108. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy) to President Kennedy0


  • The National Security Council and Supporting Staff Organization

When we came in, it was the very strong feeling of most of those connected with the new Administration that the Planning Board and the Operations Coordinating Board had both become rather rigid and paper-ridden organizations. Neither of them seemed likely to be responsive to a new Chief Executive and his principal cabinet officers. Your Secretaries of State and Defense argued strongly that a more streamlined organization would be better for your particular purposes, and the Secretary of State in particular believed that it was most important to emphasize the operational responsibility of his department, as against the rather diffuse authority of staff committees without the power of decision. This impatience with much of the existing staff machinery was shared by a number of advisers who had had experience of it in the Eisenhower [Page 386] Administration—notably Douglas Dillon, and later John McCone.

It is probably also true that we did not promptly develop fully adequate new procedures of our own. The State Department has not proved to be as effective an agency of executive management as we hoped, and above all it has not shown the capacity for inter-departmental coordination which we hoped to force upon it. This, in my judgment, is largely because neither the Secretary nor the Under Secretary has taken the lead in this direction, so that the burden has fallen on George McGhee and Alexis Johnson, who simply lack the necessary standing and authority. Under a strong President, even more than a relatively inactive one, there can be no final coordination except from the White House.

We have always had, however, rather more organization then General Eisenhower probably recognizes. We have, for example, kept in our service the most effective professional members of the National Security Council staff, and we have added to them such notably qualified staff officers as Forrestal, Komer, Kaysen, and now Colonel Legere. We have instituted a system of administrative follow-up on Presidential decisions which works both by formal memorandum and by informal and continuous communication.

We have also increased the administrative support and certain important inter-departmental committees. This is notably true of the 5412 committee which is run with a much better and more thorough staff process than was true in January 1961, and the same applies to the Special Group for Counter-Insurgency, organized under General Taylor’s leadership.

The National Security Council as such has seemed to us a much too cumbersome instrument for intensive use, but in the course of the recent Cuban crisis, you have instituted an Executive Committee which so far has worked unusually well. We are thinking of continuing the Executive Committee with a wider mandate on a regular weekly basis, and it is probable that certain continuing subcommittees may also be useful.

It will remain true that our operating style will be somewhat different from General Eisenhower’s. Your own instinct is to work closely with the men who are most directly concerned with a particular problem, and to seek advice from a wider and more varied circle than General Eisenhower used. For this reason, your tendency is to use frequent small meetings with those who have an immediate concern with a problem—Laos, the Congo, the Defense budget, nuclear testing, Cuba, Berlin, and balance of payments. This is simply the way you do your job, and I see no chance that you will want to take the opposite course of reviewing the agreed papers laboriously ground forward by a third-level bureaucracy and presented to you through the medium of weekly meetings of 30 or 40 people.

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As I reread John McCone’s memorandum,1 I think that much of General Eisenhower’s criticism may be directed against phenomena which were more characteristic of our first few months than of your present operations. I think that it may be worthwhile to emphasize both that we have learned a lot in the last year and a half, and that your own staff have never publicly engaged in any criticism whatever of General Eisenhower’s choice of staff methods. What we have said and what I, at least, have deeply believed, is that different Presidents are bound to have different administrative methods. General Eisenhower is a believer in a military concept of staff operations, and you govern by direct personal involvement and decision.

McG. B.
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Departments and Agencies Series, NSC Organization and Administration. No classification marking. This memorandum was apparently written in response to remarks by former President Eisenhower and in preparation for the President’s news conference on November 20. The subject of the memorandum was not raised at the news conference.
  2. Not further identified.
  3. Printed from a copy that bears these typed initials.