President Dwight D. Eisenhower brought to the White House an unprecedented experience with the military staff system and a settled conviction that it was the only sensible and efficient way to run the government. The White House was therefore reorganized to resemble a military table of organization: the assistant to the president became the chief of staff, and other positions were established under him to systematize the flow of paperwork to and from the White House. Like Truman, Eisenhower believed that cabinet officers should run their departments, and he discouraged them from bringing their problems to the White House.
Like his successors Kennedy and Nixon, Eisenhower was most interested in foreign affairs. Eisenhower's passion for organization was exercised most closely in an attempt to perfect foreign policy decision making through formalizing and expanding the National Security Council. He converted the NSC staff into a planning board under a special assistant for national security affairs, with responsibility for preparing policy papers and coordinating them among interested government departments and agencies for NSC consideration. The Operations Coordinating Board was established to see that NSC decisions were carried out.
Despite this formal machinery, Eisenhower relied heavily on key advisers in deciding what policies to implement. While Secretary of State John Foster Dulles played an important role as the chief spokesman and negotiator for Eisenhower, the president gathered advice and counsel from such individuals as disarmament adviser Harold Stassen, psychological warfare advocate C. D. Jackson, Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Lewis Strauss, UN Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, and, after the launch of Sputnik, presidential science advisers James Killian and George Kistiakowsky. As a result, Eisenhower's foreign policy was never as rigid as the organizational charts suggested but instead included such innovations as Atoms for Peace, "open skies," and an expanded and generous foreign aid program.
Under John F. Kennedy, the elaborate national security structure of the Eisenhower years gave way to a more modest and informal foreign policy apparatus. Distrusting bureaucracy, and disappointed in Dean Rusk, his choice as secretary of state, the president preferred to deal directly with desk officers in the Department of State who had operational responsibility for specific foreign policy issues. Kennedy did away with the cumbersome Operations Coordinating Board and relied instead on his special assistant for national security affairs, McGeorge Bundy, a former Harvard dean. Bundy assembled a small group of academic experts to staff the scaled down NSC in the basement of the White House, where they attempted to reconcile the conflicting foreign policy recommendations of the Pentagon and the Department of State.
Several others on the White House staff had regular access to the president, among them Theodore Sorensen, special counsel, chief speech writer, and long Kennedy's closest aide; scientific adviser Jerome Weisner; and special military representative General Maxwell Taylor, former army chief of staff, whose advocacy of a "flexible response" defense strategy in opposition to the Eisenhower-Dulles "massive retaliation" doctrine suited the activist approach of the New Frontier. Kennedy also placed great reliance on Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, who became a sort of "super secretary." But as the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 proved, Kennedy's most trusted and valued adviser was always his brother Robert, the attorney general.