By Patricia Cogswell
During our Mission is Possible Transitions podcast, The Importance of Strong Leadership last fall, Anne Witkowsky and I discussed our National Security Council (NSC) experiences. As we developed our #ImplementingChangethatLasts series, I spoke with other former National Security Council staff colleagues who echoed our experiences. New NSC staff, comprised of direct White House hires and detailees from various agencies, are often expected to assume their portfolios with little handoff from the prior office holder, onboarding instruction, or guidance for how to be most effective.
The NSC staff has an important mission. The staff supporting the National Security and Homeland Security Advisors, and through them, the President, are responsible for driving the national security policymaking process. They frame the issues in their respective areas of responsibility, shape the options and arguments, and drive the decision process across relevant national security agencies. When a decision memo goes to the President, the NSC staff prepares it. Once a decision is made, the NSC staff ensures that that decision is implemented.
I found several advocates for a new approach, especially in light of the significant turnover at the NSC from the last Administration, as well as ongoing efforts to fill leadership positions filled in agencies. NSC staff need to be well-equipped to efficiently lead shortly after arrival, given the critical, highly visible issues they are responsible for driving.
I asked my colleagues for their perspectives on what could be readily incorporated into an NSC staff member’s schedule; they recommended that incoming staff should:
NSC staff positions are some of the hardest jobs in the national security business. Those who serve at the NSC often become leaders in government and elsewhere. Providing this type of transition support would benefit the White House, the national security agencies, and the staff themselves as they both shape the policy of today and continue their careers as future leaders.