s own resources, like the State Department’s Global Engagement Center, to better address disinformation campaigns perpetrated by adversaries. 
  • Continue telehealth services for veterans beyond the pandemic. 

These recommendations come as U.S. national security writ large is reaching what Mulligan called a pivot point. The world is no longer in the same spot it was the last time a Democrat assumed the presidency, when 9/11 and its ramifications were still top of mind. 

Regardless of who wins the race for the presidency, Mulligan said the U.S. is in the early stages of a strategic shift where what the country wants and needs from its national security apparatus is evolving.  

“We have built and empowered a lot of national security departments and agencies to do targeting,” Mulligan said. “They're good at finding needles in haystacks right now because that's what we told our national security institutions to do. And it turns out that needles in haystacks don't provide good protection against a pandemic, and don't really help you out when there's a giant hurricane or a big fire.”

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