48. Memorandum From Abraham Sirkin, Office of Plans, United States Information Agency to the Director for Policy and Plans (Sorensen)1


  • Long-Range or Strategic Planning in USIA

For whatever value it may be to you, to any successor in my job or to anyone else in IOP, I am setting down some thoughts on various aspects of long-range planning of our information work on the basis of three and a half years in this assignment.

Initiating vs. Reacting. There are several reasons, largely historical and perhaps inevitable, for our tendency as a nation to continue to react to the communist challenge rather than to lay our own challenge down to the other side. One reason, however, is bureaucratic. We simply do not have enough people whose job it is to concentrate exclusively on developing plans, proposals, projects to take the psychological initiative.

If there is only one long-range planning officer in USIA, who is free of the treadmill, (and, as I indicate later, this is not enough), his primary task might well be to develop and feed such proposals through the chief of IOP to the Director. If this is not made his primary task, it is extremely easy for even a “long-range planning” officer to get bogged down in a mass of routine paper with no time or mental energy left for developing major proposals.

Concentration of Effort. IOP has made a major step forward with the establishment of the Media Content job. This will help focus media effort, at least, on priority themes. Beyond this, however, long-range planning generally should be constantly concerned with keeping a few main concepts and approaches in the foreground of the Agency’s attention in all its efforts.

The emphasis of such planning should be on concepts and approaches which have an inherent forward thrust. In regard to concepts, there should be consistent attention to themes which attach “wave of the future” connotations to American or Free world activities and which expose the backwardness of Sino-Soviet ideology and behav [Page 134] ior. In regard to approaches, long-range planning should be directed to proposals, devices, materials and operating techniques which will effectively reach and influence those audience groups from which future leadership elements are likely to emerge—notably students, political and trade union activists, and younger leadership echelons of the managerial, professional, educational and military ranks.

Many of the things that need to be done to maintain this priority attention fall between area and media stools. Only a central office such as IOP can push them through and see that they get the proper support. (For example: Cultivating Asian and African students in European universities; or the “Forum” program for students, educators and professionals involving IBS, IPS and ICS.)

Communications Doctrine. USIA is presumably the U.S. Government’s primary agency concerned with international information, persuasion and communication. One would expect it, therefore, to be the repository of the nation’s best talent, know-how and experience in this field. Yet over its decade or more of existence, the Agency has not developed any recognizable body of communications doctrine, either in terms of theory or practical techniques, on which to base its operations. Basic questions remain not only unanswered but even untackled. There is no accepted Agency view, for instance, on who our primary audiences are or even any suggested method for a PAO to determine what his audience priorities should be. We still operate largely by habit, routine, and widely varied individual seat-of-the-pants experience. Some operators are very good because of a fortunate combination of intuition and experience. Many are not so good. To some extent, this will always be the case. But it requires a more directed, organized, combined planning, research and training effort than we have so far produced to fashion a truly professional operation spending more than $100,000,000 a year to achieve major objectives in the national interest.

A key element in this is our research program. Relative to the need, it is now puny. We must know a great deal more than we do about audiences, levels of understanding and sophistication, communication patterns, effectiveness of local media, views and aspirations of major groupings, semantics on a country and language basis, and the effectiveness of our own materials and programs. We are doing a little, here and there, on all these things but there is no overall strategic plan for filling in the major gaps in the knowledge required for intelligent programming. Nor is there as yet any organized culling of the vast amount of existing academic, commercial and other governmental research in related fields for the nuggets of findings that would be of operational use to the Agency.

The long-range planning function can have a major role here, in helping focus increased research activity on the major continuing prob [Page 135] lems of international information operations, and in suggesting ways to insure that the useful findings of such research are geared into Agency operations and infused into our training programs.

Program Projections. The greater part of Agency planning is budget directed rather than program directed. It is largely tied to the annual budgeting cycle and most decisions are made on the basis of retaining or slightly altering the dollar amounts attached to each activity, post, area or medium. To gear the Agency’s operations more effectively to future needs, it is desirable to develop, from time to time, projections in purely program terms for some years ahead. If foreseeable program needs are set down by area and media with little reference to present budgeting levels and these estimates are refined and coordinated by IOP, realistic planning goals can be established towards which annual budget exercises can be directed. This would serve to orient our programs more toward field and area needs and less to entrenched parochial interests, particularly those of the media services.

Looking Ahead. Planning beyond the next day’s output or next year’s budget should be the task of all policy-making and decision-making elements of the Agency. But the stark fact is that, in this Agency as in the rest of the government, what is everybody’s business is nobody’s business.

The daily treadmill entraps even the specialist officers in IOP. Unless there are people specially enjoined to keep their eyes on future possibilities and problems and future implications of current operations and trends, a great deal of essential long-range planning will never take place. This function in IOP should not be considered as the exclusive locale for long-range planning in the Agency. On the contrary, apart from such specialized tasks as those listed in the paragraphs above and which themselves require Agency-wide cooperation, IOP’s long-range planning personnel should be urging others in IOP and, through appropriate channels, other elements of the Agency to do their own long-range planning and should be drawing their attention to those aspects of their respective spheres which particularly require it.

Contingency Planning. There is virtually no contingency planning in the Agency for the effective deployment of our “weapon on the wall” under changed world political conditions or in response to plausible world developments. The recent Berlin package planning is a rare exception. But sound contingency planning efforts involve more than media content. In the fast moving events of today, we should have plans ready for drastically different use of some of our primary instruments, such as the Voice, than anyone has presently given much thought to.

There is danger in going overboard on contingency planning, both in the excessive manpower and resources it can waste on plans which [Page 136] never get used and in its possible encroachment on the more essential and valuable kind of planning which develops initiatives to take the psychological offensive instead of merely responding to “contingencies” which are generally created by the other side. But this does not mean that we should have no contingency planning at all. A major part of this might properly be set in motion by IOP.

Staffing. If all of these things—developing proposals for initiatives, keeping the focus on forward-thrust concepts and approaches, improving our communications know-how and techniques, projecting programs beyond annual budget cycles, spurring strategic planning in the rest of the Agency, and making psychological operations plans for major contingencies and opportunities—if all these things are worth doing, and need to be done in IOP, they cannot be done, or done adequately, by one officer.

In my own case, I had to decide which of these were most worth doing and let the rest go. For instance, I did not touch contingency planning because I felt this could become an endless task with no time left over to work on US initiatives, which I regarded as more essential and rewarding. I barely got started on a working group to organize Agency effort on communications doctrine and technique. In some of the other fields I was able to do a bit more.

I agree with the findings of a Management survey last year2 that this whole field of long-range planning requires a three- or four-man group, with some specialization of function among its members for the tasks mentioned in this memorandum, but able as a unit to originate ideas for taking the initiative on a large scale, to examine ideas suggested by other elements of the government or outside, and to develop the more useful ideas into detailed proposals that can be submitted to the Director.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 306, Office of Plans, General Subject Files, 1949–1970, Entry UD WW 382, Box 118, IOP—Planning Officer 1962 & Prior. No classification marking. Drafted by Sirkin. Anderson initialed the top right-hand corner of the memorandum.
  2. Not found.