Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Author Remembers Humanitarian Response during Carter Administration

Copyright (c) 2014
(Web version with links added. Based on published article using manuscript notes and reflections about President Carter for forthcoming book.)

From The Carter-Mondale Letter, Fall 2014

Administrator Reflects on U.S. Refugee Policy in the 1970s

By Jim Purcell

To set the stage for these reflections, I return to two separate eras: 
(1) my earlier career in President Ford’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the State Department’s Bureau for Educational and Cultural Affairs (CU) and 

(2) President Carter’s 1979 decision in favor of increased American resettlement of Indochina refugees. 

From my vantage point, both periods contributed to immense growth in American understanding and appreciation of the rest of the world. 

In President Ford’s Office of Management and Budget in 1974, I had been the International Affair’s examiner for the State Department’s educational and cultural programs, known as CU. As budget examiners are prone to do, I posed a number of far-out options for the OMB Director during an annual process we formally called “Director’s Review.”   

The President's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) director at the time was Roy Ash. I had questioned the necessity of sizable federal expenditures for international educational and cultural exchange programs, such as the famous Fulbright Fellowships, rather than placing greater reliance on private sector fellowships and exchanges. 

Private academic exchanges dwarfed federally-funded programs then, as now.  To test my ideas, I spent most of six months hunting data on private academic exchanges, and I was loaded for bear during the review. Of course, I had also articulated the case for the prevailing scenario, continued Federal support sufficient to garner enhanced understanding of and support for U.S. foreign policy goals.

State’s program at that time operated under provisions of the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act of 1962, authored by Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas. The term “mutual” related to the need for foreigners to understand more about the U.S. and its policies, as well as for better U.S. understanding of the rest of the world.

After listening to my arguments, OMB Director Ash made a surprising decision that was later endorsed by the President: He opted for elimination of future Federal support for educational exchanges in favor of private funding.   

The decision hit the CU bureau and others who supported continued Federal support for academic exchanges like a torrent of Arctic blasts. I felt especially bad, since my analysis had been the likely instigator of this decision, although I had advocated for better balance between public and private exchanges and had not envisioned the either/or consequence.

CU’s Executive Director, Don Leidel, knew of my dismay and decided that I was, perhaps, the right person to undo this decision. His Assistant Secretary, John Richardson, agreed, and Don approached me about leaving OMB and coming to State/CU. I made the move during President Ford’s time in office. ...

"The decision hit the CU bureau and others who supported continued Federal support for academic exchanges like a torrent of Arctic blasts. I felt especially bad, since my analysis had been the likely instigator...."

I had been contemplating a move to the foreign policy side of the government for some time. 

Based on the advice of Professor Roscoe Martin of Syracuse University’s Maxwell Graduate School, I spent the first ten years of my career developing expertise in the key skills of budgeting, personnel, contracting, congressional relations, conflict resolution, and management. 

After several years as the senior career budget analyst in OMB’s International Division, I felt ready and prepared to leave the ivory tower and begin to apply these skills to modern-day international affairs programs management on the ground.  

During my first year in State/CU, we assembled our arguments against elimination of future federal support of international educational exchange programs.  Assistant Secretary Richardson was particularly taken with the assertion that whereas almost every foreigner knows or has heard much about the U.S., Americans in turn know little about the rest of the world.  We were isolated in our thinking and understanding. 
American Learning
If the U.S. wanted to play an increasingly important role in the emerging global community, we would have to substantially increase our world knowledge and outreach. Scholars, government and business leaders and global political leaders rallied around this hypothesis. John referred to our efforts as “American learning.”

We made a special presentation to OMB during the next year’s budget cycle. Director James Lynn conducted the annual Director’s Review for State that year.  After listening to the arguments, he not only reversed the previous year’s decision, he also substantially increased the budget for these academic exchange programs. The Ford Administration agreed that our global future depended in large part on better American learning and understanding of the rest of the world.

A few years down the road, President Jimmy Carter significantly increased Indochina refugee resettlement levels to the U.S. to 14,000 persons per month. This landmark decision, announced by Vice President Mondale at the Geneva Conference, brought the American public into the Indochina refugee program in a big and special way, resulting in quantum boosts to American learning and understanding of foreigners. 

Before long, almost every community, congregation, and parish in America was hard at work helping refugees assimilate and integrate into U.S. society. In most cases, U.S. citizens concerned themselves with the needs of foreigners for the very first time. Our horizons and our outlook began to expand and have continued to do so. This, I believe, was American learning at its best.

Jimmy Carter’s 1979 initiatives led to the saving of hundreds of thousands of lives over the ensuing years and the stabilization of an important region of the world. Even though these decisions were made for foreign policy and humanitarian reasons, the by-product, expanding American learning and understanding of the world beyond, was, in my view, equally beneficial.

"This, I believe, was American learning at its best."
Therefore, I will always recall the Carter years as a time in which we broadened our American leadership paradigm in global humanitarian matters and in the wider world beyond. Even though the political leaders that the Carter Administration assigned to the refugee program left much to be desired, his example guided people who stayed and kept their shoulders to the wheel, moving forward. I was proud to be among them.

Significant to me personally, I had landed in the State Department and would remain there for a while to see what was to come.  

Carter-Mondale Newsletter Editor note Jim Purcell headed the Refugee Bureau at the State Department during the Carter administration. 

Purcell, Jim. "Administrator Reflects on U.S. Refugee Policy in the 1970s." The Carter-Mondale Letter, Vol. 9, Issue 2. (Fall 2014): 6-7.  (The Carter-Mondale Letter is different from The Carter Center News.)

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