Revisiting the Civilian Response Corps

The Small Wars Journal recently published a paper from Mike Clauser, a friend who was until recently on the staff of Rep. Mac Thornberry, Republican from Texas (no, his departure was unrelated to the paper). The paper, entitled “Not Just a Job, an Adventure: Drafting the U.S. Civil Service for Counterinsurgencies,” is an interesting recommendation to fill the empty billets of the Civilian Response Corps.

In 2007 and 2008, I wrote several posts on the Reserve Corps concept and on the State Department’s Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS), including one for Small Wars Journal entitled “In-sourcing Stabilization and Reconstruction” (and posted on MountainRunner here). I also met with now-retired Amb. John Herbst, who headed S/CRS, several times to discuss S/CRS, the Reserve Corps ideas and other topics. So this is an issue I’ve delved into, at least at the conceptual level.

The Reserve Corps is actually intended to be comprised of three elements, each with a different mobilization requirement and time commitment. The top tier is the Active Response Corps (ARC). The ARC is the Quick Reaction Force, to borrow a term from the military. Its members come from across the Government – State, DOJ, USAID, USDA, etc. – and would be ready to deploy within 48hrs. When not deployed, they are generally training or TDY to military or other USG elements. In military terms, they are “purple” or Joint forces working across Government.

The second tier is the Stand-By Response Corps (SRC). This pool is intended to be larger than the ARC, originally at 8:1 (I don’t know the current target ratio – or even the current status of SRC to be honest). The SRC would be full-time members of their own agencies and 10-25% of the SRC would become Joint, but only after a 30-60 call-up period. These would be civil servants and Foreign Service Officers.

The third tier is the Civilian Response Corps. Two years ago, the CRC (as the naming convention was originally applied) existed only on paper. The CRC would be filled with civilians who volunteered to be called up, much like the National Guard. There was a problem, however, CRC unlike the NG would not have their jobs protected under the Service Members Civil Relief Act. This may have been resolved… or not.

My read of Mike’s paper is that he suggests filling-out what had been called the SRC by drafting members of the Senior Executive Service (SES). Surely, Mike left out of his paper, perhaps for simplicity and brevity, the need to train the members for expeditionary and joint missions. This training was built into the S/CRS program.

“Gulliver” at Ink Spots eviscerates Mike for his suggestion tapping non-Defense Department personnel to participate in the Whole of Government approach pushed by Secretaries Clinton and Gates (and even ostensibly if not-so-eloquently by Rice and perhaps Rumsfeld), let alone drafting them for the cause. Gulliver’s criticism is limited to the superficial comments and not the underlying concepts and intent of the Reserve Corps, which Mike admittedly fails to properly represent.

Mike’s idea of Goldwater-Nichols-mandated Jointness does deserve greater attention – and it is not novel, especially not in this topic area. The concept of the Reserve Corps was not to pull any manager off the line and through him or her into the field without preparation. The method of mandated participation is novel and should be part of future discussions. I suspect however that any mandated jointness will come out by Goldwater-Nichols-type legislation across the Government and not adapting Selective Service like measures. Still, it’s fodder for discussion.

Gulliver opposes the wholesale draft of managers that are likely incapable of operating in an expeditionary environment. It was always the intent of the Reserve Corps, regardless of level, to properly train and equip personnel to perform the necessary duties. An issue Gulliver should have taken up is Mike’s apparent focus on senior leaders: “doers” not just managers are required. Again, another issue the original Reserve Corps was intended to address through balanced staffing.

The Small Wars Journal editor noted at Ink Spots that Mike’s paper was intended to spark discussion on State’s recently (and tardily) released Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR). Hopefully it does as well as renewed attention on S/CRS and the Reserve Corps concept.

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4 thoughts on “Revisiting the Civilian Response Corps

  1. Matt — Your points are well-taken and fair enough, but I don’t think I made any bones about the fact that I was criticizing Clauser’s policy recommendation, NOT the CRC as envisioned or as presently constituted. (Frankly, I don’t know enough about the implementation of all those bright ideas from the last several years to comment on what’s actually happened.)Clauser’s paper wasn’t fundamentally about the advisability of having an expeditionary civilian workforce for employment in overseas contingency operations — he proceeded from the assumption that such a corps was a worthwhile and justifiable endeavor. I was happy to stipulate that point in order to criticize the supply forcing function he described.
    Gulliver opposes the wholesale draft of managers that are likely incapable of operating in an expeditionary environment.
    I’m not sure I made this point, and in fact if you remove the word “wholesale,” I don’t have any problems with the concept. (I’m not sure the CRC is designed to send civil servants abroad “wholesale,” anyway.) I do think — and I have experience with an organization and a workforce and a mode of thinking that offers some significant advantages when trying to develop a new capability like this — that people who have faith in civilian expeditionary corps concepts tend to underrate just exactly how difficult partner-capacity-building can be. I have little doubt that CRC planners had intended for appropriate training to be provided; DoD also provides training to officers in security force assistance, and we still don’t have much of a clue how to do ministerial- and institutional-level advising.
    And one more minor note:
    An issue Gulliver should have taken up is Mike’s apparent focus on senior leaders: “doers” not just managers are required.
    I did actually make note of the fact that the personnel most in need would often be folks who aren’t SESes and have no aspiration to become SESes, so the proposed point of leverage wouldn’t even be particularly effective in getting the right bodies in the right slots. But again, this is a pretty minor point.
    Thanks for your thoughts on the subject. Mike Few’s always looking for more good stuff on the CRC — as you noted, especially in the concept of the QDDR — but I’m going to leave that task for someone more qualified. (Namely someone who’s found the time to get through the QDDR, which I haven’t as yet.)

  2. The strategy of the USA being involved in foreign places at the people level must be clarified: Yes or no?Maybe the ‘ought we be there?’ question should be first up; then how to do it can follow. Is it a government national interest issue or an NGO issue?
    Getting other than DoD assets into foreign dusty places to help the locals is a nobel idea. Government employees from any agency will not go in any significant numbers. Danger, health, insurance, family issues, overtime, dislocation, etc. Conduct a survey. Learn from the experiences of DoD with getting army, air force and intelligence agency civilians into Iran for technical support.

  3. Gulliver,thanks for your comments and clarifications. Fair enough. I did delve a bit into the QDDR (not deeply) and began to write the below as a new post but decided just to put it here (minus the lede) as a comment:

    The State Department’s Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review recommends modifying in the Reserve Corps concept and structure in order to “build a scalable, flexible, and agile civilian surge capability” to respond to “conflict-affected and fragile states” (p 144). A review to increase the use of “multilateral capabilities and local experts” will take place at some point. The required skillsets of the Active component, the on-call force deployable within 48-72 hrs, will be refined.

    The Standby component will be expanded by developing incentives for supervisors and members, developing backfill solutions, broader inclusion of contractors, foreign service nationals, federal retirees, Peace Corps volunteers and increasing the number of participating agencies. This Standby component was the focus of both Mike and Gulliver.

    The never-activated Civilian Reserve Corps would be replaced with an “Expert Corps” of technical experts “willing but not obligated to deploy to critical conflict zones.” The Civilian Response Corps was a National Guard-like plan of a four-year signup with a commitment to deploy for up to one year.

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