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Diversity on the National Security Council

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Antwain Leach
November 2, 2018

For decades, the trend within government agencies and throughout the federal bureaucracy has been one of increasing diversity. Not only has diversity been shown to position the workplace to better cope with a fast-changing professional environment, but it’s also proven to increase an organizations’ overall effectiveness. The ability to generate different ideas, viewpoints and to consider competing perspectives from a broader spectrum, all add to an organization’s strategic readiness to capitalize on new opportunities. When considering the federal national security apparatus where thinking outside of the box is generally frowned upon, should diversity be pursued? Put differently, does diversity benefit or adversely affect our national security? If the latter, then diversity on the President’s National Security Council (NSC) should be avoided at all costs, but if the former is the case, then diversity must be actively sought after and vigorously maintained.

By federal statute, the NSC is an agency operating within the Executive Office of the president to provide advice on foreign, domestic and military policy related to national security. Structurally, the president serves as the Council’s chairperson, and is advised by the Principal’s Committee, the Deputies Committee and the Policy Coordination Committee.

By law, the NSC’s Principal’s Committee includes the Vice-President as well as the Secretaries of State, Defense, Energy and the Treasury. The Principal’s Committee usually also includes the US Attorney General, the White House Chief of Staff, the Director of National Intelligence, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Director of the CIA, the Homeland Security Advisor and the US Ambassador to the UN. The National Security Advisor chairs in the president’s absence and is the main facilitator of the Council ensuring the president has the most pertinent information to make an informed decision.

As it stands now, not a single African American, Hispanic American or any other person of color occupies a seat on the NSC. This current practice runs contrary to that of previous administrations. For instance, multiple minorities served on the NSC in both the Barack Obama and George W. Bush administrations. The practice extends even further with Condoleeza Rice also serving on the NSC in the George H.W. Bush administration and Colin Powell serving under both President’s Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

A position on the NSC undoubtedly must be determined by qualifications, suitability and competency. Members on the NSC must be savvy enough to not only manage a relationship with the president, but also resourceful enough to extract from various departments, agencies and foreign counterparts, the relevant information necessary to make the best decisions.

Providing representation on the NSC from more than one segment of the US population also provides a sense of legitimacy to the Council itself. Such representation shows the American people that their safety is in the hands of not just a cluster of White men, but also men and women of distinction and character from all over the country. Such representation will also provide the president with much needed fresh and alternative options. Just think of the type of foreign policy blunders recent presidents may have avoided if perspectives from outside the Washington bubble were considered more seriously. The Iraqi invasion comes to mind, also the invasion of Syria, the humanitarian catastrophe currently unfolding in Libya due to US military action there, and the list goes on.

Present national security topics on the president’s radar does not bode well for an NSC which views the world from only one side of the global chessboard. A prime example is election security. Because elections are at the heart our democracy, their integrity and freedom from foreign interference is paramount to the country’s national security. A way to illustrate just how serious his administration is about election security would be for the president to appoint an expert on election security to the NSC. Such a move would empower this issue with the necessary resources and political backing necessary to adequately protect against foreign encroachments to one of the most important elements of our democracy. An election security expert – especially from a minority group historically obstructed from full participation in elections in general – will provide added credence to America’s determination to ensure open and fair elections under this presidential administration.

In sum, if diversity has been proven to make agencies and public organizations more effective, then it is imperative that an agency as important to our national security as the NSC, diversifies with all deliberate speed. The national security issues at stake now and those we’ll face in the future will require an NSC fully empowered to handle 21st century challenges.


Author: Antwain Leach, PhD, Fisk University

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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