Biden Aims for “Highest Standards of Transparency”

02.05.21 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

“In a democracy, the public deserves as much transparency as possible regarding the work of our national security institutions, consistent with legitimate needs to protect sources and methods and sensitive foreign relationships,” according to a memorandum issued by President Biden on February 4.

“The revitalization of our national security and foreign policy workforce requires a recommitment to the highest standards of transparency,” the President wrote.

See Revitalizing America’s Foreign Policy and National Security Workforce, Institutions, and Partnerships, National Security Memorandum, February 4, 2021.

The memorandum presents a set of principles to guide the conduct and operation of the whole national security apparatus with a particular focus on “strengthening the national security workforce.”

The President notably envisions increased engagement with public interest organizations, among others.

“It is the policy of my Administration to advance its national security and foreign policy goals by harnessing the ideas, perspectives, support, and contributions of a diverse array of partners, such as State and local governments, academic and research institutions, the private sector, nongovernmental organizations, and civil society.”

The memorandum also calls for “a foreign policy for the middle class.”

“Our work abroad is — and always will be — tethered to our needs at home. I have committed to the American people that my Administration will prioritize policies abroad that help Americans to succeed in the global economy and ensure that everyone shares in the success of our country here at home.”

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Despite the previous issuance of “National Security Directive 1” on January 21, the national security directives of the Biden Administration are to be known as National Security Memoranda (NSMs). (Update: National Security Directive 1 was subsequently redesignated as National Security Memorandum 1.)

The President made the new designation in National Security Memorandum (NSM) 2 on Renewing the National Security Council System, February 4.

“This document is one in a series of National Security Memoranda that, along with National Security Study Memoranda, shall replace National Security Presidential Memoranda and Space Policy Directives [of the Trump Administration] as instruments for communicating Presidential decisions about national security policies of the United States,” the NSM states.

NSM-2 defines the organization of the National Security Council in the Biden Administration. So, for example, the prior system of NSC Policy Coordination Committees will be replaced by a new system of Interagency Policy Committees.

“The Biden NSC structure will reflect the cross-cutting nature of our most critical national challenges by more regularly integrating cabinet officials from domestically-focused agencies into national security decision-making,” according to a White House statement.

“President Biden has also made clear that his National Security Council will bring professionalism, respect, transparency, inclusivity, collaboration, collegiality, and accountability to its work. Above all, the Biden administration will respect the rule of law and act consistently with our values,” the statement said.

There will of course be many opportunities to test that vision.