Think your company's meetings suck? Well, it may be cold comfort, but you're in good company. Apparently the Bush White House's meetings stunk, too. This is an excerpt from Donald Rumsfeld's memoir -- an extended gripe session about Condeleeza Rice's NSC meetings.
I had other issues with [Condeleeza] Rice's management of the NSC process. Often meetings were not well organized. Frequent last-minute changes to the times of meetings and to the subject matter made it difficult for the participants to prepare, and even more difficult, with departments of their own to manage, to rearrange their full schedules. The NSC staff often was late in sending participants papers for meetings that set out the issues to be discussed.
At the conclusion of NSC meetings when decisions were taken, members of the NSC staff were theoretically supposed to write a summary of conclusions. When I saw them, they were often sketchy and didn't always fit with my recollections. Ever since the Iran-Contra scandal of the Reagan administration, NSC staffs have been sensitive to written notes and records that could implicate a president or his advisers. Rice and her colleagues seemed concerned about avoiding detailed records that others might exploit. This came at the expense of enabling the relevant executive agencies to know precisely what had been discussed and decided at the NSC meetings. Attendees from time to time left meetings with differing views of what was decided and what the next steps should be, which freed CIA, State, or Defense officials to go back and do what they thought best.
In one August 2002 memo to Rice, I raised this lack of resolution. "It sometimes happens that a matter mentioned at a meeting is said to have been 'decided' because it elicited no objection," I wrote. "That is not a good practice. Nothing should be deemed decided unless we expressly agree to decide it." Rice started putting a note at the bottom of draft decision memos: "If no objections are raised by a specific deadline, the memo will be considered approved by the principals." That, too, was impractical. [Secretary of State Colin] Powell and I were frequently traveling. I did not want to have others assume I agreed with something simply because I missed an arbitrary deadline.