209. Memorandum From Arthur H. House of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Scowcroft)1


  • Thoughts From Your Fellow (Cherokee)

I. The NSC System

Thoughts on how the NSC system has performed must be offered in the context of what the President wants from both the National Security Council and from his Assistant for National Security Affairs and the NSC staff. Since foreign affairs management was a strong point when President Ford assumed office in the midst of domestic chaos, the NSC has basically followed its previous system and adapted to a new President. There has been little time—nor would it have necessarily been well spent—to examine from a tabula rasa how to organize and use the National Security Council.

In the same vein, your appointment as Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs came during the fourth lap of a mile race for the Presidency. Basic policies had been examined. The job for the ensuing year was to try to achieve some resolution of negotiations with the Soviets, to culminate work already in progress (such as Law of the Sea, CSCE and CIEC, intelligence community reform), and to manage the flow of crises. Moreover, the architect/director of the past seven years was still actively at the drawing board, and that unusual circumstance has necessitated adjustment. In sum, introspection and reorganization have rightfully been low priorities. The elections will provide [Page 697] that opportunity in one way or the other; these notes are offered to identify some issues for post-November consideration.

II. Structure and Procedure

I think the NSC staff does perform its basic task well: it does channel to the President those foreign affairs matters he should receive from the various departments, and it does so with acceptable speed, without bias and distortion of department views, and with an independent NSC assessment. From my vantage of partial observation, it appears that the system works well from your office upwards to the President; it works less effectively downwards—your office drawing first rate support from the NSC staff. Which is to say that the President is evidently well served by the advice he receives integrating domestic, foreign and military policies relating to the national security through our provision of action, analysis, and information papers he receives; your office however, could be better served by your staff. I have divided comments into two categories. The first includes improved structure and procedures: matters which might improve the quality of our product and save time for you. The second considers other possible uses of time made available.

The crucial factor in a strong NSC is a first rate senior staff. One of the main problems during this past year has been the cumulative effects of weak spots on our senior staff. Inadequate staff work absorbs too much time on this side of the street: if confidence in the senior staff is low, there is little point in returning a package for improvement. Time spent by you and your immediate staff is often that of the generalist working on a specialized problem and hence not as productive as it should be. While staff deficiencies cause time to be wasted, better staffing should make available valuable time for you.

I would place more burden on each senior staff member than he could probably handle just to see how much work can be farmed out of your office. Two points are relevant here. The first is that whereas the NSC before November was motivated especially by fear and respect without much empathy and by professional pride, its motivation since November 1975 has been the same respect and pride but more empathy and less fear. The fact is that a much more positive motivation and desire to perform for you characterizes the staff from the situation room to the senior staff. Many staff think that they could do much more for you if they were cut in on more of the action. A few close colleagues have offered the view that the senior staff should be the core of our system and either have your full confidence and do your work for you or be replaced quickly. The following are a few observations regarding senior staff.

1. It would be useful to call in each senior staff man for plus or minus 20 minutes every two weeks for a review of the next fortnight’s [Page 698] work. He could be given guidance and instructions on pending or future projects and receive direction on his own questions. This kind of guidance can save wasted time on both sides. Often the staff needs direction to follow one of various options; having previous guidance produces work closer to the mark you have set.

2. The senior staff wants to be included in meetings with foreign officials, KissingerRumsfeld, or public officials. The problem is that they are often brief, non-substantive meetings at short notice. Nonetheless the sense of staff involvement and ability to perform are enhanced by being in the fray.

3. A difficult problem is the division between what business the senior staff should handle and what should be done by you or your office. I think the NSC is much less status conscious than many parts of the government in accepting telephone calls and inquiries from only equivalent ranked officials. The recent Rumsfeld policy of encouraging contact between your office and his rather than at staff level reduces our staff effectiveness and its ability to perform. It strikes me that the rule of thumb should be to push as much business over to the senior staff as possible. Many telephone calls could probably be referred to our senior staff. Every issue entering your office involves concurrences, contingencies, corrections, and follow-up. The more business a senior staff person handles the better equipped he is to respond to the array of problems in his area. Whether merited or not, most senior staff feel cut off from the main flow of business and would like to have more of the daily work thrown their way, even if a task is required on very short notice.

4. One of the most important requirements for the NSC system confirmed by President Ford was that of “creativity” described by Jeanne Davis in her description of the NSC’s role in decision making as fashioning a positive vision of a peaceful world, clarifying our view of U.S. objectives, and designing policy to achieve them; “more than reacting to external events.”2 I think that while our staff is strong on analysis and prescription it is weak on initiative. We need to have senior staff who have their own concept of where we are heading and who can give you short papers suggesting changes of course to get there. We must react to the prime movers at State and Defense but we should also prod them to move in the right directions.

5. You and Bill Hyland should be spared the job of action officer as much as possible. If a paper or letter is badly written, I would try noting on it that the English is poor, cool it down, that the analysis is weak, the prescriptions incomplete, whatever—and fire it back down the line for [Page 699] immediate attention. That sort of reaction lets the staff know right away what they do wrong and keeps them at work according to your standards. I suspect that most of our senior staff have thick skins from bureaucratic experience and would rather know how to improve a piece of work than to have it be buried. One minor point in this vein, I don’t understand how one can do the jobs you and Bill do and also be fully prepared to chair the working group meetings as he does on the SALT VPWG. It seems extremely difficult to me and not the best use of our heavy artillery, but I am no expert in this field.

A central question in staff management is the role of the staff secretary. It would be useful to reconsider the merits of replacing the strong chief of staff system of the 1960’s with the more confederal system we presently have. I am not sure why Secretary Kissinger preferred to weaken the role of staff secretary, but Jeanne Davis is clearly competent and could handle some of the traffic which comes to your office. With standing guidance on classes of action followed by notification to you of action taken, the paper flow could be reduced. I would also recommend a stronger hand in quality checking of packages before they come across the street.

A position which could be extremely important to quality control and forward planning is that of head of policy planning. Again, the key element is the senior staff member—but a first rate thinker and writer in policy planning could improve the quality of work from other offices, especially the important NSSM and NSDM work requiring coordination. The policy planner can also serve as a link to the academic community in assessing new ideas and possible innovations. I think we could use a renaissance in this department.

Some adjustments in your immediate staff might enable it to serve you better than it presently does. In addition to handling special assignments, Bill Hyland could collect all the perfunctory packages and either sign them himself or review them as a lot with you at the end of the day to separate the routine from those requiring additional attention. Bud’s [McFarlane] job as “right arm” could be more effective if someone on the lower level were given special assistant assignments during the day. From my experience at Bud’s desk it appears that every day there are a few problems requiring an hour or two of uninterrupted attention. Many of these could be given to a special assistant to manage. Some items involve consultation with the senior staff or with other officials outside the NSC, some simply need to be coordinated, some require time to think and write. There are some first rate people on the staff who could take a problem, run with it, and handle the coordination with our senior staff with the discretion required—thereby freeing Bud for all the other things he does. Given the kinds of problems [Page 700] needing this sort of daily staffing, knowledge of how the government works, especially military and intelligence affairs, would be valuable.

The “package review” job which I had this past year requires a few months before one has the knowledge and experience for additional assignments. The position has the advantage of seeing the overall flow of substantive work and eventually affords the chance to assume other assignments. You might load more work onto the White House Fellow or whoever has the job: speechwriting, rewriting of texts, thinking through problems and suggesting alternate courses of action for staff assignment, and other special assistant tasks.

The staff below senior level have substantively interesting jobs, deal with relatively high level officers of other agencies, and prepare material for you and the President. The negative side of these jobs is lack of recognition for work performed. Some staff spend two years at the NSC without having a chance to work with you or Bill Hyland and thereby earn recognition. There are some possible ways to effect increased contact. A stronger staff secretary could review with you actions taken and work performed, including an assessment of work performance by staff members. If senior staff members were to meet with you to clear the decks once every two weeks in short “check off” meetings, the other staff could occasionally participate. The senior staff members could further give a rundown of who is doing what on his staff. Another help would be to have staff names added at the lower left hand corner of our internal memoranda sent to you and to Bill. The point is that many loyal staff members toil away on the third and fourth floors of the OEOB without much reinforcement to keep up their morale.

III. Other Areas, Time Permitting

It is difficult to suggest uses of time because working style reflects personal habits and preferences. As one preoccupied with language and writing, I admire your ability to write with a simple, direct, and precise style. I also sympathize because you share my problem of spending too much time improving the purity of the language. We are all creatures of habit but it might be useful to consider other uses of one’s time. If there were a way to send memos back for others to rewrite them, to have Larry Eagleburger and other loquacious friends stay off the telephone, to have Jon Howe stop by for long briefings only twice a week—or to clear the desk once and for all of all accumulated business, how could one spend the resulting time for the good of the President?

One area could be to cultivate stronger ties with the key leaders of the House and Senate in the foreign affairs area. A few lunches, occasional meetings, or telephone calls to back up Friedersdorf and Marsh might be helpful. The press (before November 1976 as well as after) [Page 701] needs direction on a wide range of issues which are not reported to the advantage of the President. You might want to meet with some columnists as well as receive more calls from those who are doing a story and simply want to have our side of it.

By far the main advantage of any extra time would be to plan ahead and direct the senior staff into the position of being ahead of the power curve relative to other agencies. The sheer volume of business can be overwhelming. A stronger staff secretary system, more responsibility thrown back to the senior staff under your guidance, and increased flexibility within your office might make it possible to find some extra time and shorten the day. I am sure that a faithful and dedicated staff is eager to assume increased responsibilities, and you might find that any flexibility made available could be put to good use.

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, KissingerScowcroft West Wing Office Files, 1969–77, Box 40, National Security Council Organization (7), 3/15/73–8/31/76. No classification marking.
  2. See Document 195.