87. Memorandum From William Watts, Staff Secretary, National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • NSC Staff: Comments and Recommendations

At the end of my first interview with you last summer about joining your staff, you said, “No matter how many difficulties and problems I have described to you, it is in my interest to make this system work.”

I left the Governor and came to work for you because I believed (and continue to believe) that I could serve you in your interest. What follows has that fully in mind, and is set forth in the spirit of candor which must underpin my usefulness to you.

As you have made clear on a number of occasions, there is a real justification for the NSC system as it now exists only if the NSC staff effort is clearly superior to that produced anywhere else in the government. On the basis of experience to date, the President has come to expect from you work of the highest caliber (so much so, I would venture, that he has clearly carried the pattern you established in organizing a domestic staff counterpart under John Ehrlichman). This is a key element in your strength and ability to intercede in the foreign policy process. To the degree that you are not served to full capacity by your staff, further refinements are required.

Overall quality of staff work is going to depend in large measure on three internal factors:

Bureaucratic efficiency

Let me treat these separately.

Personnel—Your staff is widely recognized as the most competent and skilled group in Washington. So it should be. There are, however, some specific weaknesses, and these need to be dealt with.

We have already touched on this subject briefly in recent conversations. I recommend that you, Al Haig, Tony Lake and I get together [Page 191] in the near future to settle on some specific steps. It does no good to know that certain members of the staff are not up to snuff, and yet not take steps to find replacements. But in order to move on this, we need your guidance and authorization.

Bureacratic Efficiency—Your staff has grown in size far beyond its final counterpart under Walt Rostow. The flow of paper is staggering, as are the numbers of individual action assignments.

This has required the development of internal bureaucratic machinery which has taken time to shape and tune. Where shortcomings remain—as they obviously do—I am trying to work them out.

We are just now getting into action a far more institutionalized review procedure, which should enable us to almost automatically see that deadlines don’t slip, due dates are met, and all members of the staff are kept up to the mark in terms of their assignment responsibilities. I do not pretend that by automating status reports and upgrading our review capability we can guarantee absolute quality. That relates closely, after all, to the personnel question. But real improvement (particularly if some personnel changes are made) should be inevitable.

Morale—Your best men are not looking for special status or prestige. They know that the very nature of their assignment, their location close to the center of power in this power-oriented city, gives them all this and more.

I know you feel you should not have to worry about the morale of your staff. But it is an objective reality, I believe, that performance and morale are directly and irrevocably linked. If this is so, then it follows that it is very much in your interest to promote the morale of your good men.

I am concerned that you do not fully accept just how deeply committed your best men are to your position and what you are doing. One of the chief criticisms, in fact, of the NSC staff in the bureaucracy is that they are loyal to your positions and concepts almost to the point of inflexibility. They have gained a reputation of defending your views (as those of the President’s) to a point where they are sometimes seen as unyielding.

I also hope you realize that your best men are willing to follow your lead and work the very long hours they do—weekends and holidays included, of course—not because they necessarily want to, but because they know what you are doing holds the entire national security and foreign affairs system in this government together. It is your preeminence, your ability to contribute what is unique and creative in this Administration’s foreign policy, that makes these men go. They are, in this sense, very concerned indeed with your morale; they strive to give you the best, to help let you be the best.

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I am satisfied that the good men on your staff are not trying to sabotage you. If they wanted to, after all, it would be simple enough to do, and would be quickly apparent.

I am also satisfied, however, that their product could be improved. In fact, I can visualize a joint staff effort working with you and on your behalf which could hum in a fashion capable of meeting even your most exacting standards.

Those of us responsible for doing so, consistently work with the staff to get their product more fully in tune with what you want. In some instances, as I have indicated above, this is a futile exercise. In those cases, changes must be made; and the machinery needs continuing improvement.

But there will continue to be, even under the best of circumstances, another side of the equation. In turning to this, I must speak bluntly. If I can’t, then I shouldn’t be here.

There are several specific points I wish to raise.


Imprecise instructions—None of us, no matter how hard we try, can read your mind. You have said on more than one occasion that you know what you want when you see it. Fair enough, but it means that as the staff man is trying to get what you want, he frequently works without a very clear understanding of what he is supposed to be driving at. I am sure you can appreciate that this puts him at a disadvantage.

To the degree, then, that you can make your own instructions as to what you want or what you need as precise and focused as possible, your best men will be able to satisfy you quickly and painlessly. Everybody stands to benefit.


Contradictory instructions—From time to time, staff men get from you—directly and indirectly—different sets of instructions which are clearly at odds with each other.

Let me be specific. In the case of the CBW exercise, I think it is fair to say that everyone involved with the product was at one point or another substantially confused. I recognize that this effort was not managed well, and I hold myself primarily responsible. A game plan should have been drawn up immediately after the NSC meeting so that everyone involved would have known what they should be doing. (This will be done in the future.) Nonetheless, I stand on the judgment that instructions and directives were being changed so rapidly that it was extraordinarily difficult to proceed coherently and cohesively.

I realize that the President frequently changes his mind, putting you in an equally tenuous position. Just as that makes your task the more difficult, so is the task of those who genuinely want to get you what you need vastly complicated when they work under colliding instructions.


Public Reprimands and Downgrading of Your Staff—If anything can break the spirit of the men working for you (whether in your own White House basement office, or in the EOB), it is drilling them for inadequate performance or downgrading them in front of their peers. Your best men find this hard to understand and accept, and it hardly motivates them to produce the highest quality of which they are capable. The downgrading also seriously undermines their own effectiveness as they deal with their counterparts in the bureaucracy.

When you feel a reprimand is in order, I recommend you do this in private, and in a way that lets the man know what he is being rapped for.

The reverse, of course, holds as well. A few words of encouragement after a particularly exacting effort mean a great deal.

Absence of debriefing on decisions and agreements you make privately. You do a lot of important work in private meetings with key Administration officials, at which no other member of the NSC staff is present. This kind of personal forum enables you to move quickly and informally on a wide range of issues. It also, I assume, permits a degree of candor which would be lacking if other people were around.

I have in mind primarily your breakfast or luncheon meetings with Richardson; but this also applies to similar meetings with Packard, Mayo, Ehrlichman and others, where items of direct interest to your staff members are discussed.

What subsequently happens all too frequently, I fear, is that your staff men hear about specific decisions or guidance—which they need to know—only indirectly, through the staff subordinates of the other principals. Richardson and Packard et al, do debrief, in extenso, following their meetings with you. This puts your staff members in the difficult and embarrassing position of finding out what you have agreed to, recommended, or decided, through overtures to their counterparts around Washington. Furthermore, what your men get may well be warped and flavored in a way which favors the other principal’s position when it differs from yours.

I urge you to give readouts after such key private policy and decision-making meetings. In order to conserve your time, this can, of course, be done through one channel—Al Haig/Tony Lake. It would help me if I could sit in, but I make no particular brief for that. I do make a strong brief that the readouts be given.

As I said at the outset, I have put these thoughts in writing in what I honestly believe to be your best interests. If I can usefully develop any of this more fully, either orally or in writing, let me know.

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Kissinger–Scowcroft West Wing Office Files, 1969–77, Box 40, Administrative Files, National Security Council Organization (5), 8/19/69–12/1/69. Secret; Nodis; Eyes Only.