The U.S. national security adviser has a unique role as a top aide to the president. Here’s what you need to know about this important White House position.
What is a national security adviser?
The assistant to the president for national security affairs — commonly known as the national security adviser — is a senior aide who serves as the chief in-house adviser to the president on national security issues.
The national security adviser is usually a member of various military or security councils. He or she reports directly to the president, like Cabinet secretaries or other senior aides.
What does the job entail, and how does it relate to what Cabinet secretaries do?
The national security adviser participates in meetings of the U.S. National Security Council (NSC) and usually chairs meetings of the council’s Principals Committee with the secretary of state and secretary of defense when the president is not in attendance. The national security adviser offers the president a range of options on national security issues.
Among other duties, the national security adviser helps plan the president’s foreign travel and provides background memos and staffing for the president’s meetings and phone calls with world leaders.
The national security adviser also prepares the president for NSC meetings, helps draft national security and foreign policy speeches, helps to prepare for meetings with congressional leaders, responds to presidential requests for information, and briefs the president on issues of the moment.
Stephen Hadley, who was President George W. Bush’s national security adviser from 2005 to 2009, described the scope of the job in a 2016 speech. He said the adviser needs to advance presidential initiatives within the executive branch of the federal government.
Although the national security adviser works closely with Cabinet members, Hadley said he or she “must be careful not to usurp the role of the Cabinet officers — especially the secretaries of defense and state,” who run their departments and have authority over agency budgets.
Does the national security adviser need confirmation by the U.S. Senate?
No. That’s because it’s a staff job, and as such, “it is exempted from Senate confirmation or public congressional testimony,” Hadley said.
When was this position created?
The National Security Council was created in 1947 to coordinate defense, foreign affairs, international economic policy and intelligence, and the position of national security adviser emerged a few years later. Robert Cutler became the first national security adviser in 1953, serving under President Eisenhower.
Robert C. O’Brien, former special presidential envoy for hostage affairs at the State Department, becomes the 28th person to occupy the position. Of the previous 27 national security advisers, three (Henry Kissinger, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice) eventually became secretary of state.
What makes the job especially rewarding?
“Serving as the national security adviser is the best foreign-policy job in government,” said Hadley. “You get to spend more time with the president than any other member of the president’s national security team. You are the first person to see the president in the morning when the president shows up for work in the Oval Office and the last person to see the president before he or she makes any major foreign policy or national security decision.”
Also, “you are the person most likely to know the president’s mind on these issues,” he said. “You are involved in consequential matters that span the globe and affect the world.”
Unencumbered by the ceremonial duties of a Cabinet secretary, “you spend a higher proportion of your time on policy substance than any other national security principal,” said Hadley. “If you like policy over pomp, you’ll love this job.”
A version of this article was previously published on April 6, 2018.