AMERICA'S DEPARTMENTS OF STATE
Bert A. Rockman
Drawing on the scholarly literature on organizational behavior, political scientist Bert
Rockman helps us understand why foreign policy making has become more concentrated
in the White House and what this reality means with respect to the evolution of the mod-
The United States possesses two foreign ministers within the same government: the one who heads the Department of State, and the one who is the assistant to the president for national security affairs. The former heads a classically contoured bureaucracy. Proximate to him are appointed officials, often with substantial foreign policy experience. At greater distance is a corps of professional foreign service officers (FSOs). Beneath the national security assistant, on the other hand, is a smaller professional staff of somewhat variable size (ranging in recent times from about three dozen to slightly over 50) whose members typically are drawn from universities, other agencies, and research institutes.
This latter group—the National Security Council staff—is the institutional embodiment of White House aspirations for imposing foreign policy coordination. Its "director," the president's assistant for national security affairs, in recent years has come to be seen as the president's personal foreign policy spokesman as well as an influential molder, and sometime executor, of his policy choices. Though, at least publicly, the overt role of the president's national security assistant has been diminished in the Reagan administration relative to the prominence it attained during the Nixon and Carter presidencies, a common perception is that, since the Kennedy administration, policy power has drifted steadily from the State Department to the president's team of foreign policy advisers (Campbell, 1971; George, 1972a; Destler, 1972a, 1972b, 1980; Allison and Szanton, 1976). If perceptions govern, this alone may constitute sufficient evidence of such a drift. Beyond perception, however, there is unmistakable evidence of growth in the role of the national security assistant (who postdates the founding of the National Security Council itself), and in the size and character of the NSC staff. Since McGeorge Bundy's incumbency, and especially because of the Kissinger and Brzezinski periods, the assistant to the president for national security affairs has become a visible public figure in his own right (Destler, 1980, pp. 84–85). In general, his role has evolved from one of coordinating clearance across departments to one of policy adviser. Similarly, the NSC staff itself has grown greatly, boosted especially during the Nixon administration. It is less and less composed of graying and grayish anonymous career foreign service officers, and more and more composed of foreign policy intellectuals and prospective high-fliers, many of whom are drawn from America's leading universities.
I do not mean to imply that the presidential foreign policy apparatus and the State Department always or even usually clash, nor that they have wholly overlapping functions. Nonetheless, it is clear that the NSC, at least in form, is today something far beyond what it was in Truman's time or in Eisenhower's. To some
From Bert A. Rockman, "America's Departments of State: Irregular and Regular Syndromes of Policy Making," American Political
Science Review 75 (December 1981): 911–27.
Professor Rockman is director of the Institute for Public Policy at Ohio State University.