19. Memorandum From the Deputy Under Secretary of State for Administration (Crockett) to the President’s Special Assistant (Busby)1

This is in response to your request2 for background on the role of the Ambassador in general and President Kennedy’s letter of May 29, 1961, to all Chiefs of Mission in particular.3

Presidential concern over the role of the Ambassador as a Chief of Mission began at least as early as the latter days of the Roosevelt Administration and has continued through each succeeding administration. The basis for this concern has been the President’s need for direction and coordination of the variety of overseas programs and activities that emerged during the post-war years both as necessary ingredients of twentieth century diplomacy and also as logical and legitimate extensions of missions that prior to the war could and were for the most part carried out by domestic agencies without the need of permanently assigning personnel abroad.

The body of doctrine resulting from Presidential concern with the role of the Ambassador in this regard is voluminous and has sometimes been contradictory and frequently ambiguous.

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One central trend, increasingly apparent in the last few years, is the need for strong executives with clear authority to oversee U.S. establishments abroad. This management need to assure effective and efficient conduct of all U.S. activities abroad is sometimes confused with the traditional diplomatic concept of the Ambassador as the personal representative of the President. This concept has diminished in practical significance in various parts of the world. In contrast, the Ambassador as a strong executive, with backing from Washington, has grown in importance.

The letter issued by President Kennedy is the latest and probably clearest and strongest affirmation of this doctrine of Ambassadorial executive authority. Its effect was to elevate the Ambassador from chairman of the “Country Team” (a term never adequately defined and of dubious managerial usefulness) to the man in charge of enunciating the following precepts:

As a matter of personal authority and responsibility, with full support of the President when needed, the Ambassador as personal representative of the President is in charge of the entire U.S. diplomatic mission and is expected to supervise all its activities.
Agencies outside the State Department have the right to communicate directly with and appeal to their Washington offices but have the obligation to keep the Ambassador fully informed of their activities and to abide by his decisions until both he and they are advised to the contrary.
The Ambassador has virtually total disciplinary authority over individuals in the diplomatic mission, including the right to order the departure of any member.
The Ambassador’s channel of communication to the President is through the Department of State (a fact which, by interpretation, gives the Department the responsibility of backing the exercise of the Ambassador’s authority over representatives of other agencies and of acting for the President when he so wishes).

Underpinning these precepts of Ambassadorial authority is the definition of the diplomatic mission to include all official U.S. personnel within the host country except for military forces under the command of a U.S. area military commander. Even in this case, the letter directs the Ambassador to assure exchange of information and, when necessary, to request a decision by higher authority when he believes military activities have an adverse effect on our foreign relations.

The Kennedy letter, by implication, placed a special responsibility in the Department of State, for the authority of the Ambassador will have limited effect in its practical exercise unless it is generally understood by all concerned that when issues arise which require resolution in Washington, the Ambassador can look to a source of backing and support. Except on those issues on which the President chooses to act, [Page 43] that source is logically the Secretary and the Department of State, provided that the President wishes the Department to carry out this particular role.

In addition to this responsibility, related foreign affairs planning and coordinating functions were also assigned to the Department when the National Security Council Planning Board and the Operations Coordinating Board were abolished at about the time the Kennedy letter was issued.

The Department of State was not equipped to assume these tasks readily. However, we have developed techniques and procedures through which the Secretary, the Regional Assistant Secretaries, and the Ambassadors can, in fact, control the overseas programs and activities of the various agencies. I do not mean to imply by the use of the word “control” the usurpation of agency head authority or meddling in day-to-day business, but rather critical managerial influence over program and personnel levels and evaluation of performance and accomplishments—in short, effectiveness, efficiency, and economy.

Two enterprises—the policy planning process that produces comprehensive and detailed strategies for the U.S. effort in selected countries (as well as other policy documents) and an information system designed to produce meaningful data on all U.S. operations (policy-directed and otherwise)—have been under development for the past two years. The capability for controlling U.S. overseas activities which these two enterprises can provide is based on concepts and techniques similar to those Secretary McNamara has used in asserting his authority over the disparate planning, programming, and budgetary systems of the three military service departments. The Defense Department programming system went through a ten-year developmental period, starting in the Rand Corporation, before its installation by Secretary McNamara.

The results of recent assessments of the policy planning process and the information system and their potential usefulness for the control of foreign operations are being communicated to the Secretary this week as a basis for discussion upon his return to Washington.

I mention all this (1) to demonstrate that, despite what you may read in the papers, the Department has been attempting to carry out its responsibilities in this area, and (2) to underscore the importance of the doctrine on the role of the Ambassador as a strong executive as an underpinning for the entire effort.

I am confident that the President will wish to associate himself with this doctrine and perhaps expand and clarify it, especially with regard to the role of the Department as the logical backstop in the Washington community.

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One final note. The role of the Ambassador as the chief executive of the U.S. Diplomatic Mission has become reasonably well established and is, by and large, accepted by all of the Federal agencies operating overseas. We still have problems, of course, with getting individual Ambassadors to exercise the full scope of their authorities and responsibilities. In addition, we lack the same kind of clear delineation and enunciations of the role the President desires the Department to play in carrying out the executive function in Washington. There is a very real possibility that the progress made to date can be eroded and dissipated if in his proclamation the President does not make it absolutely clear that he has examined and agrees with the existing doctrine. You may be sure that agency personnel will compare his statement with those of his predecessors and will interpret any apparent omissions as retraction and retreat. This, in my judgment, should be the minimum standard for judging the new letter. Should the President decide that his interests would be served (and in my judgment they would) by expanding the concept with regard to the role of the Department of State, and making more specific the means by which the President wants the Ambassadors to exercise their authority, so much the better.

There is attached for such use as you may wish to make of them, several paragraphs embodying the sense of this memorandum.4

William J. Crockett 5

P.S. Also attached is a draft which embodies most of the principles I think the letter should contain.6 I would like your candid impressions.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, Crockett Papers, MS 75–45, WH Memos. No classification marking. Drafted in O/MP on January 24.
  2. Not further identified.
  3. For text, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1961, pp. 1345–1347.
  4. Attached but not printed.
  5. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.
  6. Not printed. In a January 25 memorandum to Rostow, Hughes, and the executive directors of the geographic bureaus, Crockett requested suggestions for revisions of the Kennedy letter. As of February 5 only one bureau had replied and that to the effect that no change was in order. Hughes responded to Crockett in a February 8 memorandum that he believed the letter “should stand, be reaffirmed, or reissued as nearly as possible as it is,” a position that reflected a memorandum to him of February 5 from his Deputy Director for Coordination, Murat Williams, who contended that the letter’s authority was “stronger if it stands as a continuing charter, rather than something to be rewritten with each Administration.” (Department of State, INR/IL Historical Files, PFIAB Materials, 1963–1965) In a memorandum to Busby, July 15, 1965, Crockett again discussed “what might and might not be said in a presidential letter to our Ambassadors.” (Kennedy Library, Crockett Papers, MS 74–28, WJC Book) However, such a letter was never sent by President Johnson; see Document 130.