Ten Miles Square

January/ February 2014 The Monthly Interview

A conversation with Anne-Marie Slaughter, policy planning chief in Hillary Clinton’s State Department, on the future of military interventionism.

By Washington Monthly

AS: The report that I remember having the single biggest impact, for me, was one by the U.S. Global Leadership Council that aggregated the work of about thirty think tanks on development reform. That was invaluable, because while I wasn’t so concerned with whether think tank X supports Y’s idea, what was interesting was the number of ideas that think tanks supported. One lesson I learned is that the aggregation of knowledge can be as important as putting knowledge out in the first place. Because you’re working with people with very little time, they really need to have trusted sources of information.

WM: Having spent time in government, if you could change one thing to make it function better, what would it be?

AS: It would be to have every single agency connected on the same intranet, and with an unbelievably good internal search capacity, so that if I had a problem of food security, say, I could type that in and find the ten people in multiple agencies who knew a lot about it, who have written on it. You could enhance the efficiency of government a million percent if you could do that. The main problem is that we didn’t know what we knew. We didn’t even know what we knew within the State Department, much less within USAID, and the Department of Agriculture, and the Pentagon.

WM: What’s stopping the creation of such an intranet?

AS: The fact that the technology is twenty years out of date. It would cost a lot, it would take a big up-front initial investment, but also think about all the security issues. One example: State and USAID used different versions of Microsoft Word, so when we were doing a collaborative project and if I did not convert my documents to the previous version of Word, nobody at USAID could read them. And you’re asking me about an intranet with a great Google search?

WM: So how does one in your position find those ten or twenty experts within the government?

AS: You don’t, although sometimes the think tanks can connect you. A single-issue think tank is going to know everybody who works on these issues.

WM: So think tanks can sometimes be the Yellow Pages for the government’s own expertise!

AS: You said that, I didn’t!

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