How Washington, D.C., Governs National Security, Manages the Budget, and Promotes Trade

Many of the Washington, D.C., institutions that make up the Executive Office of the President (EOP) are integral parts of the federal government. Some of the more important offices in the EOP deal with national security, budget management, economic policy, and trade policy.

The EOP includes:

  • The National Security Council (NSC): The NSC coordinates the development and implementation of the President’s national security policy. Chaired by the President, the NSC includes a small group of Cabinet officials supplemented by such key officials as the Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The President’s National Security Advisor is a key participant (and supervises the work of the National Security Staff).

    The NSC, through the National Security Staff, manages the formal foreign policy decision-making process in which departments and agencies that have a role in foreign affairs attempt to develop consensus recommendations for the President.

  • National Security Staff (NSS): These staffers are some of the hardest-working men and women in the government, routinely working 12 hours or more every day and sacrificing weekends and other personal time to the exigencies and randomness of international affairs.

    The supervisor of the NSS is the National Security Advisor, who can be one of the most important and visible officials in an administration. His (or her) influence is tied directly to his relationship with the President. President Richard Nixon’s National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger, is generally believed to have set the bar on the position, giving orders to the Secretaries of State and Defense.

    The highest levels of the NSS are filled by political appointees, usually well-known academics, political figures, or distinguished military officers with long résumés in the national security arena. Midlevel staffers largely come from other agencies — diplomats, military officers, and intelligence professionals who have made a name for themselves and are being rewarded with a chance to work at the center of power.

  • The Office of Management and Budget (OMB): It may have one of the blandest titles in government, but as the administration’s official CFO, the OMB exerts enormous influence throughout the federal government. The influence of the OMB director is sometimes called Washington’s version of the golden rule: He who has the gold, rules.

    When the OMB isn’t developing the President’s multi-trillion-dollar annual budget request, it’s evaluating the effectiveness of the federal government’s myriad programs and regulations and developing official administration statements on pending congressional legislation.

  • The Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) and the National Economic Council (NEC): Although nearly indistinguishable in name and mission, the CEA and NEC do play somewhat different roles.

    • The CEA, which can be likened to a think tank, was established by Congress in 1946 to advise the President on economic policy and provide him with objective analysis.

    • To demonstrate his seriousness in tackling the country’s economic problems, President Bill Clinton created the NEC (which he envisioned as an economic version of the National Security Council) by Executive Order days after his inauguration in 1993. The NEC serves as a policy and interagency coordinator, bringing together the heads of various U.S. departments and EOP offices. It’s also an important proving ground for the President’s economic team.

  • The Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR): The USTR formulates, negotiates, and implements U.S. trade policy. Congress chartered USTR’s coordination role in a way that gives the agency a high level of independence from the rest of the federal bureaucracy, making it the premier negotiator of all U.S. trade agreements.

    USTR also takes the lead in high-profile trade disputes, such as confronting China for stealing intellectual property or challenging the European Union for illegally subsidizing the aircraft industry.

    USTR has a statutory mandate to seek the advice of the private sector when formulating trade policy and thus interacts directly with the public more than many other federal agencies.

    The U.S. Trade Representative and his or her deputies are all ranked at the ambassador level. One deputy also serves as the U.S. Ambassador to the World Trade Organization based in Geneva.

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