Thursday, July 28, 2016

Blast from a Relevant Past: Report Prepared by the Comptroller General of the United States (1977)

Office of the Historian

WashingtonMay 5, 1977

United States “public diplomacy”—international information, education, and cultural relations—is being extensively reexamined in and out of Government. Various proposals call for redefining the mission of public diplomacy, changing or eliminating functions, and reorganizing the administering apparatus.
The most prominent and comprehensive report suggesting changes in organizational arrangements to conduct U.S. public diplomacy is that of the Panel on International Information, Education, and Cultural Relations (Stanton Panel), a group of private citizens.
The report, published in March 1975, was endorsed 3 months later by the Commission on the Organization of the Government for the Conduct of Foreign Policy (Murphy Commission).2 A number of other qualified persons have strongly opposed several of the proposals. The State Department and the United States Information Agency are on record against all but one of them.
The report is being reviewed by the executive branch and is slated for consideration in the Congress.
GAO’s review is confined to the Stanton Panel recommendations. In the final chapter, however, GAO notes certain nonorganizational changes that merit attention in the ongoing effort to improve U.S. public diplomacy. (See pp. 34 to 36.)
One of the Panel’s proposals would improve present operations; two others seem promising but require further study; and the remainder—which contemplate a major reorganization—seem more likely to hinder than to advance the efficiency and effectiveness of U.S. public diplomacy. The latter proposals would achieve a certain tidiness on paper at the expense of arrangements that essentially have met the test of practicality and performance.
[Page 137]
Policy information function
The Panel proposes to reassign to the State Department the U.S. Information Agency’s role in articulating and advocating U.S. foreign policy overseas. This is based on the Panel’s distinction between “policy” information—which covers the Government’s “stance on foreign policy questions of immediate concern”—and “general” information.
Like many other observers, GAO believes the two kinds of information are often mutually reinforcing and difficult in practice to separate. The primary responsibility for articulating and advocating as well as formulating U.S. foreign policy is vested in the President and the Secretary of State. A role of the U.S. Information Agency is to give resonance abroad to authoritative definitions and interpretations of that policy under State Department guidance. For the most part this work appears to be done professionally and to the State Department’s general satisfaction. GAO believes the U.S. Information Agency should retain its policy information role. (See pp. 9 to 13, 15, and 16.)
Policy advisory function
The Panel also proposes to transfer to the State Department the U.S. Information Agency’s function of advising U.S. policymakers on the policy implications of foreign public opinion. This function is in fact performed by several Federal agencies. The U.S. Information Agency’s cultural and media contacts abroad enable it to make a distinctive advisory contribution.
There have been complaints, echoed by the Panel, that this contribution has not been properly utilized. How adequately it is utilized, how much it differs from that of other agencies, and whether the “neglect” of U.S. Information Agency policy advice can be corrected by means other than transferring the advisory function are among the unanswered questions raised by this proposal. Pending further study of such questions, the present arrangement should be left intact. (See pp. 9, 10, 13, 14, and 16.)
Establishment of new Information and Cultural Affairs Agency
The Panel proposes to consolidate the cultural functions of the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and those of the U.S. Information Agency. A single agency would be responsible for both the domestic and overseas aspects of U.S. general information, educational, and cultural programs. GAO believes, as do most persons consulted, that this proposal is constructive. It would lead to more efficient and consistent administration of U.S. cultural programs. (See pp. 17 to 24.)
[Page 138]
Relationship of new Information and Cultural Affairs Agency to Department of State
The Panel proposes that the new information agency be placed “under—but not in—the Department” as an “autonomous” agency on the model of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.
Both independent status for the information agency and the Panel’s alternative have distinct advantages and shortcomings. Either could work well. The choice should be based on a careful study of the pros and cons.
If the agency were assigned to State, however, some safeguards and some vigilance would be advisable to protect the agency’s professional integrity and its ability to cover objectively not only the State Department but other agencies and branches of Government as well as the private sector. (See pp. 19 to 24.)
Field reorganization
The Panel proposes to reorganize U.S. overseas missions so that articulating “policy” information would be the exclusive responsibility of State Department officers while “general” information and cultural programs would be the province of Information and Cultural Affairs Agency officers. This would fragment what the Panel itself describes as “the unified organization which has worked so effectively in the field for over twenty years.” The present trend toward closer integration of those activities in the overseas missions should be encouraged. (See pp. 25 to 27.)
Voice of America
The Panel proposes to make the Voice of America an independent agency under its own board, asserting that this “would enable the Voice of America to function as a credible medium.”
The Panel offers no evidence that present Voice of America broadcasts lack credibility, credence, or listenership. Audience research by the U.S. Information Agency and others in recent years suggests otherwise. Similarly, the Panel implies without attempting to demonstrate that Voice of America does not satisfy the needs of the Department of State. The evidence again points in the other direction. Implementing this proposal would add considerably to costs of operation.
How U.S. foreign policy is reported and advocated, especially by fast media and especially in moments of international crisis, can greatly affect the national interest for good or ill. For an agency billed and perceived as “the” Voice of America, there can be circumstances in which diplomatic needs ought to prevail over journalistic concerns.
It should be emphasized, however, that circumstances justifying State Department or White House intervention in Voice of America [Page 139]broadcasting are highly unusual, and the prerogative should be exercised with restraint and in full awareness of the need to protect Voice of America’s professional integrity.
The present structural relationship between the Voice of America, the U.S. Information Agency, and the Department of State should be preserved, but efforts should be made to improve the working relationships. (See pp. 28 to 33.)
This report was submitted in draft to the interested agencies and advisory commissions, as well as the Chairman of the Stanton Panel, for their informal comments. All agreed that the cultural functions of the U.S. Information Agency and the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs should be consolidated. GAO’s conclusions concerning the other Panel proposals have elicited emphatic agreement and equally emphatic disagreement. All comments were carefully considered.
[Omitted here are Chapter 1: Introduction; Chapter 2: Transfer of USIA’s Policy Articulation and Advisory Functions to State Department; Chapter 3: Establishment of New Information and Cultural Affairs Agency; Chapter 4: Field Reorganization; Chapter 5: Voice of America; Chapter 6: A New Charter for U.S. Public Diplomacy; and Appendix I: Principal Officers Concerned With the Subject of This Report.]
  1. Source: Comptroller General of the United States, Public Diplomacy In The Years Ahead—An Assessment Of Proposals For Reorganization. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1977.
  2. See footnote 6, Document 30.

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