The Department of Defense began producing the Quadrennial Defense Review in 1997 in response to requests from Congress triggered by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. Four of them have been released and the fifth will begin to appear in February or March of 2014.
The Department of State began producing the Quadrennial Diplomacy & Development Review in 2010. Unlike the Congressionally mandated QDR, this review was undertaken when Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State with the intent to push American diplomacy out of its dated approach. Since John Kerry has replaced Hillary Clinton there is speculation that a 2014 QDDR may not be published. This has to be taken seriously, given that it appeared in Foreign Policy magazine.
The Department of Homeland Security also produced the QHSR for the first time in 2010. Like the QDR, this one was ordered by Congress, rather than internally motivated like the QDDR.
The Quadrennial Intelligence Community Review(warning: pdf) was first published in 2001, then again in 2005 and 2009, but I do not find a document for 2013. This is a mystery which I will delve into further, but this should not be read as the IC being behind in some fashion – the National Intelligence Council has produced a Global Trends report for each incoming president since 1979.
Looking at these four areas, Congress sought a systematic review of defense after the end of the Cold War and they made a similar effort to better understand Homeland Security in 2010. The State Department wishes for a better balance between diplomacy and defense and undertook their own quadrennial review. The NIC, now part of the DNI, has been in the habit of producing quadrennial reports for incoming presidents, but this is a work product for them, rather than an oversight and planning related document. They do produce some material like this, but it isn’t queued up for a top level review the way the other three are.
The QDR covers nearly $700 billion in annual expenditures. DHS has a budget of $60 billion, the State Department is about $55 billion, and it’s harder to characterize the intelligence budget but $50 billion is close to the mark.
The Intelligence Community’s Overloaded Life Boat begins to address counter-intelligence concerns at a time when budget cuts are going to lead to the elimination of programs. Edward Snowden’s whistle blowing has laid bare an NSA that is completely out of control, but he’s done us a huge favor in making it obvious we need better oversight. Both Manning and Snowden were young, low level employees who were in a position to walk away with their employer’s most important secrets. Does anyone believe that this hasn’t already happened with other contractors, acting out of a profit motive rather than patriotism?
Congress can begin to do its duty to the American people by formalizing quadrennial review requirements for both the State Department and the seventeen agencies under management by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.