President Carter will recommend creation of a new government agency to conduct the nation's public communication with people in other countries, a White House source said yesterday.
The plan represents Carter's resolution of a longstanding and sometimes bitter dispute within foreign policy circles over how best to operate public diplomacy. The main issues were whether the Voice of America should be made independent of its parent agency, the U.S. Information Agency, and how closely or whether the State Department should control the USIA.
Carter's new agency would retain the VOA with the USIA and combine the information and cultural functions of USIA with those of the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, which handles various exchange programs.
The agency would get broad direction from the Secretary of State, but its budget and administration would be separate - a relationship similar to that of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency and the State Department.
The head of the new agency, expected to be the current USIA director, John E. Reinhardt, would report to the President and to the Secretary of State, the source said. Now USIA is technically independent of the department in the United States, but usually there is close cooperation, and overseas, where USIA is called the U.S. Information Service, the agency actually operates most information and cultural programs in U.S. embassies.
Carter's plan, which he will probably submit this month after consultation with Congress, will become effection with Congress, will become effective automatically if it is not voted down in either house within 60 legislative days.
The White House source stressed that the reorganization plan "will guarantee the integrity of the nation's cultural exchange programs and also will contain guidelines for the independence of the news functions of the VOA," which broadcasts nearly 800 hours of news and commentary in 36 languages every week throughout the world.
The source also said the plan was designed to avoid allowing the agency "to spout Cold War propaganda."
The agency is not yet named but the President is said to be considering calling it the United States Agency for Information and Cultural Exchange.
Carter's plan rejects recommendations made in March, 1975, by a panel headed by former CBS president Frank Stanton to turn VOA into a separate agency, dismantle the USIA and give its cultural affairs function to the State Department.
Stanton argued that articulating policy should be separated from radio broadcasting and such activities as operating libraries, cultural centers, and the Fulbright scholarship program overseas. Last year during the campaign Carter said the VOA "has been entangled in a web of political restrictions imposed by the Department of Satte, which seriously limits its effectiveness."
Sen. Charles H. Percy (R-III.) introduced legislation last March that embodied some of the Stanton recommendations. It was approved by a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee but later reversed by the full committee.
One administration source said Percy's proposal caused "a preponderance of forces in town to coalesce around the idea of combining functions rather than breaking them up." In May the General Accounting Office, Congress' investigative agency, issued a report strongly opposing a split between VOA and USIA.
That month Reinhardt issued guidelines for VOA saying that the Voice alone is responsible for the content of its new broadcasts and that there would be no prior review of analysis or commentary scripts. That action was said to have diffused efforts on the part of many VOA staffers to gain independence.
Yesterday R. Peter Straus, the new VOA director, briefed key personnel on the President's plan and reported that the reaction seemed favorable. Straus called the plan "excellent journalistically and administratively."
Percy said he was pleased at reports that Carter will act to ensure VOA's "credibility."
Reaction to the plan in the State Department's educational and cultural affairs branch, which exploys 250 people, was said to be mixed. But one official predicted it would be more favorable once Carter's guidelines, including one affirming the independence of the Board of Foreign Scholarship, are issued.
The USIA employs 8.600 people. 4,200 Americans of whom 1,000 are overseas and 4,400 foreign nationals VOA, which employs about 2,200 people, spends about $65.5 million of the USIA budget.