30. Memorandum From the Under Secretary of State (Bowles) to Secretary of State Rusk 1


  • The Need to Improve the Administration of Foreign Policy

Our ability to create a more effective, more realistic, and more affirmative American foreign policy rests in large measure on the ability of the top echelon of the Department of State under the general direction of the President and in conjunction with other agencies to produce wise decisions.

It is equally dependent on greatly improved administrative State Department operations, reaching into every section and country desk in Washington and out to every overseas mission, that will assure that these decisions are carried out.

The following measures to achieve this greater effectiveness are either now being taken or are immediately contemplated.

I. Improvement of our Operations here in Washington

At a recent meeting in my office, I asked each bureau head personally to review the operations of each country desk and other working components within his bureau.

These studies are now being completed, and with the help of Roger Jones, Bill Crockett and Herman Pollack, I am holding meetings with each bureau head to discuss whatever personnel changes and administrative [Page 54] changes are required to assure both the necessary experience and fresh perspective at all levels of each bureau.

We should avoid the appearance of a shake up, yet those who have been too long on a single assignment and who have become somewhat stale and fixed in their views should be switched to posts which will offer them a fresh challenge.

I am also making personal visits to each bureau. These visits include an hour or more of frank discussion with the thirty or forty top people dealing with the new administration’s policies and specific problems which concern the particular bureau in carrying out these policies.

II. Improvement of our Operations Abroad

The letter from the President to all Ambassadors which went out two weeks ago establishes each Chief of Mission as responsible for the combined U.S. effort in the country to which he has been assigned and entrusts him with necessary working authority.2 This action has had a most favorable reception.

To help assure a tactful and effective response to this letter, we are sending out a series of guidance letters to all mission chiefs. These letters will deal with the following subjects:

The broad role of the Ambassador as leader, coordinator, and administrator.
Methods of improving the reporting and policy guidance provided by each mission.
Techniques for establishing closer working relationships within the American official community.
Techniques for improving the impression created by American officials (and Americans generally) in each country.
Methods to insure closer contacts with the internal culture, institutions, and people.

The press of daily business makes it difficult for even the ablest of mission chiefs to give sufficient priority to programs which involve basic changes in working relations and habits.

To help assure the necessary thought and action, each Ambassador will be asked to write me a letter within one month of the receipt of these guidance memoranda outlining precisely what changes have occurred in his mission’s operations as a result.

In this way we may persuade each Ambassador to focus personally on these fundamental operating questions. The response from each mission chief should also give us valuable insights into his understanding [Page 55] of his own mission. Further status reports will be asked for at periodic intervals.

As a second stage in the campaign to freshen up our operations abroad, I am planning to hold approximately nine regional Chiefs of Mission Conferences abroad between the end of July and the end of October.

These conferences, which will last for two or three days, will be somewhat larger than the usual Chiefs of Missions’ Meetings. The Ambassador will be asked to bring with him his Administrative Officer, the AID Mission Director, the USIS Public Affairs Officer, and in some cases his Deputy.

I expect to take with me from Washington the appropriate Assistant Secretary for each region, Roger Jones, or one of his Deputies, and high level representatives from the new AID Agency and from USIA.

I shall personally attend each of these meetings. We will cover not only policy discussions but the practical problems involved in coordinating the activities of our various agencies abroad; personnel selection, training and management; improved reporting; and so forth.

I believe such meetings are essential to assure that the new emphasis and direction on foreign policy questions the President has approved carries through into action at all operating levels abroad.

We are now working on initial planning for the first three of these conferences. They have tentatively been scheduled for the period from July 25th through August 11th and will probably be held in Lagos, Beirut or Cairo and New Delhi. In September and October we will follow up with similar meetings in Latin America, East Asia and Europe.

We are also planning to lengthen the normal tour of duty at all posts to three years and in some cases longer. Although this will require legislation and considerable adjustment, it is essential if we are to develop knowledge of each country in greater depth, closer personal contacts and better language abilities.

I have also asked for a study of the reports now required of each Embassy and the extent to which the number, frequency and scope of these reports can be reduced. This is essential if we are to free our mission chiefs and their top associates for increased travel outside the national capital.

III. A Study of U.S. Personnel Overseas

In 1958 studies were completed by the old Operations Coordinating Board dealing with the broad range of questions resulting from the total U.S. presence abroad, military and civilian. The objective was to persuade the agencies now operating overseas to tighten up administrative practices, personnel selection, attitudes, etc.

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The OCB made a number of thoughtful recommendations. Some of these have been carried out in the intervening period. In other instances, however, there appears to have been little improvement.

In any event, the time has come to review this report in light of our present operations, to bring its recommendations up to date, and to establish the procedures that will assure that they are carried out.

Because of the large number of military personnel and dependents now overseas, the Pentagon has a particularly important role to play. In this regard I have discussed procedures with Ros Gilpatric, and a preliminary meeting has been set up with Herman Pollack and Bill Bundy. Procedures will then be agreed upon to explore all questions involving living areas, PX’s, general attitudes, preliminary training, indoctrination, and so forth.

Each regional Assistant Secretary will be asked to follow through with the Pentagon and other agencies which are involved in his geographic area.

Roger Jones had an excellent meeting with Elmer Staats and some of the Budget Bureau people here on June 8th. A number of the problems involved in reaffirming State’s responsibility for asserting primary authority in the overall field of U.S. international activities were discussed at length.

Elmer Staats and the Budget Bureau are taking a most constructive and helpful approach to all these questions. A special liaison man is being brought in to assure the necessary follow through between the Bureau and State.

IV. Foreign Military Personnel in the U.S.A.

Another area of our overseas operations which we should consider most carefully is the thousands of military personnel from foreign countries who are brought each year to the United States under the Military Assistance Program for training by the U.S. military in the use of new weapons and techniques. (Ed Murrow tells me that the total budget for this effort is half as large as that of the entire USIA.)

These many contacts provide a ready-made opportunity to create a better understanding of our country, its beliefs, and policies.

In cooperation with Defense we are planning to reexamine the handling of these foreign nationals who are exposed during their stay in this country. Together, we shall then work out a program that will improve their general understanding of the United States, its people and its policies.

I am asking Phil Coombs to coordinate this effort.

V. Reorganization of the Economic Aid Organization

I am deeply impressed with the present aid program which has been prepared for Congress. In my opinion it deals most effectively with the objectives and requirements of foreign assistance.

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However, as I read it, I was again conscious of the urgent need for a highly competent administrative operation to carry out the program. Criticisms of the past operations have often been overstated, but many are valid.

If we are going to get this program through Congress and if the program itself is to live up to the objectives set by the President, we must vastly improve the administrative set up and personnel.

Hank Labouisse and his staff are, of course, acutely conscious of this need. Yet, with their heavy load of Congressional contacts and day-to-day administrative problems, I cannot see how they can devote the necessary time to the immediate task of creating a new, highly competent organization with the necessary new faces.

I suggested to Hank Labouisse the possibility of bringing in (perhaps on a temporary basis) a high level administrator in public administration who would concentrate exclusively on the problem of personnel, organization, and assignments. I shall explore this possibility further.

In my opinion, it is also important to find more effective ways to use the talent in Labor, Agriculture, Hew and elsewhere in operations and planning overseas. It is essential that the State Department keep close control on policy questions. Yet, there are many highly expert people in these agencies with wide overseas experience whom we should learn how to use. At present many of them feel shut out.

I am having lunch with Orville Freeman today to discuss this question. I have already talked in general terms to Abe Ribicoff.

Cabinet members, themselves, with an interest in foreign affairs can play a most constructive role. It is our task to find an effective way to put their energies to work without disrupting or diffusing our normal operations.

This will give you an idea of the effort that is being made. Please give me any thoughts that may occur to you.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Departments and Agencies Series, State Department, 6/17/61–6/20/61. No classification marking. Bowles sent a copy of this memorandum to Bundy on June 19 with a note that reads as follows: “I thought you might be interested in seeing a copy of the memorandum I wrote Dean [Rusk] last week on improving the administration.” (Ibid.)
  2. For text of this May 29 letter, as well as President Kennedy’s covering memorandum to the heads of executive departments and agencies, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1961, pp. 1345–1347.