168. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Administration (Horwitz) to the Deputy Secretary of Defense (Vance)1


  • Planning for Improving Survivability of the National Command Authorities (NCA)

The Joint Chiefs of Staff have recommended that the President be asked to approve development of a plan to improve survivability of the National Command Authorities (Tab “B”)2 based on a concept of pre–designation of the composition of Alternate NCA Groups, to include legal successors to the Presidency in each Group. The concept envisions three Alternate NCA Groups displacing to the three NMCC Alternates upon direction of the President under conditions of crises escalation. The purpose of the displacement is to insure that, in the event of general war, at least one Alternate NCA Group might survive to carry on the affairs of the nation. The JCS have suggested the following composition of the Alternate NCA Group, based on established lines of succession to the individual offices comprising the NCA:

[3 lists (5 lines of source text in each list) not declassified]

As you may recall, we studied the problem of DoD command and control support to the President in some depth in 1964,3 and, in doing so, we examined possible courses of action the President might take in respect to Alternate Decision Groups during intense crises or general war.

Although our study pointed out there might be some advantages to pre–designation and pre–location of Alternate Decision Groups that included legal successors to the Presidency, the nature of the problem would undoubtedly prevent such an arrangement. That is, many of those in the line of succession are the ones that the President will need most to assist him in coping with the situation. Further, those of the legal successors most suited to assume the Presidential role of the Commander–in–Chief are the very men the President will want most with him, and those of the legal successors most available for relocation are the men who would be least qualified to face the immediate responsibilities to which they succeeded.4

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Our study stated that “ … the major decisions relating to utilization of an Alternate Decision Group that does not include the President will be made by the President at the time of crisis. The decisions will name the leader of the group, determine its composition, and select a time or condition for relocation. These are problems that are particularly sensitive to the desires of a particular President, to the relationships he has established with his Cabinet and with other personal advisors, and to the estimate of the situation he develops at the time the groups might be employed.”

In our opinion this is a sound and realistic appraisal of the problem of pre–designation of Alternate Decision Groups that include Presidential successors, since the selection of an Alternate Decision Group is essentially a political matter resting solely with the President and based on conditions existing at the time. Accordingly, we recommend that you not approach the President on this matter.

We have prepared a memo for your signature (Tab “A”)5 that acknowledges the receipt of the JCS proposal, noting that due consideration will be given to their suggestions along with other emergency planning actions. This type of response will satisfy administratively the recommendations of the JCS.

Recommend you sign Tab “A.”

Solis Horwitz
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330 72 A 2468, 381 Cont of Govt Ops 1967. Secret.
  2. JCSM–812–66, Document 164.
  3. The conclusions of this study are printed as Document 86.
  4. In the margin next to this sentence, Vance wrote: “I agree.”
  5. The attached memorandum to the Chairman of the JCS, dated January 7, which Vance signed, acknowledged receipt of JCSM–812–66 and indicated that the suggestions would “be given due consideration along with other emergency planning actions.”