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Turf Diplomacy at State Department

Reorganization of Agencies Stirs Tensions Over Priorities, Vocations

By Stephen Barr and Thomas W. Lippman
The Washington Post, May 28, 1997

Within days after President Clinton approved an ambitious plan to reorganize the nation's foreign policy shops, the turf wars began.

Clinton, in an April 17 decision, gave the State Department, the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA), the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) and the Agency for International Development (AID) until Labor Day to figure out how to reorganize to meet the needs of the post-Cold War era.

With a blueprint in hand, officials said, ACDA would merge into State in September 1998 and USIA a year later, while the secretary of state would gain greater control over AID, which would remain a separate organization.

But many employees at the three agencies are worried that their priorities and vocations will take a back seat to State. They see the department as obsessed with short-term political gains in its dealings with other countries, while the agencies try to foster long-term programs abroad. The agencies fear that State will be tempted to divert budget and personnel for political objectives or to make ends meet during emergencies.

Patrick F. Kennedy, the State Department's assistant secretary for administration and Secretary Madeleine K. Albright's point man on the reorganization, rejects the notion that State intends to gobble up the smaller agencies. "We want to make sure that the new whole is better than the sum of the parts . . . and that none of the former parts lose any of their essential nature," he said.

Still, many employees are wary. At USIA, an anonymous three-page paper entitled "Some Questions and Answers for Conversations With State [Department] Colleagues You Meet on the Metro" made the rounds recently.

The paper's Tom Paine stipulated that any reorganization should come only after "a systematic examination" of the nation's foreign policy goals. And the paper took some jabs at State. "We have long thought it essential that the department adapt to the 21st century," the crib sheet said. "The woeful state of State's information technology is an apt metaphor for what's wrong in Foggy Bottom."

On Capitol Hill, House Republican staff aides have complained that the agencies scheduled to merge into State are lobbying to preserve their independence. The House Republicans have proposed an alternative reorganization timetable that Clinton appointees say goes too far too fast.

Over the summer, the turf wars prompted by the reorganization will be fought out over large, fundamental issues and small, petty considerations. Logic and emotion will play out side by side as institutions that served the nation during the Cold War disappear.

"It is a perverse rule of bureaucracy that people with a common set of goals and a common set of agendas are the ones most likely to end up at each others throats," L. Craig Johnstone, the State Department's director for resources, plans and policy said at an employee forum held just before Clinton's announcement.

Two participants in the first round of reorganization meetings last week said they were marked by skepticism and tension. The unease, they said, stemmed in part from the agencies' different bureaucratic cultures.

The State Department's character has been shaped by the competitive pressures of the Foreign Service personnel system and values personal discretion, sometimes bordering on secrecy, and political negotiating skills.

In contrast, USIA employees pride themselves on the editorial integrity of the Voice of America and other broadcast operations and their focus on "public diplomacy" abroad. AID has drawn on Peace Corps workers, engineers, nurses and agronomists to help developing nations. At ACDA, military analysts and other employees have long seen arms control as an end in itself and not an aspect of foreign policy.

State Department officials reject popular perceptions that Foggy Bottom is a bastion of elitism and arguments that embassy personnel spend too much of their time gathering information on obscure political topics. But employees at the other foreign affairs agencies often joke or complain about State's policy clearance procedures and what they see as State's fondness for large, sometimes palatial, embassies.

Regardless of perceptions and priorities, Albright told employees at a "town hall" meeting last month that the government's diplomatic framework must change with the times.

"The current structure of our foreign affairs agencies reflects the needs of an era that no longer exists," she said.

A transcript of the meeting also provided a hint of Albright's expectations. "We have to minimize duplication and show zero tolerance for waste, and we have to welcome accountability," she said.

Joseph Duffey, the USIA director; J. Brian Atwood, the AID administrator; and John D. Holum, the ACDA director, said they support the reorganization and expect it to make arms control, "public diplomacy" and "sustainable development" part and parcel of what the State Department will do.

But as USIA and ACDA merge with State, Kennedy will face several challenges in determining how to break them apart and decide what parts to keep intact.

Officials expect the ACDA merger to be the smoothest. The State Department already has an arms control bureau, while ACDA has four. The trick will be to redesign the five bureaus in a way that integrates arms control but preserves Holum's rights to appeal to the president when policy options collide. ACDA's 250 employees also make it relatively small.

USIA poses a more difficult challenge. With 7,300 employees, it is larger, and does not duplicate much of what the State Department does. Kennedy and Duffey will have to sort out USIA operations governed by the 1948 Smith-Mundt Act that shields Americans from government propagandizing, how to ensure the freedom of international broadcast bureaus and where to place USIA area specialists involved in cultural exchanges and foreign press relations.

A number of employees are worried that their jobs will be abolished, but how many are in jeopardy of layoffs probably won't be known until later this year. Kennedy hopes to "minimize the harm" by allowing workers facing layoffs to apply for jobs in bureaus or agencies that have vacancies. He said the reorganized State Department would keep the number of top political appointees at less than 50.

The reorganization was spurred in part as an accommodation to Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and other Republicans who persistently have criticized the administration's foreign policy agenda.

In keeping with the habits of large bureaucracies, the State Department responded to Clinton's announcement by forming a steering group and creating multiple task forces.

Kennedy and Johnstone have sent Albright a discussion paper on "guiding principles" for the reorganization. Johnstone also has written for Albright's use a "strategic plan" for international affairs. Albright, meanwhile, has called on New York lawyer Richard Beattie to advise her on State Department management issues.

At the moment, some congressional Republicans appear to be in more of a hurry to begin the reorganization than the administration.

House Republicans want a detailed plan completed by August and put into effect quickly. The administration wants the freedom to reorganize before presenting its plan, leading some Republicans to fear the administration will stretch out implementation in an attempt to renege on Clinton's commitment.

Administration officials say they cannot meet the Republican timetable -- given the political, legal, budgetary and personnel issues that must be sorted out first. If Congress approves a reorganization measure that House International Relations Committee Republicans are planning to offer in June, Clinton will veto it, administration officials said.

THE AGENCIES IN TRANSITION

AID
The Agency for International Development manages foreign economic and human-itarian assistance programs in about 100 countries of the developing world, Eastern and Central Europe and the former Soviet Union.
1997 budget: $6 billion
Employees: 6,200
Administrator: J. Brian Atwood
Proposed status: Administrator reports to secretary of state, but agency remains outside State Department.

USIA
The U.S. Information Agency administers the government's overseas information and cultural programs, including the Voice of America radio network, international exchange programs and cultural centers.

1997 budget: $1.06 billion
Employees: 7,300
Director: Joseph Duffey
Proposed status: Folds into the State Department.

ACDA
The Arms Control and Disarmament Agency formulates and implements arms control and disarm-ament policies. Participates in negotiations to limit strategic arms, prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and prohibit chemical weapons.
1997 budget: $41.5 million
Employees: 250
Director: John D. Holum
Proposed status: Folds into the State Department.

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