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Washington Journal: Congress Closes Two Foreign Policy Agencies

  • Kevin Foley

Washington, 23 October 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. Congress has approved the elimination of two foreign policy agencies, the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) and the U.S. Information Agency (USIA).

A third foreign policy agency, the Agency for International Development (AID), was spared from the reorganization and will continue as an independent unit.

The legislation authorizing the reorganization was included in the government budget bill approved by both the House of Representatives and the Senate this week. President Bill Clinton signed the legislation on Wednesday.

The elimination of the two agencies was a victory for Senator Jesse Helms (R-North Carolina), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He has sought to reorganize the foreign policy establishment for several years. Helms initially wanted to get rid of ACDA, the USIA and the AID, but agreed to a compromise with President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, and the senior Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware.

Helms has contended that the three independent agencies were bloated bureaucracies that duplicated much of the work that was done by the State Department.

The functions and the personnel of the ACDA and the USIA -- with one important exception -- will be assumed by the State Department.

The ACDA helped to negotiate and monitor international arms control agreements. The USIA administered cultural and academic exchange programs and served what was called a public diplomacy function that provided information about the United States and its institutions to citizens of foreign countries.

U.S. government-funded international radio broadcasting was part of the public diplomacy arm of the USIA. However, the radio and television broadcasting that had been administered by the USIA will n-o-t be transferred to the State Department.

The legislation states simply that:

"The United States Information Agency (other than the Broadcasting Board of Governors and the International Broadcasting Bureau) is abolished."

U.S. government-supported broadcasting includes the Voice of America, which broadcasts around the world; Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, which broadcast to central and eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union and which will inaugurate broadcasting to Iran and Iraq soon; Radio and TV Marti, which broadcast to Cuba, and Radio Free Asia, which broadcasts to China and other totalitarian countries in Asia.

The work of those radio stations is overseen by a board of governors which is made up of prominent Americans from both major political parties who are appointed by the president. The day-to-day operations of the radio stations are the responsibility of the broadcasting bureau.

Senator Biden, a strong backer of the government-supported radios, fought successfully to keep the broadcast operations out of State Department control. He said this was "essential to maintaining the journalistic independence and integrity of these broadcasts."

The reorganization plan is to be carried out next year by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.