My Revised Idea for the New Administration

February 9, 2009 • Daily Email Recap

My Revised Idea for the New Administration: an Office of Special Assistant to the President on Population and Sustainability Issues

Thanks to the many people who responded to my mailing in December regarding an Office of Population in the White House. I received greater response to that mailing than any of the other daily mailings I have sent out in the last three years. Based on the numerous suggestions, I have revised the concept to that of a Special Assistant to the President on Population and Global Sustainability Issues. Please see the paper below.

Lindsey Grant, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Population and Environment, suggested that there are some amendments to the concept needed to make the idea justifiable as a White House position. His suggestion was to have the office charged with a foresight role, namely, to develop an Administration position as to whether U.S. and global population growth is desirable or not. Once a position is established, the office would be charged with two things. First, proposing actions and policies to pursue that decision, and second, examining other policy proposals that come to the President to evaluate whether they help or hinder the pursuit of that position. (This relates to a book Lindsey wrote 20 years ago called Foresight and National Decisions: The Horseman and the Bureaucrat). That final role would enable the Office to intervene in key national debates — e.g. foreign assistance policies, global warming, migration policy, or labor policy.

These roles would give the office a function parallel to the National Security Council (NSC), the sometime Domestic Council or the Council of Economic Advisers. As a fallback, if the idea actually catches on but doesn’t have the force to be sold as is, Lindsey suggested we could gain valuable allies in the White House bureaucracy by going along with a proposal that — instead of an independent office — the function be assigned to the NSC, and that it be headed by somebody at least as senior as those who head the NSC’s other sections. (According to Lindsey, this doesn’t really mean bureaucratic sprawl. The NSC had only 20 to 30 professionals when he was there, and he thinks it is still very small).

In his message, Lindsey mentioned the Rockefeller Commission of 1970-72 (as did Charlie Westoff in his response. Charlie was executive director of that commission). The problem then, according to Lindsey, was not the proposals, but the machinery. When the Commission made its report, it evaporated. To sell such ideas again, and make them happen, Lindsey thinks there is a need for a continuing presence in the White House.

Of course one danger, which also is true of the current position in the State Department, is that a hostile administration in the future could appoint someone who’s agenda is to drive U.S. and global population growth. The design of the office, if it is set up, would need to help prevent that from occurring. To address that concern, George Jaeger suggested creating parallel offices in several other departments simultaneously. You will see those suggestions built into the attached revised draft.

Your feedback is welcome.

White House Office of Special Assistant to the President on Population and Sustainability Issues Concept Paper (Word Doc., 44 KB)

Best wishes,

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