The Use of Presidential Directives to Make and Implement U.S. Policy

T-NSIAD-88-42: Published: Aug 3, 1988. Publicly Released: Aug 3, 1988.

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GAO discussed its ongoing study on how the current and previous administrations used presidential directives to make and implement U.S. policy. GAO noted that: (1) the National Security Council (NSC) has produced policy papers and presidential directives, representing the U.S. position on a broad variety of national security issues, since 1947; (2) most of these documents remain classified and are largely unavailable for congressional or public scrutiny; (3) NSC does not routinely or systematically seek congressional views before issuing directives, or notify Congress when it issues directives; (4) there is no complete listing of presidential directives issued by any administration; (5) although the administrations tailored the system for announcing and circulating directives to reflect personal style, they used the directives in similar ways; and (6) many of the directives rescinded or superseded previous directives, demonstrating the ongoing nature of the documents. GAO also noted that, of 247 publicly released directives it analyzed: (1) 47 percent established policy, directed the implementation of policy, or authorized the commitment of government resources; and (2) 63 percent involved foreign policy issues, 41 percent involved military issues, and 22 percent involved domestic matters.

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