White House Merges National Security, Homeland Security Staffs

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Brennan's Role Formalized; Has Walk-In Privileges, No Longer His Own Staff

So far as breaking news goes, this ain't all that broken. But in government, structure often dictates function, which, in turn, heavily influences policy. Who reports directly to the president? Who reports to an assistant? Are staff in one bucket allowed to communicate with staff in another? Today, the Obama administration announced the consolidation of the Homeland Security staff and National Security Council staff at the White House, completing a process that began in the latter years of the Bush administration. A newly-named "national security staff" will serve the president as his principal staff coordinators for all homeland security, counterterorrism, transnational and international policy. The announcement today makes plain that Obama has come to value the services of his chief homeland security adviser, John Brennan, who has direct walk-in privileges. Obama writes that he will retain Brennan's position, which -- and this is important -- DOES NOT report to the national security adviser, but reports directly to the President. Brennan, "as my principal White House advisor on these issues, with direct and immediate access to me. The security of our homeland is of paramount importance to me,  and I will not allow organizational impediments to stand in the way of timely action that ensures the safety of our citizens."   

Still, the staff merger effectively takes away Brennan's own staff. 
The national security adviser remains the President's chief adviser on national security, but, as in the Bush administration, does not directly manage the homeland security coordination process.

Frances Frago Townsend, who was President Bush's chief homeland security adviser, said that "if the new organization maintains direct and immediate access to the President as it did under President Bush and has the necessarily resources and capabilities to do the job of protecting the American people, then we should not regard the reorganization as significant."

A White House official described the merger as a formal "integration" of two staffs.  

The memo from the President follows the jump.
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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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