Official: National Security Council Could Go Below Target of Under 120 Policy Staffers

National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien arrives for an event to announce US President Donald Trump's Middle East peace plan in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC on January 28, 2020. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)
MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

The National Security Council (NSC) is on track to reach its policy staff reduction goal and may cut even more than originally planned, according to the agency’s spokesman.

“We remain on track to meeting the rightsizing goal Ambassador O’Brien outlined in October, and in fact may exceed that target by drawing down even more positions,” said NSC spokesman John Ullyot in an email to Breitbart News on Tuesday.

National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien announced last year in an op-ed that he planned to reduce the size of the NSC’s policy staff to under 120 positions by early 2020 — a size more in line with previous administrations before more than doubling under the Obama administration to over 200 staffers.

NSC policy staff are typically filled with staffers from other national security agencies, such as the Pentagon. Their function is to coordinate policy, but increasingly took on policymaking roles under the last administration.

O’Brien told Fox Business Network last week that the size of the NSC will go “somewhere in the 115 to 120 area” by the end of the week.

During that interview, he also said President Eisenhower had 70 NSC policy staffers, and President Kennedy dismissed all of them upon coming into office and replaced them with 12 political loyalists, who “did a good job advising him.” He said reductions have come through staffers returning to their home agencies.

He added that this reduction was in the works long before NSC staffers Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and his twin brother were removed earlier this month. Vindman testified in the House impeachment inquiry that he reported the president’s July 25 call with the Ukrainian president to the NSC general counsel, and likely reported his concerns to the “whistleblower” whose complaint launched the impeachment effort.

“As his new national security adviser, I have commenced changes to the National Security Council staff designed to assist the president as he continues to execute his foreign policy vision for the country,” O’Brien wrote on October 16, 2019, in the Washington Post. He continued:

Congress created the National Security Council to assist presidents in managing the complexities of this expansion of the federal government. The 1947 law establishing the NSC, which originally consisted of the president, vice president, and the secretaries of state and defense, stated: ‘The function of the Council shall be to advise the president with respect to the integration of domestic, foreign, and military policies relating to the national security.’

The word ‘advise’ is fundamentally important. While the statutory members of the NSC, in some cases, run departments that execute foreign policy, the NSC staff at the White House was intended to coordinate policy rather than run it. My job as the national security adviser is to distill and present to the president the views and options that come from the various departments and agencies. The NSC then ensures that those agencies actually execute the president’s decisions. This is the ‘honest broker’ model of the national security adviser, best personified by Brent Scowcroft, who held the post during both the Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush administrations.

During the Obama administration, the NSC ballooned to well over 200 policy staffers. By comparison, a mere 12 NSC policy staffers helped President John F. Kennedy deal with the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. As President Jimmy Carter handled multiple crises in the late 1970s, the NSC staff totaled just 35 professionals. During the first term of the George W. Bush administration, with two major wars in Iraq and Afghanistan underway, the policy staff was about 100 people.

After consulting several of my predecessors and analyzing the NSC’s current configuration, I have determined that the agency can and should be streamlined, and am in the process of restoring the NSC to its historical mission.

With the president’s approval, we will reduce the NSC staff, making it more effective by reaffirming its mission to coordinate policy and ensure policy implementation. The NSC staff should not, as it has in the past, duplicate the work of military officers, diplomats or intelligence officers. With that in mind, we will be able to reduce 174 policy positions to under 120 by early 2020.


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