The Foreign Policy Bureaucracy and Presidential Influence


By: Gerald F. Witherspoon, Sr.

The foreign policy bureaucracy is a conglomeration of international and domestic agencies that internationalize the process of foreign policy decision making. This conglomeration can be trilaterally categorized into the Executive Office of the President, Presidential Departments and Agencies, and the Independent Agencies (Rosati 2011). The president enjoys more authority in the Executive Office of the President and less in the Independent Agencies. Further, in much the same way that globalization has caused national borders to become less relevant, the functions of the domestic and international bureaucracies have become less distinctive. The more a president is able to manage the bureaucracy the more likely he is able to govern effectively. To that accord, the president must remain actively engaged throughout his presidency, appoint those who possess the strongest tendency to mirror his values and priorities, and have strong organizational skills in order to benefit from the bureaucracy (Rosati 2011).

Historically, foreign bureaucracies were small. Then, President Franklin Roosevelt introduced the New Deal triggering the first expansion. Successively thereafter (after World War II and the Cold War), the National Security Act of 1947 produced further expansion. Currently, the foreign policy bureaucracy is large enough to respond to a growing number of concerns and threats, albeit, at times, large enough to remain evasively complex (Rosati 2011).

The individuals appointed by the president across various organizations, and the White House Office (WHO) most directly, act as his “eyes and ears” and work to preserve his “reputation, public prestige, and choices” (Rosati 2011, 101). The chief of staff, another prominent position, keeps the president on schedule, acts as an intermediary between the president and other staff, and streamlines information. Then, there are the most significant of the foreign policy organization appointees such as the National Security Council Advisor, Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, and others, who contribute daily to the foreign policy process by acting as information resources. These appointees demonstrate only a fraction of the responsibilities relegated by the president that would otherwise overwhelm him.

Obviously, appointing contrary minded individuals to highly influential agencies can have a detrimental effect on presidential goal preferences. As noted in, The Politics of United States Foreign Policy, “As the president begins to interact with his advisers, he begins to learn more about their policy views, personalities, and operating styles and makes judgments about the value of their advice, trust, and friendship” (Rosati 2011, 107). The president may eventually find himself ignoring the advice of those he once espoused the most. To that accord, the White-House-centered system has historically posed the most reliable means of organizing the process as those who work directly for the president are inherently more responsive. That is, there remains a lower potential for non-responsiveness the less entrenched an individual becomes in an autonomous and complex bureaucracy.

Time and policy analysis/implementation bring about change and those entrusted by the president will have an enormous impact on his foreign policy legacy. Thus he must choose wisely and evaluate his selections over time. Finally, although active engagement does not guarantee perfect control, it maximizes the potential for influential governance.


Rosati, Jerel A. and James M. Scott.  2011.  The Politics of United States Foreign Policy.  5th ed. Independence, KY:  Wadsworth Publishing. (accessed March 31, 2014).


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