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The Arms Control Association is an "exceptional organization that effectively addresses pressing national and international challenges with an impact that is disproportionate to its small size." 

– John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
January 19, 2011
Clinton Announces Reorganization Plan, ACDA To Lose Independent Status
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Jack Mendelsohn

ON APRIL 18 the White House, through the vice president's office, announced that President Bill Clinton had approved a two-year reorganization plan for the nation's foreign affairs agencies. In the words of a White House fact sheet, the plan is designed to bring "an end to bureaucracies originally designed for the Cold War."

Specifically, the plan calls for the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) to be fully integrated into the State Department within one year, for the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) to be integrated over a two-year period, and for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to remain a distinct agency but under the "direct authority and foreign policy guidance" of the secretary of state. The overall reorganization of the foreign affairs agencies, of which ACDA's integration is only a small part, is to be undertaken by a group of eight task forces which will have approximately 60 days to complete their work.

The State Department had sought, since the beginning of the Clinton administration, to absorb ACDA, which was created in 1961 under President John F. Kennedy. Earlier efforts (in 199394) to eliminate the agency were rebuffed by a Democratic Congress. But a Republican-dominated Congress and the hostage-taking tactics of Senator Jesse Helms (RNC), who refused to take up the Chemical Weapons Convention until the adminstration had committed itself to reorganize the foreign affairs bureaucracy, resulted in the administration's April decision to disestablish ACDA and USIA.

The framework for ACDA's integration into the State Department was worked out in early 1997 between Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and ACDA Director John Holum and ultimately approved by the president. Holum, who admitted that "the thought of being ACDA's last director is painful," claims that he was "totally convinced that the president's decision will materially strengthen the arms control, nonproliferation and disarmament missions and the entire foreign affairs structure."

According to U.S. officials, the consolidation plan calls for ACDA and the current Political-Military Bureau in the Department of State to be combined and reorganized into two or three bureaus with responsibility for regional security (including arms transfers) and arms control and nonproliferation. All arms control responsibilities currently residing in other State Department bureaus (such as funding for some international agreements, which is handled in the International Organizations Bureau, and responsibility for the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty negotiations, which is currently lodged in the European Bureau) are to be transferred to these new bureaus.

The new bureaus resulting from this merger will report to an undersecretary of state for international security, arms control and nonproliferation. The exact title for this undersecretary slot is yet to be determined, but the position is currently held by Lynn Davis, who is leaving the government in the near future. Holum is slated to assume the post on an acting basis pending confirmation.

According to the interagency agreement, the undersecretary of state in charge of the arms control function will have the right, unique in the executive branch, to communicate directly with the president through the secretary of state, to attend all National Security Council (NSC) and principals meetings on arms control and nonproliferation issues, and to voice his opinion on these issues separately from the secretary of state. The intent of this arrangement is to preserve an independent voice for arms control, but critics of the consolidation argue that it will be difficult, if not impossible, to maintain for very long such a role for an undersecretary.

To support the arms control function within the State Department, a verification and compliance unit separate from the State Departments's Bureau of Intelligence and Research will be attached to the undersecretary's office. Other ACDA offices which are duplicative of existing bureaus in the State Department, such as public affairs, administration and congressional liaison, will be eliminated.

To protect the rights, responsibilities and authority of the new undersecretary for arms control, this reorganization will ultimately have to be spelled out either in legislation or in an executive order. But Congress has begun to discuss its own ideas for reorganization in the House International Relations Committee, with the introduction of "The Foreign Policy Reform Act," which is to be taken up by the full House in early June. It is unclear at this writing whether the administration's plan for ACDA integration will be preempted by a congressional reorganization bill.

Of major concern to supporters of arms control is the loss of an independent voice on this issue within the executive branch, as well as the fear that the potentially enhanced arms control function to be created within the State Department will inevitably fall victim to bureaucratic predation or indifference. Lurking in the background is the equally disturbing realization that any congressionally mandated consolidation is likely to downplay even further the role of arms control in the executive branch.