12. Letter From Everett Bellows and Edward L. Sherman to Secretary of State Rusk 1
Dear Mr. Secretary:
You have stated that in your judgment the organization of the Department involved excessive “layering,” that the position of the Office Director seemed to be unnecessary, that the position of desk officer was too low in status and rank, and therefore probably in competence; and that as the corollary of all this—if not indeed the result—reaction time in the Department is too slow and problems are not adequately anticipated and dealt with.[Page 19]
We have talked out these matters with your regional assistant secretaries. Whatever the intrinsic merits of these organizational suggestions may be, they did not, on the whole, evoke an affirmative response. Before our first interview with you2 we had begun to suspect that the real nature of the problem was not organizational in character and that the problem would not be solved by structural adjustments alone. After our interview with you it became quite clear to us that the premises upon which your regional assistant secretaries were operating were in some important respects different from your own.
To begin with the regional assistant secretaries have assumed that they do their job best when they bother you least. Stated thus simply it would seem to be a proper assumption, but it has meant that communication between yourself and your regional assistant secretaries has been relatively poor—in both directions. Without assessing how much ferment there may be in the Department, it is nonetheless clear why much of it does not reach you and why you should be able to say that you have “no feel for the unfinished business of the Department.” Other administrative arrangements may be contributing to this relative isolation, including particularly the fact that the executive secretariat is operating on inherited instructions which we suspect serve to protect you more than to inform you.
Second, the regional assistant secretaries appear to have differing views—and largely different from your own—as to the nature and extent of their authority in the totality of foreign affairs. The extent to which they are responsible for the execution of policy as well as its formulation is unclear to them and especially so when the resources or staff of other agencies are material to the action.
One of the most significant by-products of this ambiguity is a tendency of subordinate staff to negotiate rather than to accept responsibility for decision and action. We are not, of course, suggesting precipitate action and no consultation; but it is axiomatic that negotiation to the lowest common denominator and the current practice of consensus through excessive clearances will erode the quality and timeliness of action. We believe that this supports your judgment that the Department works on the wrong things, broods too little, is unimaginative and slow in its responses.
We believe ways can be found to improve communication between you and your regional assistant secretaries that would strengthen their relationship to you and improve their position as the line officers of the Department. In addition, if the delegation of responsibility from you to the regional assistant secretaries can be made explicit, it will help to [Page 20]establish their action responsibility and primacy in foreign affairs within the Department and by so doing in relation to other governmental agencies around the town. Finally we believe the value and relevance of those changes in the organization which you suggested in your testimony before the Jackson Sub-Committee3 will then become apparent and that, as a result, the Department will evolve towards a simpler structure and will operate more effectively.
To these ends, we respectfully offer these recommendations:
I. Relationship and Communication
We believe you should consider meeting regularly and individually with each of the five regional assistant secretaries.
These sessions should provide an informal but intensive review of activities, emergent problems and probable courses of action of concern to you and to that Assistant Secretary. Consequently these sessions should be long enough and often enough to provide a timely and common understanding and a sharing of points of view.
We believe it would be fruitful if you would direct that a re-examination be undertaken of all executive staff meetings to establish their purpose, agenda, frequency and necessary attendance.
It has been suggested to us that the formal executive meetings are of unequal value and the purposes to be served are unclear.
We recommend that you direct that a reappraisal be undertaken of the role and procedures of the Executive Secretariat.
It appears to us that the Executive Secretariat is operating on inherited procedures which do not reflect your needs and which may not be expediting the work of the Department.
We believe also that you will not get the optimum service and value from the Executive Secretariat unless the Executive Secretary is in a confidential relationship to you.
II. The Role of the Regional Assistant Secretaries
- The regional assistant secretaries need to be told explicitly that you expect them to take the initiative in carrying out the responsibility that the [Page 21]President has placed upon you and the Department for “the framing and execution of the foreign policy of this country;” that you are looking to each of them to act on this premise and that you will support them when they do so.
To make clear that the regional assistant secretaries are the line officers of the Government for foreign affairs, we believe you should clearly establish their role as the line officers of the Department.
Once your position on this matter is established with clarity and emphasis, steps could be taken to realign the specific functional authorities and organizational units of the Department so as to promote this concept and we recommend that studies to this end be undertaken at your direction.
It would be most helpful if you could direct that a study be made of alternative ways of stabilizing the assignment of authority of those senior officers between you and your regional assistant secretaries so that corrective actions could be taken when the proper opportunities arise.
At the present time the delegation of responsibility from you to the regional assistant secretaries is impaired by the changing and informal assignments of authority to senior officers on the Seventh Floor.
III. The Secretary’s View of Management Within the Department
If steps are taken to improve communication and the personal exchange of ideas between yourself and your principal subordinates, and if the line responsibility of the Regional Bureaus is firmly established, the specific views which you hold with regard to the way the Department should manage its affairs will be more widely understood and followed. To achieve this you should at the proper time make clear that:
- You will accept an answer of “I don’t know” occasionally if it is then followed by responsive action.
- Clearances should be restricted and that you expect the action officer to proceed after a reasonable effort to obtain the proper clearances.
- Knowledgeable and concerned officers should be present at top-level meetings irrespective of their rank or position in the hierarchy.
- Everett H. Bellows
- Edward L. Sherman
- Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, S/S-Ball Files: Lot 74 D 272, Administrative. No classification marking. Bellows was Vice President of Olin Mathieson Corporation and a part-time consultant to the Department of State. Sherman was a member of the White House staff during 1964, first as Executive Assistant to Ralph Dungan and then as Assistant to John W. Macy. In an April 23 memorandum to Rusk, Crockett stated that his office had undertaken a study, under Bellows’ direction, of the role and level of regional bureau desk officers. (Kennedy Library, Crockett Papers, MS 74–28, Box 32, Secretary-1964-Mr. Crockett’s Book Copies) In a March 9 memorandum to Crockett, Management Planning Staff Chief Richard Barrett reported that he had discussed Olin Mathieson’s “Management by Objectives Philosophy” with Bellows and that he was convinced it would work in the Department. (Ibid., MS 74–45, Name File 1965 ’B,’ BA to BK #2)↩
- Rusk met in his office with Bellows and Sherman at 3:05 p.m. on June 17, 1964. (Johnson Library, Rusk Appointment Book)↩
- Rusk testified before Senator Henry Jackson’s Subcommittee on National Security Staffing and Operations, Committee on Government Operations, on December 11, 1963. An abridged version of his testimony was published in Senator Henry Jackson, ed., The Secretary of State and the Ambassador: Jackson Subcommittee Papers on the Conduct of American Foreign Policy (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1964), pages 110–129. The full version appeared in Administration of National Security: Staff Reports and Hearings Submitted to the Committee on Government Operations by Its Subcommittee on National Security Staffing and Operations, Eighty-Eighth Congress, United States Senate (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1965), pp. 386–412.↩