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Fine-Tuning NSC Staff Processes and Procedures

The National Security Council (NSC) staff works (literally) around the clock to keep the American people safe, defend our interests and values, and advance U.S. and international security and prosperity. Together with our partners in departments and agencies across government, we’ve focused on responsibly ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and bringing the global economy back from the brink; decimating al-Qa’ida’s leadership and rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific; strengthening our alliances and forging critical new partnerships; bringing Iran to the table and transforming relations with Cuba; fighting climate change, and saving and improving countless lives. But this Administration’s 4th quarter has only just begun, and as President Obama likes to say, he’s a “4th quarter player.”

Driving the President’s ambitious national security agenda through January 20, 2017 requires an NSC staff that’s firing on all cylinders. And so, late last year, National Security Advisor Susan Rice initiated a review of NSC staff processes, structures, and staffing to determine if we could improve how we are organized to pursue the President’s priorities more effectively.

Extensive consultations with NSC staff and interagency colleagues generated great ideas for how to fine-tune the ways we operate. Based on this feedback, we are implementing an array of reforms to streamline many internal processes and procedures, reduce the number of interagency meetings, and enhance NSC staff connectivity with NSC leadership, among other things. These are changes that won’t be readily apparent from the outside, but, taken together, they are designed to result in fewer, more focused meetings, less paper to produce and consume, and more communication that yields better policymaking for the benefit of the American people.

Our review also grappled squarely with the fact that the NSC staff has consistently grown over the past few decades under Administrations of both parties. This one is no exception, as we have had to confront new and evolving national security challenges, integrate the previous Administration’s homeland security staff, and help the White House Situation Room adapt to a world of 24/7 news and social media. 

To ensure the NSC staff is a lean, nimble, and policy-oriented organization, we are reversing the trend of growth across successive Administrations to align our staffing with our strategic priorities. This is not about downsizing for its own sake; it’s about gradually right-sizing the NSC staff. As Ambassador Rice told us recently, the heart and soul of the NSC staff is its people. There is no more talented, professional, and selfless group of public servants, and these measures are intended to allow them to focus on the important work they’re here to do.

It’s not often that we talk about inside baseball processes, but we’re proud of this initiative. Indeed, with these steps, our goal is to ensure the NSC staff, in conjunction with the interagency, is as effective and efficient as possible to make the most of the President’s 4th quarter.

Suzy George is the National Security Council Chief of Staff.