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Never the Twain Shall Meet? Bureaucratic Cultures at USAID and the State Department

The famously contrasting bureaucratic cultures of the State Department and USAID made a sharp impression on Donald Bliss, USAID’s executive secretary during the Ford Administration.  Bliss recalls needing to submit 14 copies of a fairly simple memorandum from USAID’s Administrator Daniel Parker to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.  Bliss, a Harvard Law grad and Peace Corps volunteer, had a distinguished career in both the public and private sectors.  After USAID, Bliss was General Counsel at the Department of Transportation and partner at a prestigious law firm.  He was appointed by President George W. Bush as permanent U.S. representative to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in 2006, where he held the rank of ambassador.  This interview was conducted by ADST’s Oral History founder Charles Stuart “Stu” Kennedy in November 2013.

Read Donald Bliss’s full oral history HERE.


“State was a lot more bureaucratic than the domestic agencies in which I had worked.”

On the differences between USAID, the State Department and other agencies: “I remember one time [Administrator] Parker wanted to deliver a private message to Henry Kissinger, who was Secretary of State. I went upstairs to the Executive Secretariat, and they said, “You can’t leave this memo unless you have 14 copies and it has to be prepared in a certain way.” The State Department had very strict requirements in terms of paperwork that went to the secretary, and we had to comply. State was more bureaucratic than the domestic agencies in which I had worked.

At USAID, we would write a lot of papers. We never had time to write papers in the domestic agencies. Things were just moving too fast. You might write a brief memo, but we didn’t write term papers on subjects, reflecting in depth research. That’s one of the contrasts between, say, HEW, EPA and USAID.

Focusing on the “poorest of the poor in rural communities throughout the world.”  

On working with USAID Administrator Daniel Parker:  Parker had an interesting and different management style. He had established a policy planning council, consisting of all the assistant administrators — Africa, Latin America, Asia, legal, legislative, and policy planning — which would meet once a week. The Administrator’s Advisory Council would make a list of important policy issues for consideration. My job, working with policy planning and my small staff, was to put together a policy paper that would be the subject of discussion each week. . . . We prepared policies on population, women in development, the rural poor and rural development, and agricultural productivity, among other topics. We worked on how to focus aid to the poorest of the poor in rural communities throughout the world, bypassing corrupt government bureaucracies.

Drafted by Tyler Ventura