National Security:

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

NSIAD-89-31: Published: Dec 28, 1988. Publicly Released: Mar 10, 1989.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO examined presidential directives issued through the National Security Council (NSC) since 1947 and subsequently released in unclassified form to determine how the current and previous administrations used them to make and implement U.S. policy.

GAO found that: (1) since 1947, each administration has adopted a system for issuing presidential directives involving domestic, foreign, and military policies; (2) most of the directives issued prior to 1961 were unclassified, while only 247 of the 1,042 directives issued after 1961 were unclassified; (3) 116 directives either established policy, directed policy implementation, or authorized commitment of government resources; (4) many of the directives fell into the three main categories, but covered more than one category; and (5) 81 directives established policy, 69 implemented policy, 22 ordered commitment of government resources, 73 involved foreign policy, 48 involved military issues, and 26 involved domestic issues. GAO also found that: (1) NSC did not systematically or routinely inform Congress about the directive decisions; and (2) Congress presented a bill that would require the registration of presidential directives, including national security directives, and their disclosure to Congress.