175. Memorandum From the Director of the Planning Group, National Security Council (Kennedy) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • The NSC System—An Appraisal

You asked for my appraisal of the System. Accordingly, I have set down here my personal views.

The system after 3-1/2 years remains the most effective way of assuring that decisions are based upon consideration of the relevant facts, a clean definition of the issues, and all reasonable options. If used effectively, it also provides the best means of harnessing and controlling the bureaucracy in policy formulation and execution.

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The system was strengthened by the elevation of the Review Group to the Deputy Secretary level and by the creation of the WSAG. For 2-1/2 years rigorous discipline paid off in better and more timely papers, increasingly effective discussion of them, and a tight framework for policy implementation.

But the system now is showing signs of malaise—not necessarily fatal but requiring urgent and strong action if it is to continue to serve what is an unquestioned need for you and the President.

My appraisal of the elements of the system follows:

  • The NSC does not meet often enough. The past year has been atypical, and we should reinstate the procedure of meeting on all major decisions and even occasionally for a briefing/update on major issues.
  • —The IG/SRG Structure
    • —The IG’s are not functioning. State had been disciplined into line and brought to understand that other elements of this government have a valid and vital role to play in the conduct of foreign policy. But it is again slipping back into its traditional way of thinking that it sets the line and everyone else hues to it.
    • —State’s Program and Resource Allocation (PARA) system is being pushed too far into a policy-determining mechanism. (The PARA is a worthwhile management tool which State has long needed to translate the generalities of country policy into realistic action programs with resource support. But the Bureaus are attempting to squeeze out new policy directions through this mechanism. We are watching every one of the documents closely to prevent this. The NSSM process is the most effective counter in the major countries, e.g., Korea.)
    • —The IG’s have responded well and quickly to NSSM requirements. But, in all too many cases, the paper called for with a short deadline to meet a stated need has languished here because we were unable to consider it. The failure to consider completed papers within a reasonable time tends to break down the discipline of the system— the writers see no incentive to put forth their best efforts and the product suffers. In some cases we have moved the papers by memo, but often this is an unsatisfactory substitute for a face-to-face airing of issues and points of view among the principals.
  • The WSAG . This has worked well through a variety of situations extending well beyond its original conception.
    • —But it has not performed the principal function for which it was originally created—advance contingency planning. I have given you a separate memorandum2 which would correct this structural deficiency by the creation of a Working Group to draft contingency plans and keep them under review under WSAG direction.
  • The Verification Panel has worked well and, with its working group and backstopping committee, is keeping control of the complex issues in SALT and MBFR.
  • The DPRC . This body should be one of the most influential in the entire system. But a review of its activity against its charter suggests that it simply is not working. Secretary Laird, of course, has been recalcitrant, but I believe the problem is deeper than that.
    • —We are dealing here with issues and decisions on strategy, weapons, forces and resources, all of which go to the heart of the Secretary of Defense’s responsibilities.
    • —The Secretary and his subordinates, I believe, would be more comfortable and willing to play this vital game if they were tasked to prepare the basic papers without being directly “supervised” by your staff during their preparation. [Your staff, after all, has final review in preparing those papers for consideration by you and the DPRC.]3
    • —Careful definition of the issues to be considered can frame the response in a way that will pin-point the key decisions needed and the considerations which will underlie the decision.
    • —Raising too many specific issues individually rather than in the context of the broader strategic and force decisions can only lead to a charge of “nitpicking” interference and thus generate basic resistance.
  • The NSCIC. This is a vital need but one which has not lived up to its promise. Again I believe the problem is in approach.
    • —Too much involvement of a directive character at the outset of a study (net assessment or other) is likely to hamper, not help, get the product that is needed.
    • —Your staff can and should provide the impartial analytical overview of work done by the elements of the bureaucracy under specific NSSM requests.
    • The Under Secretaries Committee (USC) has simply not functioned effectively. It started out to do so but there is an inherent conflict of interest.
      • —We purposely increased the number and range of actions assigned to it to following up on the implementation of policy decisions (this in response to anguished pleas). But it works at this task languidly and seldom meets.
      • —Even then it acts often by asserting the Executive Chairmanship prerogative and thereby diminishes further its effectiveness as other Departments immediately seek to overturn the “decision” by appeal to the President. The “decision” should never have been made in the first place if there was a major difference of view.
      • —The reasons for its ineffectiveness are simple—State’s obsession with asserting its prerogatives and its desire to preempt for the USC a [Page 349] significant policy-making role (a la the SIG whose role is now that of the SRG).
      • —To correct the situation will require a reorientation of State’s thinking toward performance instead of prerogatives. Insistence on regular meetings of the USC and regular attendance by you or your designated representative would help to move and discipline it.
      • The 40 Committee meets far too infrequently. We have instituted a procedure to deal with many of the simple matters by memo but have had to use this procedure even on major matters which would have benefited from a thorough vetting at the table. It should meet at least once every two months and whenever a major matter is before it.

All of the ills described above can be corrected by a dose of hardheaded realism and bureaucratic savvy. This adds up to:

  • —A memorandum from the President to the members of the National Security Council reaffirming his insistence that the IG structure be used as set forth in NSDM 24 and that it be responsive to him (and you), and only secondarily to the Secretary of State.
  • —Reinstituting the successful pattern of regular meetings of the groups you chair to consider papers within a reasonable time after they have been submitted. Meetings need not and should not be lengthy. The quality of your preparation, consistently much superior to that of any of the other principals, guarantees this.
  • —A clear definition in study directives (in all cases, but particularly for the DPRC) of what is required and who is to do it, and then assurance of a minimum of meddling (as contrasted with helpful participation and contribution) while it is being done.

None of these ideas is new. I conveyed much the same thoughts to you three years ago. For two years we followed these principles, for the most part with considerable success. It is imperative, I believe, that we reaffirm them now both to your own staff and to the bureaucracy. The bureaucracy cannot be beaten into submission but it can be brought and kept under control through the proper use of the System.

I will provide a separate memorandum outlining a work/study program of major issues for your consideration.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–300, Institutional File General 1969 through 1974. Personal and Confidential. Sent for information. Typed at the top of page 1 is: “[Outside the System]”
  2. Not found.
  3. Brackets in the source text.
  4. See Document 11.