DSI Miami: New Position Reinforces Commitment to Collaboration

August 15, 2008
by Rita Boland

Rear Adm. Robert C. Parker, USCG, is the new director of security and intelligence (DSI) at Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), located in Miami. He is the only person ever to hold that title because the position was created the day he reported for duty in April; he also is the only member of the Coast Guard to hold a director position in any U.S. Defense Department command.

The admiral shares that being the first Coast Guard officer to hold a directorship is personally exciting, especially because he is taking part in an organization as innovative as SOUTHCOM. “If you had asked me two years ago if this would ever happen, I think I would have said probably not in my wildest dreams,” he states.

The role is well suited for a Coast Guard officer because unlike some other combatant commands, SOUTHCOM undertakes few military operations and has no major armed forces peril in its area of responsibility. One example of how SOUTHCOM works differently than other commands is in its employment of two deputies—a military officer and a Senior Executive Service (SES) civilian.

SOUTHCOM solves problems through interaction from a variety of government agencies and even nongovernmental organizations. Adm. Parker explains that SOUTHCOM is a natural fit for the Coast Guard because of the regular interactions with international governments and interagency representatives. The Coast Guard works frequently with other agencies and the general populace during the course of its normal duty.

The DSI explains that the major focus for security and intelligence is a whole-of-government approach to operations, whether those are humanitarian assistance missions, emergency response or other contingency operations. “We’ve started a new organization, and our individual challenge there is how to incorporate traditionally hard-power things into this soft-power world to get maximum benefit,” he shares.

One of the challenges Adm. Parker faces is how to enable interagency collaboration and blend tightly scripted military operations through a command and control node that is foreign to other agencies. One piece of the solution is the Joint Interagency Task Force (JIATF) South located in Key West, Florida. Born through the counternarcotics mission, it has grown into a coalition of interagency partners.

The admiral touts JIATF South as an exemplar of how to accomplish interagency work. The organization works with interagency and international partners, overcoming barriers mostly through relationships but also by solving technical problems. The ability to work with multiple agencies is critical to SOUTHCOM mission success, he says.

Another major challenge facing the DSI is the long cycle inherent in policy change and acquisition. The director is dealing with the problem of fielding technologies quickly enough to stay ahead of Moore’s Law. “I’m not getting any sense that our government policies and our international policies are keeping pace with the development [of technology],” Adm. Parker shares. He adds that the acquisition cycle is sufficiently onerous that U.S forces have trouble staying ahead of a very adaptive enemy such as the ones faced in the counternarcotics business—one of SOUTHCOM’s main focus areas.

For example, drug runners have successfully used self-propelled semisubmersibles to smuggle their products. “They’re on about their fourth or fifth version, variant, improvement of that particular technology, and we’re still trying to figure out how to find it,” Adm. Parker says.

To help with all his missions, the admiral wants an open-architecture systems approach for the whole of government to avoid all the workarounds necessary to enable everyone to operate together in the same environment. He is working to establish pre-need relationships so he can interact with critical personnel before a crisis arises, and he is especially interested in meeting people with new ideas and innovative solutions.

Creating an environment where everyone can collaborate is especially challenging because many of the tools and policies that allow partners to work together lead naturally to security problems. The agencies and governments also have different systems for intelligence, aircraft and even basic information sharing such as e-mail. Leaders have to find ways to create communications connectivity and a common operating picture among different organizational cultures while maintaining security.

Inherent to the command’s success in the region is the leadership’s ability to reach out to partners to solidify the whole-of-government approach to issues and explain to them that SOUTHCOM does not fill a traditional military position. “We have to maintain that role, but frankly, there are no military threats in our region,” Adm. Parker explains. “So getting that piece to sell well in audiences naturally skeptical of the defense side of the house is a challenge for all of us, specifically to us who are in the Title 10 role at this command.” Title 10 is the Armed Forces portion of the U.S. Code.

Though SOUTHCOM is a military organization and faces some of the same challenges other combatant commands face, certain commonalities between the United States and other countries in the area of responsibility remain one of the main differences between it and the other nine combatant commands. For example, Adm. Parker explains that SOUTHCOM has to determine ways to enable different people with varying interests to look at the hemisphere as one neighborhood with common issues, concerns and goals.

SOUTHCOM views the Americas as one interactive system with problems that need to be solved through the interaction of multiple parties. The U.S. Defense Department usually plays only a small role, so the command has to leverage its capabilities to help other agencies and nations ensure regional stability, security and eventually prosperity. Because SOUTHCOM has a minimum of assigned forces, the command has to reach out and work with neighbors to complete missions collectively and add to regional stability.

Adm. Parker wants input from anyone who has ideas on how to solve the problems inherent in whole-of-government situations, both from policy and technology standpoints. He is striving to find solutions that allow all partners to come together and interoperate through various languages, cultures and classification levels. “If they have that, I’ll give them my phone number,” he says.

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