42. Memorandum of Conference Between President Eisenhower and His Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Gray)0

The following items were discussed with the President:

I raised with him the question of a “debriefing” for the Planning Board members with respect to the NSC meeting on December 6 involving the Defense budget. I indicated to the President that I had a feeling that the regular debriefing process should not be followed in this case. He agreed.
I then took up with the President the Record of Actions of the meeting of the National Security Council on December 3.1 He approved it with the amendment suggested by Mr. Dillon and agreed to by Defense and the JCS.
I then took up the Record of Actions of the meeting of December 6. The President read it carefully and initialed it. I then pointed out to the President that even the language he had approved would perhaps not be adequate guidance in the premises. I reported to him that there was not a clear and general agreement as a result of the Saturday meeting2 and that his statement in the Council perhaps would mean one thing to Defense and another thing to the Bureau of the Budget. I informed, him that Defense and the BOB as far as I knew had not gotten together following the meeting on December 6 and that on the basis of a conversation with Mr. McElroy and Mr. Quarles I believed Defense was awaiting a next move from someone else, probably the President himself.

The President then said that he felt there had been some progress and that he was hopeful that Mr. McElroy was finding it possible to make an adjustment in the Defense figures which would meet the budget problem. He based this optimism on a report of a meeting between Mr. Anderson and Mr. McElroy on Sunday. I indicated to the President that I believed his optimism misplaced and that as of the morning of December 8, Mr. McElroy was not prepared to make any meaningful adjustment. I told the President that Mr. McElroy was meeting again with Secretary Anderson at 11 o’clock on the morning of the 8th.

The President then asked me how I felt the Defense Department interpreted the Presidential statement in the NSC on December 6. I told him that Defense felt that the budget had gone through the normal budgetary process; that they had presented it to the President; and that it [Page 170] should be printed as presented. I told him on the other hand that I felt the Budget interpretation was that the whole budget was subject still to challenge specifically including the programs presented in the meeting.

The President then said that what he had meant by budgetary process was an examination of non-program areas, such as administrative costs, housing, construction, inventories, logistic support, etc., and that there had been no discussion in his presence of these matters.

I then pointed out to the President that time was an important factor inasmuch as Mr. McElroy was departing early on the morning of the 9th for the NATO Ministerial Meeting and that Mr. Stans was insisting that the budget had to go to print before Mr. McElroy’s return. The President then expressed his irritation of the frequent absence of Cabinet Ministers.

The President then said that if he were in charge he felt that he could take $5 billion out of the Defense budget but that Defense seemed not to be yielding at all. I observed to the President that if he were talking large amounts of money there couldn’t be any significant reduction by further squeezing and that the only way to accomplish it was by the elimination of programs. He said he fully understood this. He said that if Defense, after all of the meetings and conversations on the subject, still maintained that the programs presented in the NSC meeting were essential to the national security, he had little choice but to approve them.

I repeated to the President that I felt that clarification was needed as to the result of the December 6 meeting.

He then said he thought he would call Secretary McElroy. I suggested that Mr. McElroy would probably still be with Mr. Anderson and the President did indeed reach him in Mr. Anderson’s office.

The main points in the conversation between the President and Mr. McElroy were:

1. The President indicated that he had been “dragooned” into approving the Defense programs as presented. He made it clear to Mr. McElroy that his approval was reluctant but was given only because he felt he had no choice. He continued to have, however, reservations about the numbers of Atlas and Titan missiles, wondering if it was necessary to program as many of both. He then said that he wanted Mr. McElroy to get together with Mr. Stans right away and subject to further discussion the non-programmed items which he had mentioned to me earlier.

When he concluded the conversation the President instructed me to communicate the substance of it to General Persons with the request that General Persons reach Mr. Stans immediately and instruct him to get together with the Secretary of Defense.

[Here follows discussion of the Net Evaluation Subcommittee and of underground nuclear testing.]

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Immediately upon leaving the President’s office at 11:40, I got General Persons out of a meeting in his office and informed him as requested by the President. He immediately got Mr. Stans on the telephone, with me on an extension, and I, at General Persons’ direction, reported to Mr. Stans the substance of the President’s conversation with Mr. McElroy. General Persons directed Mr. Stans to get in touch with Secretary Anderson to be brought up-to-date on his conversation with the Secretary of Defense and then to get in touch with Secretary McElroy.3

Gordon Gray4
  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, White House Office Files, Project Clean Up. Secret. Drafted by Gray on December 9.
  2. The memorandum of discussion at this meeting is printed in vol. IV, pp. 434443.
  3. December 6; see Document 41.
  4. Further documentation on these proposed discussions has not been found. President Eisenhower approved NSC Action No. 2013 during a conversation with Gray on December 16. Only paragraph e was discussed briefly during this talk. (Memorandum of conversation by Gray, December 18; Eisenhower Library, White House Office Files, Project Clean Up)
  5. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.