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United States Information Agency – Definition

United States Information Agency (USIA) Definition

The United States Information Agency (USIA) was established on August 1, 1953, as a consolidation of all the foreign information activities of the United States Government into one program. The agency was responsible for executing the public diplomacy programs of the US government. It was created to consolidate all the activities which were formerly carried out by the Department of State’s International Information Administration (IIA), Technical Cooperation Administration (TCA), and Mutual Security Agency (MSA) in one single program. In April 1978, the functions of this agency were consolidated with the activities of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the Department of State and the name of the agency was changed to the International Communication Agency (USICA). However, in August 1982 the name was restored to United States Information Agency.  In 1999, the agency was abolished by the US government and the broadcasting functions of the agency were moved to the newly formed Broadcasting Board of Governors and non-broadcasting information functions were moved to the newly established Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs at the US Department of State.

A Little More on What is the United States Information Agency

The United States Information Agency was created by President Dwight D. Eisenhower with a mission 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”. It aimed “to streamline the U.S. government’s overseas information programs and make them more effective”.

The agency was designed in accordance with the recommendations made by the President’s Committee of International Information Activities (the Jackson Committee) and the Senate Special Subcommittee on Overseas Information Programs (the Hickenlooper Committee). The basic legislative mandates of the United States Information Agency were Public Law 80-402, the “United States Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948,” also known as the Smith-Mundt Act and Public Law 87-256, the “Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act 1961,” also known as the Fulbright-Hays Act.

The agency supported American foreign policy and explained it to the world audience. It conducted several information programs across 150 nations to promote the national interests of the United States. It also conducted various educational and cultural activities to promote mutual understanding and cooperation between the United States and other countries.

Simultaneously, the agency conducted researches to find out how the image of the United States was perceived by the people outside the nation. These inputs were used in policy making of the country. To estimate the foreign public opinion, they conducted several public opinion surveys all across the world. The agency was also responsible for submitting a twice-daily report on foreign media commentary around the world.

President Dwight Eisenhower was of the opinion that, “audiences would be more receptive to the American message if they were kept from identifying it as propaganda. Avowedly propagandistic materials from the United States might convince few, but the same viewpoints presented by the seemingly independent voices would be more persuasive”.

Various forms of media were used by the USIA to reach out to a wide range of audience without being overtly propagandistic. They used “personal contact, radio broadcasting, libraries, book publication and distribution, press motion pictures, television, exhibits, English-language instruction, and others”.

At the beginning of the USIA’s propaganda effort, there were four main divisions. The first division was responsible for broadcasting information both inside the country and in foreign nations. Radio was the most widely used media of broadcasting. By 1967, the Voice of America has up to 26 million audiences and was broadcasted in 38 different languages.

The second division of the agency was comprised of libraries and exhibits. The USIA used to provide grants to the “Fulbrighters” under its educational and cultural program.

The third division of the USIA included press services. It was recorded that during the first two decades of its existence the “USIA published sixty-six magazines, newspapers, and other periodicals, totaling almost 30 million copies annually, in twenty-eight languages”.

The fourth division was a motion picture service. The agency attempted to collaborate with Hollywood filmmakers to make propagandist movies, but the effort didn’t succeed. After that, the agency started to produce their own documentaries to promote a positive image of the United States.

The educational and informational efforts of the agency were focused on four areas:

The agency produced The Washington File information service, among other electronic and print materials. It was a compilation of full transcripts of speeches, Congressional testimony, articles by Administration officials, and materials that provide analysis of the key issues. The agency described The Washington File as “both time-sensitive and in-depth information in five languages”. The agency also had several websites through which they used to transmit information.

A “Speakers and Specialists Program” was conceived and adopted by the agency.  In this program, Americans were sent to foreign nations to assume various public speaking and technical assistance roles. These speakers were known as “American Participants” or “AmParts”.

In the foreign countries, there were more than 100 Information Resource Centers ran by the USIA. It also created some public access libraries in developing nations.

In Washington, New York, and Los Angeles, the USIA operated foreign press centers to “assist the resident and visiting foreign journalists”.  In other major cities, such as Chicago, Houston, Atlanta, Miami, and Seattle, the agency worked in cooperation with other international press centers.

References for the  United States Information Agency

Academic Research on the United States Information Agency

American Libraries Abroad: United States Information Agency Activities, Collett, J. (1972). This paper reviews the activities of establishing and running libraries in foreign countries undertaken by the United States Information Agency.

The United States Information Agency Domestic Dissemination Ban: Arguments for Repeal, Gormly, C. F. (1995). Admin. LJ Am. U., 9, 191. This article argues for repealing the United States Information Agency’s Domestic Dissemination Ban. It discusses the legislative history and judicial interpretation of the ban. The related regulations are also discussed in the article. The article argues the communication technology makes this Ban irrelevant and the Ban violates U.S policy, internal obligations, and the Freedom of Information Act. The article further discusses the reorganization of U.S information program and makes some recommendations.

Silenced Screens: The Role of the United States Information Agency in Denying Export Certificates to American Films, Robinson, N. S. (1984). NYUJ Int’l L. & Pol., 17, 77. This article criticizes the United States Information Agency for its role in denying export certificates to American films.

… of State, the Attorney General, the Administrator of the Agency for International Development, the Director of the United States Information Agency, March 11, 1998, Clinton, W. J. (1999). Subject: Steps to Combat Violence Against Women and Trafficking in Women and Girls, reprinted in, 3. This is a 1998 memorandum of President Bill Clinton on steps to combat violence against women and trafficking of women and girls. The memorandum asks the U.S Senate to give its advice and consent to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women. This ratification would enable the United States to join 161 other countries in support of the Convention. The Attorney General and the President’s Interagency Council on Women are directed to continue and expand their work to combat violence against women in the United States and across the world.

United States information agency international library activities., Hausrath, D. (1990). Special libraries, 81(1), 10-20. This article discusses the journey of the United States Information Agency Library programs. It provides a survey report of various support functions of the program and discusses the use of technology, development of the Public Diplomacy Query Databases and CD-ROM products. The article provides examples of the international and Washington-based activities of this system and the operation of 160 libraries in 89 countries.

Using the United States Information Agency Methods in the Twenty-First Century, Mead, J. A. (2008). Using the United States Information Agency Methods in the Twenty-First Century. This article argues that more effective communication can be achieved in the twenty-first century by implementing the method used by the United States Information Agency. This article examines the method of USIA to find the application of similar methods in the current century. It suggests establishing overseas American libraries was one of the most successful methods of communication. Another method used by the USIA was addressing the issue of propaganda and how the strategic communications to other countries are shaped by the propaganda. Another effective method used by the USIA was consistent interaction with other departments. The article suggests a similar integration between different government agencies and departments is needed to achieve a comprehensive and coordinated level of strategic communication in the twenty-first century.

United States Information Agency, Hacker, K. L. (2014). Since the abolition of the United States Information Agency, the public diplomacy and strategic communication of the country have been loosely coordinated and subject to competing paradigms and definitions in terms. This paper attempts to determine whether the current system of continual assessment and improvement across agencies is an effective method of strategic communication or a new agency like USIA is needed to address the issue of war on terror and to reduce the confusion among agencies with different approaches to public diplomacy.   

The Legislative-Executive Relations of the United States Information Agency, Rubin, R. I. (1966). Parliamentary Affairs, 20(2), 158-169. This article analyzes the legislative-executive relations of the United States Information Agency. It discusses the organization of the USIA for the Congressional relations function, the communications network that exists between the Agency and Congress, and Congressional opinion regarding the record of the information program.

The Rise and Demise of the United States Information Agency Libraries, Mizrachi, D. This paper examines the historical development of the United States Information Agency with a specific emphasis on its library system. It discusses the reasons that led to the program’s demise. The reasons include issues of censorship, changing leadership and policy directions, difficulties securing financial appropriations, external political circumstances, and “selling” itself. The paper also discusses the structure of the agency within the theoretical model of W. Richard Scott described in his book “Institutions and Organizations”.

Assessment of the United States Information Agency sponsored university affiliation project between Iowa State University and the National Agriculture …, Udin, V. A. (1998). This study evaluates the success of the United States Information Agency sponsored university affiliation project between Iowa State University and the National Agricultural University of Ukraine. Concerns-Based Adoption Model (CBAM) was used in this evaluation research. The questionnaire used for conducting the survey among the project participants covered the participants’ demographic characteristics; knowledge of the English language; understanding of the essence of the Linkage project; awareness of the administrative changes at NAUU; and levels of use of the new curriculum developed as the result of the Linkage project.

The Decline and Fall of the United States Information Agency, Sablosky, J. A. (2013). The Decline and Fall of the United States Information Agency. This book discusses how the end of the Cold War impacted the United States Information Agency, its programs, and its people. It focuses on the Voice of America and the policy advocacy aspects of USIA’s work. The book is documented based on archival research, private papers, and interviews.

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