118. Notes Prepared by the President’s Deputy Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bator)1
DRAFT NOTES ON PRESENTATION TO PRESIDENT’S TASK FORCE ON GOVERNMENT ORGANIZATION2
Having rashly accepted this assignment—rashly in view of the experience and knowledge represented on this committee—I have tried to collect my thoughts around four sets of questions:
- Should we move back towards formal standing committees—along the lines of the pre-1961 structure—for managing the interdepartmental aspects of defining strategic choices, structuring the process of decision, and overseeing execution? And if not—my vote would be strongly against it—how can one improve the present less structured arrangements: the overlapping aggregations of ad hoc task forces, the informal networks of sub-cabinet and cabinet officers, and the occasional formal but limited standing committees? And what role is there for the one across-the-board committee of fixed membership at the under secretary level, the SIG?
- Second, what is the foreign policy role of the White House Staff?
- Third, what could be done to strengthen the State Department’s hands, to improve its performance both in its internal operations and in imposing foreign policy considerations on the other departments?
- Fourth, a perhaps less conventional question: how could one improve the foreign policy performance, and make more responsive to foreign policy considerations, the non-foreign affairs departments—[Page 265]Treasury, Commerce, Agriculture? Is there anything one can do to improve the foreign affairs sensitivity of these Departments—besides simply making the Department of State more effective?
The fourth question reveals, I am afraid, a second prejudice: I think it’s high time to give up the fiction that even in principle the Department can and should get exclusive control under the President of foreign policy formulation and management. It cannot—and it would be wrong if it did. I think the right strategy for the Department is to focus less on its jurisdictional prerogatives, and to try to be more energetic and skillful in engaging the right people in the other agencies at the sub-cabinet level in the foreign policy process, thereby imposing foreign policy considerations on the workings of the other departments.
- Before getting into the substance of these questions, I should say that I will take advantage of the knowledge and experience of this committee and not waste time in qualifying the applicability of the points that follow. It is clearly more useful to you if your witnesses freely allow themselves to be captives of their experience: in this instance European affairs and non-regional international economic matters (trade and commercial policy, international money, balance of payments)—with a special lookout for Presidential issues. A lot of what I should like to say is far less relevant to policy formulation and management vis-à-vis those parts of the underdeveloped world where we engage in long-term development with a lot of money. And perhaps my views are also overly colored by the peculiarly interdepartmental quality of foreign economic issues and the consequently intense White House role even in issues which are just barely Presidential.
- Further, my experience is largely restricted to a period during which President, Sec. State and Sec. Def. necessarily preoccupied with Vietnam. I will defer to McNamara and Bundy on applicability to handing any overriding issue of the day, where in effect the ruling ad hoc task group which manages the issue on a continuing basis consists of the President himself and his principal senior advisors in security affairs.
- Last, I worked only for one President, one with very firm views on
the general rules he wants enforced. The following two are
particularly worth keeping in mind:
- The President’s options must be kept open as long as possible. It is expected that other costs will be paid to this end, even sometimes substantial costs. And the President will wish frequently to protect or exercise his options personally by continuing tactical control, especially where bargaining or correspondence or contact is involved with other heads of government, or when issues raise a domestic-political question, especially with Congressional content; or when his checkbook is involved.
- Any important controversial recommendations for Presidential action should originate with a named individual whom the President feels he has calibrated by past experience. With the exception of recommendations which bear the certain mark of deep personal engagement by the Secretary of State or the Secretary of Defense, or at most two or three other people with whom the President is in continuing personal contact, it must be certified or commented upon by members of the White House Staff. (These may be very special rules. I suspect not and that, to a point, most Presidents will want them followed.)
II. Government by Task Groups
- I might now spend a few minutes on the first set of questions:
formal broad-purpose standing committee structures versus management
by more or less informal networks and ad hoc task groups.
- It is an overriding fact of life in foreign affairs—and a commonplace—that virtually no issue of any importance involves interests and responsibilities of only one agency. Especially true of Alliance politics. But also to lesser degree true even of Soviet relations, and obviously of foreign economic matters.
- To avoid total immobility, a great deal of decentralization is essential, with each department (and sometimes even offices and bureaus) carrying on in their areas of primary responsibility—sometimes directly with their overseas counterparts—informed by general conception of Presidential policy, but inevitably heavily influenced by priorities which are more narrowly the concern of that department or bureau.
- Until choices must be made between goals—or priorities established among them—or hard international bargaining engaged in across a front involving several of our objectives in order to test how much freight the situation will carry—this sort of decentralization is entirely legitimate and essential for effectiveness.
- Two crucial questions for organization emerge:
- What sort of mechanisms or procedures will have a high batting average for identifying and surfacing situations where such decentralization begins to cause serious trouble, or to lose out on major opportunities—where it becomes grossly ineffective to allow each department independently to keep operating its own set of buttons without central guidance? What are workable mechanisms for identification and early warning (before lower-level tactical decisions have seriously narrowed Presidential options)—identification of clusters of issues when centralized structuring of choices for Presidential decision and centralized strategic management become necessary or fruitful?
- The second question: once such identification is made of a particular cluster of issues, situations—what mechanisms and procedures [Page 267] are appropriate for managing the process whereby options are formulated, laid out, brought to high-level decision and, further, in an open options regime, subjected to appropriate and continuing strategic management?
The first question—early warning, identification, surfacing—is I believe the harder one. Right now, we have no formal interdepartmental machinery with that as its priority job (except with respect to certain very specialized areas and issues). The system has, nevertheless, worked out not too badly in Europe and on international economic matters—I have no basis for judgment elsewhere—because of the informal network of sub-cabinet officials who keep up a running conversation on the state of their business. [But haphazard. We were OK on this count vis-à-vis the UK in early ’65. Not so good—too late—on FRG ’66. Rather poor on NATO crisis (but not because of non-identification).]3
This identification job may be one place where SIG, supported by a strong executive director, could play an enormously useful role. (This is also an area, incidentally, where White House foreign affairs staff has and will have, I think, a continuing significant role.)
I would like to say rather more about the second question, which I think is perhaps easier to answer. Once it is clear at sub-cabinet levels that we have hit a situation where important choices are possible or necessary, what is the best management structure—especially under “open options” ground rules?
1. I would argue that no single across-the-board committee of senior officials should be counted on to manage or supervise all these situations. Further, I think there are very few cases where a fixed formal standing committee of limited purposes is the right way to work:
- —By definition the situation is one which requires the sustained and close attention of high-level sub-cabinet people;
- —Such a group must be sufficiently acknowledged as authoritative to command the bureaucracy and to minimize the temptation to end-run;
- —What is needed is the smallest number of people who are (a) senior enough to marshall the resources of their agencies; (b) not so senior as to make it impossible for them to keep up with detail, or spend the time needed for comprehensive and substantial exploration of each other’s minds; and (c) close enough to their Secretaries to serve as double-edged negotiators (operating for the Secretary in Task Group jockeying, and in turn representing the group’s recommendations to the Secretary).
- In my judgment these criteria do not lead to an elaborate superstructure of standing committees through which decisions filter [Page 268] upward. Rather they suggest a need for mechanisms which assure timely formation of ad hoc groups charged with management and forward planning on specific issues or clusters of issues. I don’t wish to overstate the distinction. Choice never clear-cut or exhaustive. And I am not addressing here a question of external usefulness of high-level committees, e.g., textiles, balance of payments, on problems of special public and Congressional concern. Often not easy from table of government organization to discern which way choice has been made. Almost reduces to matter of style, but stylistic difference which has great impact on substance.
Some nostalgic feeling in town the other way—we should move back towards the arrangement of the 50’s.
This feeling, I think, inevitable consequence of combining ad hoc style with “keeping options open” ground rule.
- Formation of ad hoc groups always resembles accident, guaranteed to make bureaucracy nervous. (In fact there is element of accident in assuring strategic consideration at the right time. But that will not be eliminated by fixed superstructure.)
- Ad hoc task groups often appear consumed in tactical and operational aspects of crisis, unconcerned with longer-term implications.
- “Open options” involve no “established policy,” no general guidance,” no written 1-year, 2-year, 5-year strategy which can give a sense of assurance, continuity and guidance to bureaucracy; it severely limits the number of people who know the plans, goals, and strategies in heads of the President and the Secretaries; it creates a sizable crowd close enough to problems to see them disappear into the black box, but not privy to subsequent handling and susceptible to presumption that no smoke means no fire.
- These are real costs, and not merely because of anxiety on the
edges. But the alternative costs of the fixed membership
superstructure are, in my judgment, far greater, even apart from the
open option ground rules:
- Serious work just doesn’t happen in a crowd. Blue chips are not played if marginal people present, records kept, etc. Also they do not get played for subordinates representing their superiors. You are all familiar with what happens to quality of discussion when participants wrapped in their institutional roles and surrounded by a constituency of committed and watchful retainers.
- Fixed committees have fixed tendency to expand, and no capacity for shrinkage. Rule of relevance very difficult to enforce. Further, they are very hard to kill off. They have to be superseded and that’s always painful, especially if they are superseded by another formal [Page 269] committee. I am sure all of you have played Brutus to moribund committees—doing it the way we did it with LRIPC….
- Fixed committees tend to breed special staffs divorced from ongoing operations. People with time enough to keep up with involved intramural politics of large fixed committees almost disqualified for serious business by definition. (Examples: NAC for International Financial and Monetary Problems.)
- Fixed committees make problem of reasonable press security impossible.
- The result of all above is that when fixed committees exist—except when limited functional role as board of directors is absolutely clear, and numbers kept rigidly limited—bargaining takes place outside committee framework.
- Problem of structuring fixed committees presents Hobson’s choice between groups with general foreign affairs mandate and large membership to match, and groups with specialized charters which usually turn out to be too narrow for most major issues. (Examples: Balance of Payments Committee, European IRG.)
- “Open options” make the case against fixed committees even more
- Multiplies the importance of selective and flexible club membership. Demands that at least some members of Task Groups on important Presidential issues be personally known to President and feel themselves under Presidential discipline.
- Rules out extended agendas, widely circulated written arguments, and other paraphernalia.
- Requires constant contact and collegial action that makes limited and highly knowledgeable membership an administrative necessity. Unwieldiness not just complicating, but intolerable. One can make 5 calls a day to only a very small number of people.
- Requires—and I think this is an absolutely key point—unusually frank and open discussion of long-term context and background of immediate policy choice. This is by far the best—and virtually the only relevant—form of forward planning. Essence of “open options” rule is that this thinking can rarely be written down. Thus, enormous premium on discussion. Simply cannot risk inhibiting forum.
- To do its work properly, task groups must be privy to most subterranean kinds of problems and constraints, and unthinkable intentions. Must be capable of political as well as policy bargaining. Such bargaining never appears in minutes of fixed committee, and never will.
- Presidents who are sensitive to their flexibility—which I think includes most Presidents—simply will not entrust management of delicate [Page 270] issues to something that looks like a machine. It is in their nature to regard visible fixed committees as repositories for problems on which the President has decided to give up some of his flexibility in return for the substantive quality of advice expected and/or the benefits of spreading responsibility. Presidents just will not trust fixed groups to manage the playing of their own hands, or to handle really delicate issues. (Examples: Post-Kennedy Round Planning; P.L. 480.)
- How, then, to proceed in thinking about structure? Is it feasible to devise a system which gives reasonable assurance that right clubs will be formed around right issues at right time with right connections above and below? Confess to bias that determining factor will not be so much the “system” as particular people making effective use of personal and bureaucratic ruts worn by past experience.
- Yet, some structural steps can help:
- SIG could be charged with ferreting out issues requiring task force treatment before tactical moves close options. To serve effectively for this purpose, I would think it would be useful to make its membership more flexible and more subject to the problem at hand. SIG might be charged with identification of issues, and help in establishment of appropriate task groups.
- Implicit premise here is quite deliberate: SIG itself will not in my judgment, prove proper club for most issues—its membership is too senior in some cases, and in any case too broad and too fixed and too visible. Further, it is important that SIG not layer task groups on important issues. For instance, the Trilateral Task Group simply could not have functioned if it conceived of its task as reporting to any broad, fixed committee other than the committee of the three Secretaries.4
- Central to improving the work of the government is that
heads of departments and their senior people should give up
the notion that any single agency can or should be
exclusively responsible for strategic choices and strategic
management (as against tactical management) of the important
broad-cutting foreign affairs issues. This does not run
counter to the leadership role of the Secretary of State or
his Department. In my judgment, it suggests a strategy to
make that leadership more effective.
- —But State cannot alone manage the NATO crisis, or the NPT.
- —Treasury cannot and should not alone manage policy on money, balance of payments and multilateral aid.
- —Even together, Defense and Treasury cannot manage such things as the German offset.
- —Agriculture—food aid.
- Task group formation should be the expected and sought after method of handling such issues.5 For State, the tactical bureaucratic rule should be: you can’t beat them by trying to isolate them. The way to beat them is to get them to join you.
III. Role of the White House Staff
- Might make a few points on function of White House staff beyond obvious duty to serve President’s immediate and self-generated needs.
- My observations not directly relevant, I suspect, to one or two issues on which President and senior Secretaries are their own desk officers.
- White House staff role on first-level issues—which require heavy
but intermittent Presidential involvement—has been organization,
active membership in, and, sometimes informal, sometimes formal
(e.g., Kennedy Round Control
Group) management of ad hoc task groups. Have already suggested that
setting up of appropriate groups may in future be proper role for
SIG, but no substitute, in my
opinion, for active White House membership:
- Someone on President’s staff who does his job, can bring feel for knowledge, instincts, priorities, style and preferences of President which are very hard for any Assistant Secretary and most Undersecretaries to acquire and maintain. (Brief description of life of Assistant Secretary, emphasizing value to White House man of simply living with President—osmotic transfer, etc.)
- President faces similar problem with most Assistant Secretaries—can’t know and calibrate them all, or most of them. Cannot imagine any President enduring situation in which there is no one on his personal staff current on important issues, versed on positions of his senior advisers, and prepared to give him full rundown on subject at moment’s notice.
- White House man’s beat usually much broader than Assistant Secretary’s. If any good, likely to be more sensitive to full range of constraints on President, and to try to think of whole spectrum of U.S. interests in problem area—including U.S. domestic politics. This right and proper.
- White House staff role in part to provide insurance for all parties which holds ad hoc task group together. Useful to everybody to have someone with strong professional interest in meticulously fair solicitation and presentation of all relevant views. This does not imply neutrality on substance—White House man may have strong views. But if he is any good, recognizes main job is to shepherd process whereby President is given full map of real choices.
- White House staff officer useful and, if he is any good, dependable link with respect to atmosphere and detail between Presidential/Cabinet decision councils and senior sub-Cabinet people who must execute, but are rarely present when decisions are made. (This calls for delicacy and tact—must not cut into chain of command. But this perfectly manageable.)
- White House man consultant on vital matter of form of communication with President. Much of task group’s effectiveness depends on ability to convey findings and recommendations in concise, rigorous, complete, and reasonably readable form. Also, often valuable to group to have available neutral drafter to whom all members willing to entrust group presentation—or a systematic, independent neutral presentation.
- White House man can also play useful stimulant and “scapegoat” role. Important gain of Kennedy/Johnson years has been explosion of mystiques surrounding military, business community in budget balancing, etc. In Defense, Secretary, backed by two Presidents has overpowered vested interests with sheer personal force. In other areas—e.g., Secretary of Treasury vs. international banking community—necessary for Secretary to keep foot in charmed circle while nudging community in constructive direction. Combination requires that some such nudging appears to happen over Secretary’s objection. Thus, need for radical devil to whom sin can be attributed. Careful White House staff man can play this role without embarrassing President or subverting Secretary.
- Particularly when concentration of three principals focused on single great issue of war and peace which exhausts many hours of each day, immense pressures develop in senior levels of both key Departments to avoid head-to-head collisions. Sometimes, in my judgment, this cannot but tend to obscure arguments of which the President really must be aware when making a decision. White House staff officer with tact and discretion can fill this need.
- On lesser issues, where President required only to make discrete, one-shot decision—and when Secretary cannot be fully and personally involved—White House staff’s main job is to be sure he gets rounded view representing full canvass of relevant people, and that execution takes place according to letter and spirit of President’s wishes-which may change when outside pressures—such as domestic politics, to which system is not sensitive—are generated as a reaction to a decision.
- Much of secondary-level job is constant refereeing of technical debate between agencies which President couldn’t and shouldn’t do himself, but which cannot effectively be done from anywhere but White House. Part of judgment of White House man’s effectiveness in this area is infrequency with which he must bother President.
- On low-level issues which never rise above Assistant Secretary level, White House staff role is to help keep informal networks going and open, gently—or, when President’s wishes clear and it is necessary, un-gently—steering substance in direction consistent with President’s desires, and keeping vigil for President to see that he gets shot at decisions which merit his attention. (Again, this is relevant to issues on which Secretaries can’t spend serious time.)
IV. Notes on the State Department
Some random propositions:
- True interest of Assistant Secretary of State is not served by games of bureaucratic chicken with his counterparts in other Departments. He cannot win often, and Government often suffers later if he does. Rather than grasping issues to his bosom and seeking to keep his colleagues out, he would do much better to try to establish dependable lines with good people in other outfits and operate as a primus inter pares. (He has information and other advantages to sustain leadership on most programs if he makes effort.)
- Other main point penetrates to mode of thought which pervades State. For long-standing, structural reasons, Department has overwhelming tendency toward pre-cooked solutions rather than spelling out of choices, arguments, and recommendations. Notion of rigorous analysis just now sinking in to most superficial level of Department routine when serving Assistant Secretary or sometimes Secretary. In three years, have rarely seen a Department product for President which is really first class example of analytic mode.
- Preference for description and moralism is partially result of entrenched tradition which rewards flight from responsibility and renders most of Department substructure irrelevant to major issues. Risks of advocacy much greater than benefits. Ordinary desk officer (a) probably not inclined to serious analytical staff work on issues, (b) aware [Page 274] that there is only minor chance his work will rise more than two floors even if he does spectacular job, (c) given very little guidance as to what constitutes good analysis, and (d) is privy to only slightly more information on topside thinking than a careful newspaper reader.
- There are no quick answers. Believe most necessary reforms have been identified by Herter and other exercises. PPBS useful in rationalizing resource allocation and should have fallout which will help on this front. Schelling group should also help, in part by making clear what is expected and appreciated by Seventh Floor.
- Source: Papers in Francis Bator’s personal possession. Sensitive.↩
- The President’s Task Force on Government Organization, chaired by Ben W. Heineman, was organized in October 1966 and worked from November 1966 until October 1967, producing several reports. It devoted most of its time to reviewing domestic agencies, but during spring 1967 a subgroup, chaired by Heineman, focused on foreign affairs. McNamara, a Task Force member, had strongly recommended from the outset that the group look into the foreign policy formulation process. (Memoranda from Califano to the President, September 30 and October 10, 1966, February 3 and 25, October 11, 1967; Johnson Library, White House Central Files, Subject Files, Ex FG 749) The subgroup’s final report, forwarded to the President in October, is Document 127. Bator’s presentation provided the basis for his more extensive testimony on managing foreign economic policy on July 25, 1972, before the Subcommittee on Foreign Economic Policy, House Committee on Foreign Affairs. For text, see the Committee Print, U.S. Foreign Economic Policy: Implications for the Organization of the Executive Branch (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1972), pp. 107–121, 129–137.↩
- Brackets in the source text.↩
- The Trilateral history is most instructive on this score. No time here to go into detail-in any case very delicate. Suffice it to assert that apparent “disorder” reflected the “state of play” among the principals, served the President’s purposes, was creative in its results. [Footnote in the source text.]↩
- For case studies of two special groups created in 1965 to deal with foreign economic policy (the Deming Group, and Special Committee on U.S. Trade with East European Countries and the Soviet Union), see Commission on the Organization of the Government for the Conduct of Foreign Policy, June, 1975: Appendices (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1975), vol. 3, pp. 72–85, 127–132. For text of President Johnson’s memorandum to Secretary of the Treasury Fowler mandating establishment of the Deming Group, June 16, 1965, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. VIII, Document 64.↩