Speaking to the World

July 02, 1995|By JOSEPH DUFFEY

WASHINGTON — Washington. -- The U.S. Information Agency has no particular argument with the overall thrust of your May 30 editorial, ''GOP Foreign Policy Meddling.'' We agree that, on the whole, foreign affairs belong in the president's realm and should not be micromanaged by Congress.

However, your view that nothing would be lost by consolidating foreign-affairs agencies into the Department of State reflects a regrettable lack of knowledge about USIA's unique service to the national interest. Through the years an independent USIA has conducted U.S. public diplomacy with notable advantage to our nation.

USIA's mission is to understand, inform and influence foreign publics in promotion of the U.S. national interest, while broadening the dialogue between Americans, their institutions and their counterparts abroad.

Those who deem this mission diminished or obviated by the Cold War's end need reminding that insecurity in today's more complex world is no less pervasive.

Quite the contrary, USIA's mission is all the more vital and challenging as our friends and foes struggle with the daunting chores of lasting democratic reform and the establishment of workable market economies. In such a world, the public dialogue we promote and pursue is perhaps the most important interaction under way between Americans and the people of other societies around the world.

Well-founded concerns about the effective use of American taxpayers' dollars have instructed USIA's operational decisions since the beginning of this administration.

We have aggressively restructured the agency to work better and cost less, reducing our fiscal year '96 budget request by $12.1 million from the previous year's budget. While further budget reductions certainly would be painful, far more than dollars would be jeopardized if USIA were consolidated in the Department of State.

As an independent entity within the foreign-affairs community, this agency:

* Serves as a conscious public instrument of national policy for the whole of the U.S. government, speaking with one voice to audiences abroad.

* Fosters, through its broadcasting, exchanges and information programs -- all benefiting from distance from official government-to-government interactions -- direct people-to-people relationships and mutual understanding between often wildly differing cultures.

* Reaches well beyond official circles to meet with a broad range of groups and individuals playing pivotal and sometimes contentious role in their societies, and in so doing insures the relevance, credibility, and success of our discussions with foreign interlocutors.

To be subsumed into the Department of State would mean almost certain diminution of such effectiveness. . . .

I= Joseph Duffey is director of the U.S. Information Agency.

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