From James Stavridis and Evelyn N. Farkas, the Washington Quarterly:  The government and private sector collaborate on a voluntary basis in many small and medium-sized ways to respond to natural and man-made disasters, prevent cyber or terrorist attacks, or to exchange information about the political—business environment in countries of interest. These efforts range from ad hoc to enduring, but rarely do government and private sector actors work together to identify common objectives and design government programs or business plans that are mutually supportive, leveraging one another to achieve a greater goal such as political stability or economic development.

By far, the biggest obstacle to public—private collaboration is the mindset, mainly on the government side. It takes extra energy and effort on the part of government officials to consider how to leverage the private sector. Corporations and non-profits are more accustomed to seeking interaction with governments, but too few really creative actors yet exist. Public—private advisors need to work extra hard to overcome the institutional mindset within the government and force officials at all levels to consider how they might work with outside parties. To most government employees, public—private collaboration seems either ‘‘nice to have,’’ at most suited only to humanitarian efforts, or ‘‘too hard’’ because of legitimate legal and ethical concerns. The legal restrictions, especially those aimed at preventing preferential treatment, reinforce a general reluctance to get creative with outside actors.

As a result, the most important conclusion to draw after about half a decade of working to promote public—private collaboration is that people need a strategy, framework, and process for designing and implementing it. First and foremost, public—private efforts must be prioritized and coordinated within agencies and across the government. Officials dedicated to public—private partnerships should work together to build strong relationships as opposed to individual projects with outside actors and society writ-large. Second, public—private initiatives should be designed with both partners present at the inception of policy, program, or business design. Finally, public—private collaboration should be recognized and accommodated by laws and regulations which provide greater flexibility to partner and clarity to both sides about what manner of collaboration is permissible and desirable.

For the national security community, priorities include stability operations, non-proliferation, energy protection, cyber security, and better business practices. As the National Security Strategy stated, ‘‘There must be opportunities for individuals and the private sector to play a major role in addressing common challenges whether supporting a nuclear fuel bank, promoting global health, fostering entrepreneurship, or exposing violations of universal rights. In the 21st century, the ability of individuals and nongovernmental actors to play a positive role in shaping the international environment represents a distinct opportunity for the United States.’’

Harnessing the know-how and resources of corporations, universities, research institutions, and charitable as well as development organizations is and will be critical to maintaining U.S. policy innovation and effectiveness. Just as we need to invest in education and research to cultivate national competitiveness, we need to build relationships leveraging private sector expertise and capabilities to enhance both global development and U.S. national security.

Admiral James Stavridis is the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) and Commander, U.S. European Command (EUCOM). Evelyn N. Farkas is his Senior Advisor for Public-Private Partnership.