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ORGANIZING FOR NATIONAL SECURITY
SUPER-CABINET OFFICERS AND SUPERSTAFFS
This is the first of a series of staff reports to be issued by the Subcommittee on National Policy Machinery during the next few months. Drawing upon testimony and counsel given the subcommittee during this past year, the reports will make detailed recommendations for improving the national security policymaking process.
These studies will be appearing at a time when a new President is preparing to take over the reins of our Government. There is widespread agreement that the executive branch of our Government is not now giving the President all the support he needs in meeting his responsibilities in foreign and defense affairs. This unsatisfactory situation has been clearly brought out in the testimony given the subcommittee and in comments by other competent authorities.
The magnitude and the apparent intractability of many of these difficulties have led some to believe that the problems can be solved only by radical organizational changes. The changes proposed would tend to shift the center of gravity in policy development and coordination away from the great departments of the Government and closer toward the Presidential level. The proposals have in common the creation of "super-Cabinet” officers or "super-Cabinet” staffs.
This first report has a limited aim. Its purpose is to examine the merit of these proposals and to provide a background for the detailed suggestions for improving policy machinery which will be contained in forthcoming reports.
THE BESETTING PROBLEM
By law and practice the President is responsible for the conduct of foreign relations. He is Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. He directs the departments and agencies. He makes the key decisions on the executive budget. He cannot delegate these great tasks to any council or committee. The responsibility is his, and his alone.
New dimensions of national security make the proper exercise of the President's responsibility more difficult than ever before in our history:
The line between foreign and domestic policy, never clear to begin with, has now almost been erased. Foreign policy and military policy have become more inseparable than ever. The tools of foreign policy have multiplied to include economic aid, information, technical assistance, scientific help, educational and cultural exchange, and foreign military assistance.
Historically, a President has looked to the Department of State for his principal help in developing and executing foreign policy. But today the sphere of the Department of State is far narrower than the full range of contemporary foreign relations. As an organization, the Department of State can now claim no greater concern in certain aspects of foreign policy than the Department of Defense. The interest of Treasury and Agriculture in some areas of international affairs is almost equal to that of State.
Indeed, today, almost every department of our Government, and some 18 independent agencies also, are involved with national security policy. Four Government agencies and six international financial organizations work in the field of foreign economic aid alone.
The net result is this: The planning and execution of national security, policy cut across the jurisdiction of many departments and agencies. This situation imposes upon the President a heavy burden, A host of responsible protagonists urge divergent advice upon him. He must resolve these conflicting approaches, select his own course of action, and see to its faithful and efficient execution by the very officials whose advice he may have rejected.
Presidents have in the past employed the budgetary process as an instrument for policy and program review and coordination. The budgetary process, in other words, has been traditionally much more than an exercise in accountancy, in the sense of merely keeping ledgers on the cost of ongoing and contemplated programs. Recent years, however, have seen a decline in the use of the budgetary process as a prime tool of the President in program evaluation and integration. The process has become more and more limited to an overly narrow concern for the fiscal aspects of foreign policy and defense programs. Throughout the past decade, increasingly elaborate and compli
. cated interdepartmental mechanisms have been created to assist the President in policy development, coordination, and execution. The best known of these bodies is the National Security Council and its subordinate organs, the Planning Board and the Operations Coordinating Board. At last count, there were some 160 other formal interdepartmental and interagency committees in the field of international affairs alone.
This interdepartmental machinery has certain inherent limitations in assisting the President.
Committees, including the National Security Council, are primarily coordinating mechanisms. But they can coordinate and integrate only what their members bring to them; they cannot originate national security policy: The role of a committee in policy formulation is essentially critical and cautionary, not creative. The prime source of policy innovations is the contribution of a responsible individual who wrestles day in and day out with the problems of national security. Given imaginative proposals from such individuals, a committee may be helpful in criticizing, countering, or embroidering them.
If interdepartmental committees have limitations in policy initiation, they also have inherent shortcomings in policy coordination. The heads of the great departments and major agencies have been unwilling for the most part to concede to interagency committees the authority in policy development and execution which they regard as their right or the President's.
When policy stakes are high and differences in outlook sharp, department heads traditionally have sought to bypass coordinating committees while keeping them busy with secondary matters. Where this has not been possible, department heads have traditionally tried to keep the product of coordination from binding them tightly or specifically to undesired courses of action. The net result has tended to be "coordination” on the lowest common denominator of agreement, which is often tantamount to no coordination at all.
The President has been left in an unenviable position. He has found it necessary to undertake an endless round of negotiations with his own department heads or else he has been confronted at a very late date by crisis situations resulting from the lack of adequate coordination at an earlier stage. The burdens of the President have been increased correspondingly, and after-the-fact improvisation has too often substituted for forward planning.
A FIRST SECRETARY OF THE GOVERNMENT?
Contemplating the problems now faced by a President, some have concluded that he requires the assistance of a new "super-Cabinet” official who would deal across the board with national security problems. The idea is not new. In 1955 former President Hoover suggested creating two appointive Vice Presidents, one responsible for foreign and the other for domestic affairs. More recently, President Eisenhower's Advisory Committee on Government Organization has studied variants of the concept of a "super-Cabinet” official. In July of this year, Gov. Nelson Rockefeller,
former Chairman of the Advisory Committee, appeared before the Subcommittee on National Policy Machinery and made a specific proposal for statutory creation of a “First Secretary of the Government.
This officer would be appointed by the President subject to Senate confirmation. In Governor Rockefeller's words, he would be "above the Cabinet” and exercise Presidential authority by delegation in all areas "of national security and international affairs." The First Secretary would be authorized to act for the President * at the Prime Ministerial level.” He would have statutory designation as “Executive Chairman of NSC” and would have statutory authority by delegation from the President to appoint the heads of subordinato and related 'interdepartmental committees. The First Secretary would have a staff of his own, and would supervise the personnel of the National Security Council and the Operations Coordinating Board. He would also be "empowered to use and reorganize all of the interdepartmental planning machinery *** in the area of national security and foreign affairs."
At first glance, the proposal may appear an answer to current difficulties in the operation of policy machinery. The First Secretary's perspective would be expected to encompass the whole range of national security problems. He would be charged with giving committee coordinating mechanisms the stiffening of authoritative direction. Theoretically, he would be no mere White House staff assistant but a super-Cabinet member, thus able to direct fellow Cabinet members in a way that ordinary Presidential aides cannot. Theoretically again, he could relieve a President of many burdens both
within the Government and in negotiations with other chiefs of Government. Finally, he could act as a first adviser to the President on foreign policy in its full modern context.
Careful analysis of the First Secretary proposal, however, reveals serious shortcomings and limitations. The proposal would fail to solve the problems it is meant to meet, and would also introduce grave new difficulties into the working of our national policy machinery.
This proposal raises two problems. One concerns a First Secretary's relationship with department heads.
Giving a man the title of "First Secretary” does not thereby give him power. Under this proposal, the Secretaries of State and Defense and other Cabinet officers would retain their present statutory functions and authority. These officials would continue to be accountable to the Congress for the proper performance of their statutory duties. They would equally continue to be responsible to the President.
Being responsible to the President, the Secretaries of State and Defense and other Cabinet officers would report directly to him. They would be bound to question the decisions of a First Secretary; his placement between them and the President would inevitably generate friction and resentment. The First Secretary could gain the power he needed only if the President consistently accepted the First Secretary's judgment over that of his department heads.
But if the President were consistently so deferential to his First Secretary, who then would be President?
And who would then be willing to be Cabinet officers? The primacy of the First Secretary could conceivably be established by filling Cabinet offices with relatively submissive men who lack strong convictions or much will of their own. But this is a period of history when our Government needs more-not less vigor and drive in high positions. This end would not be served by choosing for Cabinet positions men who could acquiesce to the downgrading of the historic posts that they are asked to occupy.
A second problem raised by this proposal involves the relations of the First Secretary to the President.
The historical record shows that Presidential assistants draw effective power from their demonstrated intimacy with the President. On numerous occasions in the past, a President has deputized an intimate adviser to take charge of certain plans or operations and to act for him in dealing with department heads. In varying degree, such men as House, Hopkins, Byrnes, and Adams have served effectively as Presidential deputies. But the positions of such men were always very different from that proposed for the First Secretary. Past deputyships have been ad hoc assignments given temporarily at the President's own pleasure to persons in his confidence whose intimacy with him was matched by their complete dependence on him. At the height of their effectiveness in Government, a Hopkins or an Adams drew power, not from statutes, titles, staffs, or paper prerogatives of any sort, but solely from the President's evident confidence in them and reliance on them.
Yet the proposed First Secretary would be in a very poor position to sustain that intimate relationship even if he had it at the outset. His statutory position, his formal status in the Government, his super
vision of assorted staffs, his chairmanship of manifold committees, his attraction for the press, and his accountability to the Senate which confirmed him—als would mitigate against the maintenance of his close, confidential, personal relationship with the President.
It is most unlikely that a President would in fact give a First Secretary the consistent backing and support he would require to maintain his primacy over other Cabinet members. To do so would run the risk that the First Secretary would become an independent force, politically capable of rivaling the President himself. It would run the further risk of rousing combined opposition from departmental and congressional sources and from affected interest groups.
The likelihood of congressional opposition to domination of departments by a "super-Cabinet” officer rests on the fact that Congress is constitutionally the creator of departments, the source of their statutory mandates, and the steward of their operations. Congressional committees long associated with particular governmental agencies could be expected to side with those agencies in their efforts to assert independence of the First Secretary. He would enjoy no counterpart of the solicitude which congressional committees often show to the heads of departments and agencies within their jurisdiction.
It is essential that a President have full, frank, and frequent discussions with his departmental and agency chiefs. To fully understand the meaning and consequences of alternative courses of action, he must expose himself directly to the clash of argument and counterargument between advocates of different policy courses. Papers, no matter how carefully staffed, can never convey the full meaning of the issues in question. To the degree a First Secretary insulated the President from day-to-day contact with key Cabinet officers, he would leave his chief less knowledgeable than ever about matters he alone had to decide.
Even if the President were to give the First Secretary substantial backing, this official would still be unable to do the job expected of him. For the critical budgetary decisions on the allocation of resources between national security needs and other national needs would still be outside his jurisdiction.
Only the President's responsibility is as wide as the Nation's affairs. Only he can balance domestic, economic, and defense needs and if anyone else were to be given the job the President would become a kind of constitutional figurehead.
In summary: Our governmental system has no place for a First Secretary. He is thought of as a mediator and a judge of the conflicting national security policies advocated by the major departments, the Congress and its committees, and private groups. But in the American system only one official' has the constitutional and political power required to assume that role and to maintain it. That official is the President of the United States. He cannot be relieved of his burdens by supplying him with a "deputy” to do what only he can do.
THE VICE PRESIDENT AND NATIONAL SECURITY AFFAIRS
A variation of the First Secretary plan would assign to the Vice President continuing duties in the national security area as a matter of discretionary delegation from the President. One proposal recommends that the President authorize the Vice President to "coordinate