151. Memorandum for the Record1
As I see it, the NSC staff officer’s function is to attempt to identify as early as possible those national security problems (within his area of responsibility) which require presidential attention, decision or action. As a corollary to this—and here there are hard and fast limits—he should try to convey to the appropriate sections of State and Defense (ISA), and sometimes AID, presidential thinking on issues with which they are concerned.
The staff officer has no independent authority. Operating under guidelines set by the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Mr. Bundy), he must insure that identifiable problems get to the President on time, that the issues are defined and the alternative courses of action posed in a way that facilitate presidential action. He must also try—and this, too, is under Mr. Bundy’s direction—to insure that presidential wishes and decisions are carried out efficiently, expeditiously, and in the way the President intends.
The staff officer must be more than a paper shuffler and a transmitter of messages. He must have creative ideas of his own, injecting suggestions (with approval of Mr. Bundy) into the bureaucratic mainstream to stimulate ideas, thought, and projects of interest and import to the presidency.
By definition the staff officer must be a team player. This does not stifle initiative or opportunity for independent and creative thought. Indeed, because of the simple structure of the NSC and direct access to the Special Assistant this is encouraged. However, the staff officer must never forget where the responsibility for making policy resides and confuse his own views and prejudices with governmental policy.
Despite the relatively easy access to the President’s Special Assistant, the staff officer must maintain a sense of proportion in dealing with the front office—staying in touch with it but not burdening it; keeping Mr. Bundy fully informed of all developments without taking up a disproportionate amount of his time or demanding unnecessary attention. Whether questions are handled by memoranda, telephone or personal discussion are matters of judgment, depending upon the urgency and complexity of the problem. The principal point is that if the staff officer is to be of any use to Mr. Bundy, he must help and not bother him.
It is incumbent upon the staff not to duplicate or poach on the bureaucracy, but to insure that the enormous resources of the bureaucracy are at [Page 355] the disposal of the White House. In this process it is important to avoid an easy pitfall in the bureaucratic game of playing on the physical and even intellectual gaps between the White House and the Executive Departments. That is a useless and counterproductive enterprise. The basic assumption must always be that all parts of the government are deeply interested in giving maximum help to the President, and that all the parts of the Executive Branch must be fully synchronized to accomplish this. People working close to the White House—this includes the NSC staff—have a special responsibility of focussing on problems in presidential terms. But this should not make for conflict with other parts of the bureaucracy, so long as the members of the governmental team understand their respective roles and recognize their complementary nature.
To be of maximum use to Mr. Bundy, it is important to have continuing and effective contacts with the operating officials in the Executive Departments concerned with our relations with Europe—in the Secretariat, the Politico-Military Affairs office, the Planning Staff, the European Bureau and the Intelligence and Research Section in State; OSD and ISA in Defense; Ray Cline’s office in CIA; the Foreign Affairs side of the Bureau of the Budget; and the Public Affairs sides of State and Defense.
These people are knowledgeable and can be helpful. Indeed, only with their fullest support can the staff officer hope to remain on top of his situation, and keep Mr. Bundy abreast of foreign developments on a continuing basis. The fact of the matter is that the presidency must be fully informed at all times, and this requires the close and coordinated support of many people.
The importance of close working relations with the bureaucracy cannot be overstressed. But for this relationship to work, the staff officer must in turn be available to these people and, within the limits of propriety and discretion, be as helpful as possible to them.
This brings up an obvious but most important point which is that the NSC staff officer must not only have great integrity; he must also be absolutely discreet in his relations with other government officers and people outside the government. It is not sufficient to deal effectively with the substantive phases of one’s work. It is equally important to protect and preserve the role and image of the presidency. There is no more sensitive area in government than that around the White House. And those privileged to work in its environs bear the greatest personal and professional responsibilities.
On all national security matters requiring presidential attention, the President must be aware of the issues under debate, the points of agreement and disagreement, the options open to him. The problems must be posed in their starkest reality, for only in this way can hard and necessary decisions be taken. This in turn requires that the President have the prob lems [Page 356] presented to him in the clearest and precisest form, with appreciation of the full range of views, as well as the rationale for them.
Staff work takes on many forms. It runs the gamut of routine presidential messages and papers to substantive state pronouncements of the greatest import. It requires preparation of staff studies and recommendations; directives to various parts of the government; presidential public and private statements. It calls for the organization of interdepartmental meetings to discuss problems of presidential interest and follow through actions. It entails setting up arrangements for meetings and discussions between the President and other heads of government and leading foreign and American dignitaries. There are also the very routine operations—which in practical terms mean relieving Mr. Bundy, and in turn the President, of trivia, but insuring that however trivial a problem may be, if there are Presidential interests, these will be fully protected.
But whatever the problem, whatever its importance, each must in some way come under the guiding hand of Mr. Bundy to insure synchronization and coordination with other presidential activities.
The area of endeavor is wide. The opportunity for initiative and creative enterprise is great. The satisfaction in contributing to the most important enterprise in government is enormous.
- Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Name File, Klein Memos. Secret. Prepared by David Klein.↩