103. Memorandum From Richard T. Kennedy of the National Security Council Staff and William Watts, Staff Secretary, National Security Council to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • The NSC System

You asked for recommendations on how the system can be strengthened and made to work more effectively. The following recommendations, none of which involves major changes, in our judgment would in the aggregate move in the direction you want.

The NSC Structure and Agency Relationships

The Review Group would be strengthened if it were clearly understood that more of the papers will be referred directly from the Review Group by memorandum to the President for decision. This is the way the process has been working to an increasing extent.

The system is suffering an overload. Many of the papers neither warrant nor need a full NSC meeting as a prelude to Presidential decision. Given the number of major issues which will require full NSC consideration and the President’s wish to limit the number of such meetings, more of the burden must fall on the Review Group.

But the Review Group was not constituted originally to consider the substantive merits of options presented, or to reach a decision on which option should be pursued. At several recent meetings, State, Defense and JCS representatives have made it clear that they are not empowered to state the positions of their agencies. Their role has been to assure that a full range of options is presented and that each is argued fairly and completely.

To stimulate the discussion and advocacy you seek from the Review Group, the members could be asked to present agency viewpoints on the issues and options. The Review Group’s charter requires it to assure that “all department and agency views are fairly and adequately [Page 226] set out.” In this context the Review Group members could be asked either:

  • —to present the views of their respective agencies at the meeting when the paper is discussed, or
  • —as you have required on a number of occasions, to present a formal statement of Agency views and recommendations when the paper is returned after redrafting in accordance with Review Group instructions.

We recommend the first course. If this course is to be followed, it need only be announced at a Review Group meeting that this procedure will be observed.

  • —Discussion will be stimulated and issues clearly exposed if each agency representative is required at the meeting to give his agency’s recommendation as to whether the subject and the paper need be brought before the full NSC and, if not, to state his agency’s viewpoint on the substantive issues and options.
  • —The Review Group members will have to seek agreement from their principals in detail. The flexibility of the Review Group members consequently will be limited, but the issues will be exposed and addressed substantively.

The two courses are not mutually exclusive. If discussion focuses issues more clearly, a redraft of the paper may be needed. Agency views then can be included with the resubmission.

The Use of the IGs

You have rightly observed that in most instances IG papers have been considerably less than first class. The IGs, however, have much to offer in the way of expertise. They also, in the final analysis, will shape the specifics of day-to-day implementation of decisions. For these reasons they should be brought more directly into the process rather than being progressively excluded.

There is another important reason for enhancing the IG-Review Group mechanism and making it work. Participation by the principal agencies in the actual formulation and drafting of issues and options is an essential ingredient of the system.

  • —Without this participation, the Department of State will dominate the process of issue formulation subject only to the check-rein of the NSC staff. Increasingly, the NSC staff will be forced into open opposition to State to maintain the integrity of the policy formulation process. The NSC staff will have to play devil’s advocate for other interested agencies as well as to play its role of objective evaluation.
  • —Over-reliance on ad hoc arrangements, in which one or another agency does not fully participate, will generate growing resistance to the system and increasing isolation of the NSC staff. It will make management [Page 227] of implementation of decisions more and more difficult and we will face an increasing problem of clearing cables as a means of policy control. As a practical matter, some papers, ostensibly prepared by ad hoc groups chaired by State, actually are prepared in the IG framework.
  • —The following steps should be taken to improve the quality of IG papers:
    Participation by the NSC Staff. Each IG includes a senior NSC Staff member. He knows both the quality and manner of presentation which is wanted and he should carry the burden of guiding the drafting group to bring forth the desired product.
    • —The NSC Planner should assist him during the draft phase with comments and recommendations both as to substance and manner of presentation.
    • —The Policy and Coordination Staff of the Department of State (Cargo) oversees the work of the IG Chairmen and also should be in a position to influence significantly the quality of the paper. The NSC Planner should maintain a close working relationship with State Planning and Coordination Staff to this end.
    Return Unsatisfactory Papers. An IG paper which does not meet acceptable substance and presentation standards should be returned for redraft before the Review Group is asked to consider it. The Review Group should not be forced to address papers which are grossly inadequate. If this were done with a rigidly enforced tight deadline, the departmental coordination staffs and the IGs themselves would respond.

The Management and Discipline of the System

The emphasis, of course, must be on the intellectual approach to the substantive issues at hand. But this can be helped or hindered by the management and administration of the system itself. The agencies for the most part have overcome the administrative headaches which they experienced in the first few months—they are prepared to respond.

  • —Scheduling has become a major problem. Adjustments will be required but they can and should be held to a minimum. The NSC Planner, Staff Secretary and the Director of the Secretariat should work closely with the operators to coordinate the order of presentation and consideration of papers and to assure that related subjects subjects have been arrayed and scheduled in the most meaningful way. Events external to the NSC system which affect the timing of the decision-making process must be taken into account. Schedules when set should be adhered to as closely as possible. You should meet bi-weekly with the NSC Planner, the Staff Secretary and the Director of the Secretariat to discuss scheduling.
  • Due dates for papers to be submitted to the Review Group should take into account (1) timing of the need for decision, (2) the length of [Page 228] time reasonably required for preparation of a quality paper, and (3) the scheduled date for consideration of the paper by the Review Group (the submission date should be at least two weeks before the scheduled Review Group meeting on the paper).
  • —Once set, due dates and schedule should be adhered to—the agencies should know what is required of them and when it is required. The Director of the Secretariat should stay in close touch with the IG Staff Directors and Cargo’s Policy and Coordination Staff on these matters.
  • NSSMs should be carefully reviewed before they are issued to assure that the right questions are being asked of the right people.
  • —The Staff Secretary/Director of Secretariat should assure that before submission for approval, every NSSM has been reviewed by the NSC operators concerned and the NSC Planner to be certain that (1) the subject for study has been so delineated that the basic issues will be surfaced and addressed, (2) the relationship of the NSSM with all others on related subjects is clear, and (3) the due date proposed for submission is realistic in terms of the complexity of the problem, the timing of decision and the schedule for consideration. The need for a NSSM should be clearly demonstrated in a memorandum requesting its approval.
  • —The substance of the proposed NSSM should be discussed informally with the IG members representing the agencies principally concerned and with State’s Planning and Coordination Staff before being submitted for final approval. The participants in the study (1) will have something to contribute to sharpen and focus the study request and (2) will understand more clearly at the outset what is needed.
  • —Follow-Up Actions
  • —Review Group Follow-up
  • —Review Group consideration of a paper invariably requires some redrafting either for matters of substance or manner of presentation. Immediately following the Review Group meeting, the NSC operator, the NSC Planner, Director of Secretariat and the representative of the Department charged with the redraft (usually State) should meet to clearly identify the redrafting instructions and the date for submission. This should be followed by a memorandum from the Director of Secretariat to the Review Group members confirming the Review Group requirements.
  • NSC Meeting Follow Up (Applicable also to Presidential Decision based on Memorandum submission).
  • —A draft NSDM should be prepared before the NSC meeting based upon the recommendations contained in your Memorandum for the President and the Issues for Decision paper. If the paper is to be submitted for decision by memorandum, the draft NSDM should accompany the recommendations for the President’s consideration.
  • —Immediately following the NSC meeting, the Staff Secretary, operators concerned, the NSC Planner, and Director of Secretariat should meet for a debrief of the meeting and assignment of tasks resulting from it. The draft NSDM should be reviewed in light of the discussion at the NSC meeting.
  • —The draft NSDM revised as necessary should be prepared for submission to the President for approval and issuance.
  • —Every NSDM should require a report by the Under Secretaries’ Committee of the actions taken to implement the decision—date for submission of the USC report will be determined by the nature of the implementing actions or programs required.

The Under Secretaries’ Committee

Senior NSC Staff Members frequently attend meetings of the USC representing you. They should be armed with your guidance. A memorandum should be submitted prior to the meeting stating the issues to be discussed and recommended positions to be taken by the NSC Staff Member as a means of obtaining that guidance.

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Kissinger–Scowcroft West Wing Offices Files, 1969–77, Box 40, Administrative Files, National Security Council Organization (6), 3/3/70–4/27/71. No classification marking. Sent for action. Copies were sent to Watts and Jeanne Davis. An attached handwritten note from DRY [David Young] to Haig asks: “Do you want me to keep this for Tue & Thur mtg?” Haig wrote on the note, “Yes.”