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A task force is a group of people who are temporarily assigned to work together to achieve a very specific and clearly defined objective. For example, a drug task force works independently of a police force to address issues relating to the manufacture, sale, and use of illegal drugs. Although the concept is military in origin, today they are often found beyond the boundaries of the military, appearing in the business world, law enforcement, and charitable organizations.
Several things set a task force aside from other working groups. The first is typically a sense of autonomy; it is commanded by someone high-ranking enough that he or she does not need to constantly consult superiors to make decisions. This makes a task force extremely mobile, flexible, and effective, allowing the members to use their abilities in very efficient ways. It also typically contains a broad cross-section of people, integrating an assortment of skills into a single unit.
In some instances, the members of a task force may be taken from entirely within a service, business, or organization. For example, early Naval task forces used people from various units who could work together efficiently and effectively on a project. However, the group isn't restricted to a single entity; it is also possible to see a joint task force, which integrates people from multiple organizations. These are especially common in law enforcement; in the example of a drug task force above, the group might include federal narcotics agents, local police, and representatives from agencies like the parks department or department of public health.
When a task force is formed, its goals are clearly spelled out, and the commander typically indicates the kind of staffing and funding which would be needed. When the desired goal is achieved, the group is broken up again, with the members returning to their normal positions.
While most task forces focus on short-term goals like developing new technology or solving a specific problem, they can also take on more challenging long-term issues, like the proliferation of drugs, or smuggling. In some instances, these task forces ultimately evolve into regular units, reflecting the fact that their tasks will never truly be done, although they might make tremendous strides in the right direction.