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Trump's plan to downsize NPC staff draws fire



But whether a smaller O'Brien-run NSC will have more influence on the president is anything but clear. Trump has long chosen his gut feeling about policy advice. And NSC officials fear that the impeachment trial, which is about whether Trump is trying to pressure Ukraine to identify a political rival, is making the president's confidence in the US bureaucracy even lower than before.

Several NSC officials have already given a scathing testimony to the House committees, and the whistleblower, who first reported on the President's phone call to Ukrainian employee Volodymyr Zelensky, was said to have been a CIA employee who had previously served NSC staff had been reported. President Trump compared the whistleblower and the officials who talked to him to spies.

For the time being, O'Brien, who assumed the post of repressed conservative hawk John Bolton in September, appears confident in his approach.

"We rationalize the National Security Council," he told CBS News "Face the Nation" on Sunday. "We do not have to rebuild the Department of Defense, the State Department, and the Department of Homeland Security in the White House. We have great diplomats and soldiers and ̵

1; and people who can do that – who help us in the departments.

POLITICO spoke with several current and former Trump administrators as well as with outside experts to learn the changes. Most asked for anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, although O'Brien himself was quite open about his plans.

The NSC is to act as the organ that coordinates US national security and foreign policy throughout the executive. Depending on the administration, the influence is different.

Trump administration officials say the goal is to reduce the NSC's political staff to fewer than 120 by January. According to O'Brien, the number drops to 174. The number does not include the technical and support staff of the institution, for which many cuts are unlikely.

O'Brien has stated that he wants to seek a leadership similar to that of the NSC during the first term of then President George W. Bush. These numbers continued to grow – and often accurate figures are not disclosed – to the point where there were more than 200 political slots under President Barack Obama.

The Obama team has shrunk the body a bit in the last few years, and Trump continued that.

Much of O'Brien's shrinkage will be due to signs of wear and tear: most NSC policy workers are hired by other agencies or departments such as the Pentagon for a year or two, as a rule. When the details are done, fewer can count on extensions. Her roles remain vacant.

The NSC sections, which are expected to lose the most slots, are the so-called "functional directorates". The functional directorates deal with geographically unrelated issues such as human rights or the fight against terrorism.

At least two functional directorates – strategic planning and emerging technologies – are being phased out, current and former NSC staff said. The Directorate for International Economics, which previously reported to both the NSC and the National Economic Council, now only reports to the NEC.

A government official said the Strategic Planning Department had already done its main job of preparing Trump's National Security Strategy. The person in charge of this direction, Kevin Harrington, has been appointed strategic advisor to O'Brien, and has been mandated to "make a net assessment of all our strategies to determine how effective our strategies are," the official said.

New technologies that theoretically deal with issues such as artificial intelligence were considered below-average and twice as good as other parts of government.

The change in the International Business Directorate is partly about clarifying who is responsible for what, said current and former NSC staff. There were complaints that the members of this team, if they had a dual reporting structure, played one or the other role in discussions between the agencies, depending on what benefited them.

O'Brien also has no plans to revive the Homeland Security Council, which essentially exists only on paper after he was originally a principal under Trump.

The counterparts to the function directorates are the regional directorates dealing with, for example, Europe, the Middle East or South Asia.

O'Brien, who has been Trump's fourth national security advisor since taking office in 2017, has signaled that he gives regional directorates priority over functional directorates. A decision by some NSC

It is a concern that non-compliance with functional directorates can lead to divergent US policies for different regions of the world and that US officials working with regions invest heavily in maintaining relations There is also concern among other governments that they no longer focus on issues such as human rights or the ending of corruption.

"The US For example, A should pursue an approach to democracy and governance globally, regionally no different, "said one NSC staff member.

John Gans, author of "White House Warriors," a book on the NPC and its history, added that other governments might find it worrying that if the US does not take the lead on issues in the long run, national borders exceed .

"The transnational stuff – a pandemic, financial crises, climate change – will continue, but the White House will be less equipped to deal with it," he said.

But other observers of the NSC downplayed such concerns, saying that proper communication and coordination could help avoid pitfalls, and emphasized that the functional directorates were not marginalized. However, O'Brien and his deputy, Matt Pottinger, should ensure that there is a balance, they said.

"I do not think the regional directorates have a bigger say, they need to be consulted at work," a former NSC official said.

O'Brien's decision to promote Pottinger, formerly a high-ranking Asian hand, was widely praised by the NSC staff. O'Brien has also hired a senior Foreign Ministry official, Matthias Mitman, as NSC Executive Secretary.

Such moves are intentional and distinguish O'Brien from Bolton, who has hired several people from outside the government to occupy the top positions of the NSC. "When you involve outsiders, it seems that you are expressing a lack of confidence in the organization," the official said.

O'Brien is a trained lawyer and initially joined the Trump Administration as Special Envoy for hostage-taking.

O'Brien has held several meetings of the Principals Committee. These meetings bring together Cabinet members and other senior US officials focused on national security. Bolton was criticized for not having had enough of these meetings.

Thanks to the impeachment investigation, the sentiment in the NSC Directorate dealing with Europe and Russia is of particular concern to the new NSC leadership. (The current NSC employee described this management as "radioactive.") This includes Lieutenant Colonel Alex Vindman, an expert from the Ukraine, who is expected to stay in the NSC until July. Tim Senior Director Tim Morrison recently quit.

He was replaced by Andrew Peek, previously Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iraq and Iran. Peek had relatively little experience in dealing with Europe, but was selected in part because of his proximity to O'Brien, which should give the staff of this directorate a certain amount of self-confidence and comfort.

"He is a natural leader," said Peek's administration official. "He's going to take care of these guys, the best he can do is make sure they're well represented in the political process."

Like some others who played the role before him, O Brien has Brent Scowcroft referred to the role of National Security Advisor.

Scowcroft served in this position under both Presidents Gerald Ford and George HW Busch, and his model was described as an "honest broker," meaning he served as President Views of the US authorities instead of trying to seize them with their own.

Trump's aides admit that while the president likes to catch up with a wide range of opinions, he eventually deals with his own guts It's hard to imagine O'Brien changing that, even though it makes the NSC more efficient.

"I think he does the right thing by looking closer at the NPC – w It worked and what did not, "said a second former NSC employee on O'Brien. "I think every new national security adviser would do the same."


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