10. Memorandum From Samuel Huntington of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) and the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Aaron)1


  • NSC and Congress

1. The discussion at Friday’s staff meeting2 concerning the NSC and Congress seemed to be somewhat confused. It might be useful to think of three different functions which have to be performed in the White House in connection with the increasingly active role of Congress in foreign affairs:

a. Monitoring, that is, keeping abreast and, indeed, ahead of Congressional activity in foreign affairs: introduction of bills and amendments, hearings, developments in congressional opinion, investigations, and the like;

b. Decision-making, that is, formulating in timely fashion an executive branch position on issues which come up in Congress;

c. Lobbying, that is, inducing the key congressional actors to support the executive branch position.

2. Monitoring. The departments obviously perform this function with respect to issues which concern them. The White House Congressional Liaison Office looks at issues which are of primary concern to the President, although my impression is their focus is largely domestic. This still leaves a gap in terms of monitoring overall national security issues from a Presidential viewpoint. Clearly the NSC ought to play a role here. Ideally, this function should be performed by individual NSC staff members keeping abreast of Congressional developments in their respective fields of specialization. My impression is that how well staff members perform this function varies greatly. Some are very fully tuned-in to Congress, maintain close contacts with congressmen and congressional staffers, and, as a result, are in a position to anticipate and respond to congressional developments in their field. Some others appear to be rather indifferent to Congress. Certainly, the NSC environment does not naturally encourage congressional contacts; the incen[Page 41]tives are to fall into an easy pattern of interaction with embassy people, journalists, policy-analysts, and other bureaucrats—but not congressional types. Just as Jerry3 performs a most useful function in reminding staffers about the importance of the press and advising them on whom and how to deal with the press, it might be desirable to have someone on the NSC staff to perform the same function with respect to Congress and to provide an overall monitor of congressional activity on national security issues.4

3. Decision-making. Judging by what Jessica5 and others had to say, one problem has been the failure of the executive to take a decisive position on various measures which come up in Congress. Here Bill Hyland’s suggestion of an interagency committee would seem to be an appropriate mechanism, since obviously the departments as well as the NSC will have to be involved in this process. Presumably the NSC participants in this committee would vary with the substantive issues up for discussion, but if there were an NSC congressional specialist, he could be involved in all the meetings and provide continuity.

4. Lobbying. Once an executive branch position has been formulated, the job of selling it to Congress has to rest primarily with the political leaders of the Administration and the congressional liaison offices in the White House and the departments. This is not something which the NSC staff should perform.

5. Conclusions. Given the important new role which Congress plays with respect to national security issues, it is highly desirable to develop the capability in the NSC staff to provide for the effective monitoring of congressional activity in the national security field and to play a leading role in insuring the prompt formulation of an executive position on these issues. And the Congressional Liaison people should be assured that the NSC has no intention of invading their turf.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Agency File, Box 11, NSC, 4–12/77. No classification marking. Aaron wrote at the top of the memorandum, “Hold for my meeting next week.”
  2. April 8. Minutes of this meeting were not found.
  3. Jerrold Schecter, White House Press Secretary.
  4. An unknown hand wrote in the margin next to this sentence, “Schecter is our Congressional liaison.” The Congressional Liaison Office was created as a separate entity (from the Press Liaison Office) in March 1978. Madeleine Albright served as the Congressional Relations Officer beginning in March 1978. See Brzezinski’s Power and Principle, Annex III.
  5. Presumably Jessica Tuchman Mathews, who was an NSC Staffer in the Global Issues Functional Cluster.