What is a White House policy council?

What is a White House policy council and what does it do?

  • The President needs someone physically close to him whom he trusts to answer policy questions as they arise.
  • When he has to make a policy decision someone has to get him all the information he needs to make a good decision, and he needs someone to sift through and mediate the oft-conflicting views of his advisors. This is an honest broker role.
  • He may need someone with policy expertise to advise him on such decisions, someone who can see the big picture rather than just one part of it. This is an advisor role.
  • When he makes a policy decision that spans Cabinet agencies he needs someone to ensure the different parts of his government are coordinated, implementing his policy decision rather than their own preferences.
  • When problems crop up he needs someone to make sure they get solved, especially when the problems and/or solutions cross jurisdictional lines within the executive branch.
  • Finally, he needs policy experts to work with his other advisors to explain and sell his policies to Congress, the public, the press, and the world.

The staffs of the White House policy councils do all these things for the president.

President Trump will inherit from President Obama three White House policy councils:

  1. the National Security Council (NSC);
  2. the National Economic Council (NEC); and
  3. the Domestic Policy Council (DPC).

Each council has two components: the council itself and the policy council staff. There is a National Economic Council, which formally consists of eighteen people: the president, vice president, 12 cabinet-level officials and four senior White House staff. Then there’s an NEC staff within the White House, comprised of 15-25 people. Usually when people refer to the NEC they actually mean the NEC staff. The most senior of these has the title of Assistant to the President for Economic Policy and Director of the National Economic Council. President-elect Trump has named Gary Cohn to that position. Mike Flynn will run the NSC with the title National Security Advisor, and they still need someone to run DPC.

I know most about the NEC so I’ll use that for illustration. […]