50. Memorandum From Secretary of State Rusk to President Kennedy 1

There has been informal discussion with you of a meeting with policy officers of the Department down to the Desk level. This should include not only officers with responsibility for specific countries but also officers at comparable levels who have United Nations, economic, intelligence, administrative or other such responsibility. If you will set a time for the meeting, I shall call these officers together in the New Auditorium in the Department. I cannot think of any step which would be more useful from a morale standpoint and for increasing understanding of the spirit and objectives of the Administration.2

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You might wish to talk about American responsibilities in a revolutionary world and the new concepts of diplomacy which this demands, our relationships with the advanced nations of the West in meeting these responsibilities, our attitude toward the Sino-Soviet bloc, and our role in such organizations as the United Nations, the Organization of American States, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, etc.

Against this background, you could speak of the imaginativeness, forcefulness, and leadership which is expected of all officials of the Department. I think it would be useful to say that we expect Desk officers to make decisions and to exercise initiative and leadership in relations abroad and within the United States Government. For this they need a broad understanding of the philosophy and purposes of our foreign policy, and they must be expert without being parochial. These officers especially need to understand that this Administration recognizes the authority and responsibility of the Department in foreign affairs and has consciously given the duty of executive leadership to its Ambassadors and the Assistant Secretaries of State. This calls for a new consciousness on the part of Desk-level officers of the role of other agencies in foreign affairs, the closest relations with them, and a sensitivity to all factors—social, economic, political, military, commercial, administrative, intelligence and public information. It requires a broad knowledge of all the resources and mechanisms of the American Government.

Special mention might usefully be made of a need for taking into account problems of public relations and Congressional relations in making policy, although action in these problems will generally fall on the “political level” of the Administration.

Having said what is expected of them, there will be need for a word of assurance of support and confidence for these officers and for their colleagues in the Department and the Foreign Service. They would be glad to be assured again of the Administration’s determination to defend them against political abuse and to promote careers on the basis of merit.

These officers will know of your own great interest in foreign affairs and welcome it. I doubt that any other President has come to know as many officers of the Department of State, of all ranks, as have you. A main impression which I think the meeting should leave is of your reliance on team effort between career and non-career officers to assist you in the creation and execution of policy and of our joint responsibility to keep you informed of facts and judgments about current developments.

Dean Rusk
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Departments and Agencies Series, Department of State, President’s Talk to State Department, 3/30/62. Official Use Only.
  2. The President met with Department officers on March 30; see Document 52. Additional suggestions to the President concerning points he might raise in his meeting with Department officers were contained in a memorandum from Hilsman to the President, February 3, and in a memorandum from Battle to Bundy, March 23. (Both in the Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Departments and Agencies Series, Department of State, President’s Talk to State Department, 3/30/62)