Organizing Foreign Policy

Article excerpt

IT'S one of those things that sounds like a good idea at first glance: Combine four government agencies into one, eliminate duplication, and save a lot of money. That's ostensibly what a bill championed by Sen. Jesse Helms (R), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, would do. Senator Helms wants to merge the United States Information Agency (USIA), the Agency for International Development (AID), and the Arms Control and Development Agency (ACDA) into the State Department. The bill in question, which includes a whole grab bag of proposals near and dear to the isolationist wing of the GOP, is currently hung up on the Senate floor. Two attempts to close debate in early August failed to get the necessary 60 votes. A similar bill has already passed the House of Representatives. In its current form, the bill is unwise: It's basically a cover for Helms's longtime agendas of eliminating foreign aid and independent advocacy of arms control. Most of the savings would come, not from getting rid of duplicative administrative or functional costs, but by closing all AID missions overseas and slashing the agency's staff by 50 percent, along with cuts of 25 percent at USIA and 14 percent at State. The administration is tenaciously fighting the proposal and the president says he will veto it. But Helms has skewered the White House with the fact that late last year, Secretary of State Warren Christopher forwarded to the White House a very similar plan. After some ferocious lobbying by the agencies, Vice President Al Gore, in charge of "reinventing government," turned it down. Here's what we see as the rationale for keeping the agencies at least somewhat independent from State: USIA:Through the Voice of America shortwave radio broadcasts in many languages and its other cultural activities, USIA is America's cultural and public-relations agency overseas. State didn't do a bang-up job when it was in charge of cultural exchanges from the 1950s to the 1970s, and the farther VOA can stay from the policy-formation folks at Foggy Bottom the more credibility it has. AID: While the agency has a reputation as one of the worst-managed in government, a lot of that is Congress's own fault. AID's modus operandi has been to turn over large sums of money to the field offices to spend as they see fit. While this ought to lead to maximum flexibility and efficiency, too often it has led to waste, fraud, and mismanagement as some third-world AID clients have found creative ways of spending development money to develop their bank accounts. …

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