Search Penny Hill Press

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The National Security Council: An Organizational Assessment

Richard A. Best Jr.
Specialist in National Defense

The National Security Council (NSC) was established by statute in 1947 to create an interdepartmental body to advise the President with respect to the integration of domestic, foreign, and military policies relating to the national security so as to enable the military services and the other departments and agencies of the Government to cooperate more effectively in matters involving the national security. Currently, statutory members of the Council are the President, Vice President, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, and, since 2007, the Secretary of Energy; but, at the President’s request, other senior officials participate in NSC deliberations. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Director of National Intelligence are statutory advisers.

The President clearly holds final decision-making authority in the executive branch. Over the years, however, the NSC staff has emerged as a major factor in the formulation (and at times in the implementation) of national security policy. Similarly, the head of the NSC staff, the National Security Adviser, has played important, and occasionally highly public, roles in policymaking. This report traces the evolution of the NSC from its creation to the present.

The organization and influence of the NSC have varied significantly from one Administration to another, ranging from highly structured and formal systems to loose-knit teams of experts. Although it is universally acknowledged that the NSC staff should be organized to meet the particular goals and work habits of an incumbent President, the history of the NSC provides ample evidence of the advantages and disadvantages of different types of policymaking structures.

Congress enacted the statute creating the NSC and has altered the character of its membership over the years. Congress annually appropriates funds for its activities, but does not, routinely, receive testimony on substantive matters from the National Security Adviser or from NSC staff. Proposals to require Senate confirmation of the Security Adviser have been discussed but not adopted.

The post-Cold War world has posed new challenges to NSC policymaking. Some argue that the NSC should be broadened to reflect an expanding role of economic, environmental, and demographic issues in national security policymaking. The Clinton Administration created a National Economic Council tasked with cooperating closely with the NSC on international economic matters. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the George W. Bush Administration established a Homeland Security Council. The Obama Administration has combined the staffs of the Homeland Security Council and the National Security Council into a single National Security Staff, while retaining the two positions of National Security Adviser and Homeland Security Adviser. Although the latter has direct access to the President, the incumbent is to report organizationally to the National Security Adviser.

Date of Report: January 20, 2011
Number of Pages: 41
Order Number: RL30840
Price: $29.95

Follow us on TWITTER at or #CRSreports

Document available via e-mail as a pdf file or in paper form.
To order, e-mail
Penny Hill Press  or call us at 301-253-0881. Provide a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover card number, expiration date, and name on the card. Indicate whether you want e-mail or postal delivery. Phone orders are preferred and receive priority processing.