Good People, Good Process, Good Policy

By James Nealon

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Every campaign has a plan for national security, but as Mike Tyson said, everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face. 

The keys to taking the campaign's plan and turning it into implemented policy are people, process and policy. 

People: There is no substitute for experience in national security. To get off to a quick start it is important to hire people who have been there before and who know what to do when the phone rings in the wee hours. Experienced people know that good ideas are not policy - policy is the product of good people running a fair and open process. It is also important to understand that the national security bureaucracy is an ally. That bureaucracy exists, and is important, because it houses a vast store of historical knowledge and context that we ignore at our peril. 

Process: Experienced people understand that good process makes good policy. It's possible to govern while completely ignoring process but personalized process makes for personalized policy. Running policy options through a rigorous process with many actors at the table ensures that policy will be legal, ethical, implementable, vetted, and ultimately in the national interest. 

Policy: Many people think that you start with the policy and the people and process follow. I argue that it's the opposite. If you hire experienced people, steeped in the issues, they will run an honest policy process that will, over time, produce good policy.  


James D. Nealon formerly served as Ambassador to Honduras and Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for International Engagement. 

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