59. Notes of a Meeting1

Notes on Secretary’s and Under Secretary’s Remarks at Meeting with Assistant Secretaries concerning NSAM 341 and Implementing Actions

The Secretary advised the group of the President’s action in assigning to him and to the Department of State additional responsibility for [Page 133] the overall direction, coordination and supervision of interdepartmental activities of the USG overseas. The President’s action made explicit what had been implicit to date and made more clear the responsibilities of the Department.

The Secretary noted that the actions to implement this directive were principally (1) formation of the senior interdepartmental group, chaired by the Under Secretary which would become the principal policy supervision group. It would be responsible to call in other agencies seriously affected or needed to carry out the subject under discussion; (2) the interdepartmental regional groups chaired by the Assistant Secretaries; and (3) the institution of “Country Directors” be a focal point for interdepartmental leadership at the intrabureau level.

The Secretary said he had three principal comments he would like to make:

The machinery created by NSAM 341 does not affect existing statutory responsibilities, e.g., the responsibilities accorded to the Secretary of Agriculture in PL–480; to the Secretary of the Treasury for balance of payment problems and the Secretary of Commerce under the Export Control Act.
The Secretary urged the regional Assistant Secretaries to approach their tasks with a spirit of genuine leadership which fell well within the two extremes of simply following majority dictates and not becoming a martinet. The job would require a serious effort at persuasion if possible but precipitation of decisions if need be. The success of the entire venture would depend on the calibre of leadership.
The Assistant Secretary and Country Directors should do their best to comprehend the full range of the President’s concerns and the entire USG involvements. The Department should accept as part of its responsibility making missions of other agencies such as NASA and Commerce successful. In the larger sense the mission of all USG agencies overseas have now become part of the mission of the Department of State. Each Executive Chairman and Country Director would have a duty to take into account the views of other agencies where they had a proper concern. Taking into account the entire USG interest is far more than simply promoting cordial, serene and peaceful relationships. The statutory responsibilities of other agencies would have to be taken into account and national interests pressed at the expense of good relations on many occasions.

The Secretary stressed that the success of the system will depend heavily on the non-geographic bureaus for ideas and support for carrying out the larger and more complex mission of the Department.

The Secretary stressed hope that the SIG, IRG’s and CD’s would do their best to anticipate crises better than we had been able to do in the [Page 134] past and would call on the Policy Planning Council for assistance as appropriate. He noted the importance of the planning function.

In the Secretary’s view the conduct of foreign relations in the world would continue to accelerate and our success in the affairs of the Department in our ability to anticipate crises and our ability to act expeditiously in making decisions would be tested to the utmost. We should “clear the desks for action”.

The Secretary said these moves would not affect his relations with the Assistant Secretaries.

He hoped that the Assistant Secretaries would try to stabilize opinion in their bureaus about the changes involved in setting up the Country Director concept in order to allay concern. No one would be out of a job next Monday.

In concluding his initial remarks the Secretary said that he did not want them to be interpreted as “watering down” the NSAM; rather they were intended to illuminate the leadership he hoped the Department would bring to its broader tasks, i.e., avoiding leadership by fiat or letting others run with the ball.

The Under Secretary said he hoped that the changes made would result in a better cross fertilization of ideas rather than a stifling of dissent. For the Department this was an opportunity to “put up or shut up”. The machinery contemplated can be one of great potential usefulness and he approached the task of Chairmanship of the SIG with the sense of challenge uppermost.2

The Secretary stated that he would expect a higher standard of performance of the completed work to be done henceforth. Under Mr. Bundy’s able tutelage the White House staff had given us a comfortable feeling that they might pick up our errors and now we must catch them ourselves, especially when drafting for the President we must make sure that our writing is better and improving our coordination with the other agencies and departments of the Government. Those interests must be taken into account.

The Secretary had found that where the State Department is prepared to take over the assumed leadership there is considerable inclination on the part of other departments and agencies to accept it, but we must earn that acceptance over and over.

The Secretary said he wanted the Assistant Secretaries to be aware of two commitments he had given to his Cabinet and other agency colleagues: [Page 135]

That the Department would welcome their initiatives in tendering to us new ideas and giving them serious consideration; and
—to the President: we would not let the new machinery conceal issues or important divergent views. We do not make our production that of the lowest common denominator but would clearly identify important alternatives.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, S/S-SIG Files: Lot 70 D 263, SIG/Administrative. No classification marking. Drafted by Read. An attendance list is ibid., Instructions and Authority for SIG Documents. In addition to the Assistant Secretaries, attendees included Mann, U. Alexis Johnson, Crockett, Harriman, Hughes, Rostow, and several other State Department officials. The time of the meeting is from Rusk’s Appointment Book. (Johnson Library) The meeting was held in the Secretary’s conference room.
  2. Ball met with Lincoln Gordon on March 8 and with the four other regional Assistant Secretaries on March 9 to discuss SIG-IRG operations. Schwartz prepared briefing material, including major bureau suggestions for problems to be handled in SIG and IRG, and guidelines for Assistant Secretaries entitled “Dos and Donts.” (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, S/S-Ball Files: Lot 74 D 272, SIG Miscellaneous)