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The ACDA-USIA Merger into State — The End of of an Era

As the Cold War began to go into full swing, the United States soon realized the need for distinct agencies that would operate outside of the existing federal executive departments. Accordingly, independent agencies such as the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) and the United States Information Agency (USIA) were created in 1961 and 1953 respectively to address new challenges and issues that were occurring in the ideological struggle of the time.

However, as the conflict gradually came to an end, certain individuals such as Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC), who was the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, began to see these organizations as superfluous and unwieldy and viewed them as “Cold War agencies.” He then pushed to fold them into the State Department. With the Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act of 1998, both agencies were fully absorbed into the State Department by 1999.

ACDA was previously known as the U.S. Disarmament Administration, which was part of the State Department from 1960 to 1961. ACDA was created with the objective of strengthening U.S. national security by “formulating, advocating, negotiating, implementing, and verifying effective arms control, nonproliferation, and disarmament policies, strategies, and agreements.”

USIA was created by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953 to primarily conduct public diplomacy. As such, its mission was “to understand, inform and influence foreign publics in promotion of the national interest and to broaden the dialogue between Americans and U.S. institutions and their counterparts abroad.”  To achieve these goals, USIA used a wide range of overseas information programs, including radio broadcasts, libraries, press motion pictures, exhibits, to both explain and support American policies, society and culture abroad.

Stephen J. Ledogar witnessed the beginning of the end of ACDA when he was the U.S. Ambassador to the UN Conference on Disarmament. He was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy beginning in March 2000. Dean Rust recounts his time with ACDA before the merger and how it changed afterwards, when he became the Director of the Nuclear Proliferation Bureau. Charles Stuart Kennedy interviewed him beginning in December 2006.

Gilbert R. Callaway was the executive assistant to the Deputy Director of USIA and gives his views on the merger of the agency into the State Department. Charles Stuart Kennedy conducted this interview with him beginning in April 1999. Bruce Gregory reminisces the regrettable passing of USIA when he was a part of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy. He was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy beginning in January 2006.

Read other Moments on arms control and public diplomacy.


“ACDA was still separate, but it was under attack and crippled”

Stephen J. Ledogar, Ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament, 1990-1997

LEDOGAR: Well, the problem with ACDA was that from the time of the mid-term elections of ’94 that put the Republicans in control of the Senate, ACDA’s very existence was under vigorous attack.

Its downfall really began even before that. Even the Democrats and the think tanks had convinced themselves that ACDA was an agency whose time had passed — that it was a Cold War agency and was redundant, in that it cut into the authority of the State Department. ACDA really should be folded into the State Department, they argued.

In fact, in proof of this, I would point to the way the State Department was organized in the Bush Administration. There was a report called “State 2000” that was kind of a handbook adopted by the [Secretary of State Warren Christopher] State Department in 199[3].

They for the first time put the Under Secretaries of State directly in the chain of command, which I think was a good thing. Then they plugged the regional and functional bureaus into the 7th floor [where most Department principals, including the Secretary, have their offices] through the Under Secretaries, also okay in theory. By that time, the old Office of the Under Secretary for Security Assistance had become Security Assistance, Science and Technology and then pretty soon it became International Security Affairs. It had developed under the Republicans into quite a powerful Under Secretary-ship.

The study “State 2000″ suggested that in the forthcoming century what was needed was to dismantle ACDA, take all of its assets, and plug them in, along with the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, all under the Under Secretary for International Security Affairs. Trouble was that was not done right away. ACDA was resistant to being dismantled.

So, you had the Under Secretary of Political Affairs, under whom were all the geographical bureaus, the Under Secretary of Economic Affairs, who had all of the economic affairs bureaus, but when you got over to International Security you only had the bureau of Political-Military Affairs [PM]. ACDA was still separate, but it was under attack and crippled, especially when Jesse Helms took over as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1994.

Not surprisingly, the best people began to leave ACDA. They couldn’t see a future. Not very many folks were anxious to try to take over the senior ACDA positions. There would be a real question as to whether or not they would get confirmed by the Senate anyway. So, ACDA began to disintegrate.

I had developed over the course of time a respect for the role of ACDA. It’s a close call whether arms control should have its own bureaucracy. On the one hand, you can appreciate the discipline that a straight line structure on the State Department foreign affairs side has in bringing forth coordinated positions. You don’t have to have the interagency battles at the lower level between ACDA and PM and EUR/RPM [European Bureau, Regional Political-Military Affairs], which I was once the director of.

On the other hand, arms control and disarmament probably should be looked at in isolation from U.S.-French relations and U.S.-China relations. Somebody ought to be a spokesperson for the pure arms control aspect. That was the statutory role of ACDA.

It does bring about a kind of initiative to keep arms control moving. If you’re in the arms control business, you always have kind of a natural rabbi in Washington through ACDA. But there were two sides to the question. I came down in favor of an independent ACDA. I reached that conclusion just about the time that it was dissolved.

Not very many people will admit this, but the administration bowing to Congress on those consolidations was part of the price that was paid by the Clinton administration to Jesse Helms in exchange for him agreeing to let the Chemical Weapons Convention go through the Senate.

The reorganization included eliminating all of USIS [U.S. Information Service] and very substantial portions of USAID [U.S. Agency for International Development]. So, these so-called Cold War agencies were disintegrating. ACDA was the important one for me.

All the time that I was in Geneva, my efficiency report was written by the Director of ACDA. Most of the major support and all of my budget came through ACDA. They were very important and very attentive to maintaining our arms control delegations overseas in operation and well cared for.

Other agencies had particular substantive aspects that they were interested in, but they weren’t interested in picking up the administration and financing.

“We had a number of T-shirts made up. It is a picture of an ocean liner, marked ACDA, going down into the ocean marked “State Department” with a caption, ‘She went before her time.’”

Dean Rust, Director, Nuclear Proliferation Bureau, State Department, 1999-2005

RUST: The other major 1997 development was the Administration’s decision to merge ACDA into the State Department, an action that it had resisted from 1993. I recall Director John Holum calling to senior staff together and breaking the news. This deal was cut by the White House to gain the acquiescence of Senator Jesse Helms in allowing the Chemical Weapons Convention ratification issue to go to the floor of the Senate.

The Administration had to give up something and Helms has been pushing for a long time for an integration of the foreign affairs agencies. So USIA and ACDA both were selected to merger into the State Department. It was to happen very quickly.

So over a period of about eight to ten weeks in the summer of ’97 I served on a special task force working with PM in State to work out the specifics of this merger. I was one of only three people in the arms control agency involved in the merger of the substantive offices; there was a very senior political appointee and two assistant policy specialist on strategic nuclear mattes.

By this time I had some 25 years in ACDA so I was one of the longer-serving employees, particularly in nonproliferation. Ultimately, while most of the planning had been done and presented to the Congress, the merger was postponed because the necessary legislative authority didn’t pass that year. There was no real Congressional opposition to the merger, but it got hung up in one of the myriad ways that Congress ties itself in knots.

All the prior Administration argument about the importance of an independent ACDA went out the window in the face of the deal to get the Chemical Weapons Convention to the Senate floor for a vote. In the final analysis, the administration decided at senior levels that it was worth doing.

The Chemical Weapons Convention was a very important global regime banning stockpiling, production, possession of chemical weapons. The United States wanted to be part of this. WMD [weapons of mass destruction] proliferation was becoming more important all the time and this was the preeminent global treaty in the chemical weapons area.

As we learned later, secret negotiations with the Hill had been ongoing for up to two months, i.e. February-April 1997. The Administration tried to establish an organizational approach to the merger that would preserve in State as much as possible of ACDA’s arms control and nonproliferation expertise and policy role. They largely accomplished that goal; the merger actually occurred on April 1, 1999.

We had a number of T-shirts made up; coincidentally I have mine on right now. It is a picture of an ocean liner, marked ACDA, going down into the ocean marked “State Department” with a caption, “She went before her time.”

On April first of 1999, both USIA and ACDA were absorbed into the State Department and we became State Department employees as of that day.

From the very beginning, it was made clear that they didn’t see this consolidation as leading to any RIF, a reduction in force. There had been very little overlap between State and ACDA, so the primary task was to take 200 staff from ACDA and the 50-60 from PM working these issues and place them into an organizational structure that made sense within State.

We created two new bureaus, an Arms Control bureau and a Non-Proliferation bureau in the State Department. PM stayed, as it had many functions other than arms control and nonproliferation, and was still a sizable bureau. That was the plan we first worked out in ’97. So while most ACDA staff were very distressed over this development, no one lost their job.

“The nuclear arms control function in State has been virtually eliminated, and the nuclear nonproliferation portfolio has been greatly weakened and dispersed”

I kept telling my colleagues that other global functional issues like human rights, democracy and drugs don’t have their separate agency. So who is to say that arms control and non-proliferation can’t function well as part of the State Department?

You know, prior to 1999 as an ACDA officer, I would call a desk officer and may or may not get cooperation. But as part of the Department, your entree was much better.

So our access and our ability to work with State regional bureaus was greatly improved as a result of this.

But as time passed and Bush II came into office, even the State Department’s role in these areas greatly diminished through both policy decisions and ultimately another re-organization. The nuclear arms control function in State has been virtually eliminated, and the nuclear nonproliferation portfolio has, in my view, been greatly weakened and dispersed.

While I have no doubt that an independent ACDA is a better approach to arms control and nonproliferation than absorbing these functions into State, the most important factors are the policies in these areas of the Administration as a whole and the ability of an ACDA Director to work effectively with the Secretary of State.

Only if both of these factors break positively will the United States be able to enjoy maximum security benefit from arms control and nonproliferation tools. Moreover, in an Administration with a heightened emphasis on these topics it should be sufficient to have robust functional State Dept. bureaus on nonproliferation and arms control.

The one downside is if the Secretary of State sides with a regional bureau over the arms control and/or nonproliferation bureau, the issue is then dead. With ACDA, the issue could still go all the way to the President.

The Director of ACDA always had the right under law to go directly to the President, but to do so in opposition to the Secretary of State was not an option one utilized very often. Most directors of ACDA understood that; but on the other hand, when it became necessary to state a position different from State we were able to do that.

We had our own seat at the table. If it got to senior levels even at the National Security Council, if it was an arms control or a non-proliferation issue, the ACDA director sat there with the Secretary of State and the Defense Department, whoever it was, to advise the President. So that independence could make a difference at times.

Q: What did the merger of ACDA into State do from your perspective?

RUST:  Well, it helped my access to State Department people. They listened to us. Before, I often had to go through a nonproliferation officer in PM, i.e. persuade PM of my position and then hope that he or she could do the same with the regional desk officer. I didn’t have to work through them anymore because I was part of State.

The other major effect, however, was that my portfolio narrowed significantly. ACDA used to do everything nuclear non-proliferation, but once we became part of State we all had to take our little piece of the pie.

In ACDA, there might be 15 different topics on which I could opine every week and try to influence. For example, in ACDA I had developed considerable experience in the area of U.S. and international nuclear export policies, laws and regulations in addition to the expertise in treaties such as the NPT [Non-proliferation Treaty] and NWFZ [nuclear-weapons free zone] treaties.

But in State, I had to choose between these two areas. But I didn’t really have any trouble adjusting. I had been in government almost 30 years by now and had had plenty of opportunity to range far and wide on nuclear nonproliferation. I was planning to retire in a few years and didn’t really mind narrowing my portfolio.

Unfortunately, it didn’t lead to any shorter hours as State has its own tempo — which is always fast.

“Will it be nothing, something, or totally out?”

Gilbert R. Callaway, Executive Assistant to Deputy Director, USIA, Washington, D.C., 1992-1995

CALLAWAY: There was a lot of anxiety. The basis of the argument was that the Soviet Union had fallen, USIA was the Cold War propaganda arm of the U.S. government, and it didn’t really need to exist anymore. Why are we spending all this money when we didn’t have this big enemy out there anymore?

The debate about broadcasting continued to rage — will it be nothing, something, or totally out of the agency?

The whole matter of publications came up. We had a publication called America that we distributed in the Soviet Union for years. Most of the publications were disbanded or ceased to exist.

For a few individual ones in India and in Japan, the country budgets themselves continued to fund the publications, but most of them were abolished over the anguished cries of people in Africa who said they don’t have television sets and we need publications. It was an action which continued to be debated.

There was then the whole question about whether USIA will cease to exist at all, or will it be absorbed into the State Department, or will it be divided between its information arm and its cultural arm?

First was the effort by Senator Jesse Helms, who with the Republican control of Congress became the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who wanted to bring AID, USIA, and ACDA all into the State Department and cut them back considerably as well.

At first the administration’s decision was that this wasn’t going to happen, and then subsequently with more pressure being brought to bear, AID was brought more directly under the control of the State Department, ACDA was absorbed, and USIA, as of October 1, 1999 will be folded into the Department of State, which it was before 1953.

Q: Was the feeling that Jesse Helms’ idea of cutting back USIA and putting it in State Department was for government efficiency or was it because he didn’t like USIA?

CALLAWAY: Number one, I don’t think it is false to say that Helms is concerned about government efficiency, and that less government is better. I honestly think that Helms has less esteem for AID than he does for USIA.

I think that Senator Helms’ remarks about “give away” programs and U.S. foreign aid in supporting foreign countries, as opposed to legitimate concerns about social reform programs in his own country, are more strongly reflected in his attitudes than a feeling of a continuing need for the United States government to have a voice overseas.

I think it was sort of half a loaf for him to win the battle for ACDA and USIA and to only get a certain degree of control of AID, moved into the State Department. I think Senator Helms probably has in mind that AID, too, will go that way in the future.

“Helms had gone after USAID and hit USIA instead”

Bruce Gregory, US Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy, State Department, Washington, D.C., 1980-1998

GREGORY: Senator Helms, a conservative Republican, had a much bigger problem with USAID and the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) than he did with USIA. During my years with the Commission, we met with him several times. The Commission’s Republican Chairmen Ed Feulner and Tom Korologos had a good working relationship with him.

Helms was a strong supporter of USIA’s information programs and international broadcasting. He was an outspoken advocate of the Voice of America’s policy editorials, which were not popular with VOA’s news broadcasters. Just as newspapers have their editorial pages, Helms argued, the U.S. government should have its editorials. He was much less enthusiastic about educational and cultural exchanges.

When the Cold War was over, Helms, as the powerful Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, led a campaign to eliminate the three foreign affairs agencies – USAID, ACDA, and USIA – arguing it was necessary to cut costs and reduce the size of government. His primary targets were USAID and ACDA. He was not opposed to an independent USIA, but the Agency got swept up in his larger argument about the need to eliminate government agencies.

When these issues were debated in the first Clinton Administration, Vice President Al Gore and Elaine Kamarck, one of his senior staff advisors, led a vigorous campaign to maintain the independence of the three agencies. In letters to Congress, they argued their merger with State was unwise organizationally and would not save money. The Advisory Commission was deeply involved in this discourse and supported USIA’s independence.

In 1996, however, the politics changed. Incoming Secretary of State Madeleine Albright wanted to have a good working relationship with Senator Helms as Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee more than preservation of the three agencies. As President Clinton confirmed in his recent memoir, My Life, the administration needed the Committee’s support for its Chemical Weapons treaty. The reorganization of USAID, ACDA, and USIA was part of the deal.

In 1997, Commission Chairman Lewis Manilow, Commissioner Walter Roberts, and I met with then Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Pickering, the Secretary’s senior career advisor on the reorganization. He had proposed as a governing principle that all of State’s existing Under Secretaries and new Under Secretaries for the incoming agencies would act as a “Corporate Board” for the Department.

He explained they would make strategic planning recommendations, but decision-making authority and resource management would be “pushed down” to the Assistant Secretaries. The Under Secretaries would have a “tie-breaking” role in major disputes, but real budget and personnel power would rest with the nearly autonomous Assistant Secretaries, especially those responsible for the Department’s regional bureaus. State adopted Pickering’s “Corporate Board” model.

When the dust settled in 1999, USAID had effectively fought to remain semi-autonomous. ACDA preserved its organizational coherence within State. USIA’s activities were decentralized throughout the Department.

Most authority and funding for the Agency’s field programs went to the regional Assistant Secretaries who reported to the Under Secretary for Political Affairs. USIA’s educational and cultural exchanges had their own Bureau and Assistant Secretary. This Bureau, together with a Bureau of Public Affairs and an Office of Information Programs, reported to a newly created Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.

USIA’s foreign opinion and media research activities went to the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, which reported directly to the Secretary. USIA’s broadcasting services, which had been placed in the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) in 1994, became fully independent.

Senator Helms, who had always been a champion of broadcasting, saw no inconsistency in working to place U.S. broadcasting services in the BBG. USAID and the broadcasters were more effective than USIA in protecting their interests in these contested reorganizations.

Many observers concluded that Helms had gone after USAID and hit USIA instead.