186. Report to the President of the Committee on Overseas Voluntary Activities1

[Omitted here are the title page and a list of the members of the Committee on Overseas Voluntary Activities.]


On March 29, 1967, Mr. President, you approved the recommendation of Under Secretary of State Nicholas Katzenbach, Secretary of [Page 591] Health, Education and Welfare John Gardner, and CIA Director Richard Helms

“that no Federal agency of the United States Government should provide any covert financial assistance or support, direct or indirect, to any of the nation’s educational or private voluntary organizations.”2

You further directed termination of such support as quickly as possible and no later than December 31, 1967, without destroying valuable private organizations before they can seek new means of support. The termination process was completed prior to December 31, 1967.

You asked this Committee to consider a recommendation in the Katzenbach report “that the Government should promptly develop and establish a public-private mechanism to provide public funds openly for overseas activities of organizations which are adjudged deserving, in the national interest, of such support.” This Committee was to review concrete ways of accomplishing this objective.


Mr. President, we submit for your consideration three basic conclusions:

1. Considering only the work of the relatively few voluntary organizations formerly supported by CIA, we conclude that no special organizational or funding arrangement for further support is required. Support to continue essential work of these organizations must come from private sources and regular Federal programs.

2. However, we do see a need for a new program of Federal support for worth-while overseas activities of private, non-profit organizations particularly in developing countries. We recommend administration of the program by an independent commission.

3. To permit adequate consideration of the new program, we believe that legislation should be proposed to the next session of the Congress.

Though we strongly support the termination policy, we were impressed with the worth of the voluntary activities overseas that CIA supported.

• The organizations were highly respected on the American scene.

• Their leadership was responsible and dedicated.

• The work being supported was not covert and was considered worth-while and effective.

Of the several hundreds of voluntary organizations doing work overseas, only a few dozen received funds from CIA. The grants were small—the median annual grant being about $200,000. In the termina [Page 592] tion process, which was not the responsibility of this Committee, the financial burdens on the organizations were carefully considered. Some organizations received limited contributions to tide them over the period during which they could seek new sources of funds.

Early in our deliberations the Committee turned its attention to the important role which all American voluntary organizations are playing overseas. These organizations have for many years been involved effectively in humanitarian, civic, and technical assistance activities.

The Committee believes there is an opportunity to expand this role at small cost compared to the long-range benefits to the United States and peoples of developing countries. We see a need not now being met adequately by existing U.S. Government programs overseas. We see a way of meeting this need which is strongly in the American tradition—the maximum use of the energies and idealism of private citizens.

These conclusions are based upon an extensive review. We started with the conclusions of the Katzenbach Committee. We reviewed the work and funding of over 100 American voluntary organizations with activities overseas. We have consulted extensively with knowledgeable persons in Government and private life. We examined a large number of organizational possibilities—ranging from a Federally-chartered private corporation to inclusion of the proposed program within various existing Federal agencies.


An important but little recognized aspect of national development is the role of private, non-profit groups involved in civic, cultural, professional, and humanitarian activities. In developed and developing countries alike, governments cannot and should not do everything. Citizens must undertake on their own initiative important economic, social, and political tasks.

In the United States, we take voluntary activities for granted. They are a precious part of the American heritage. We have used them to contribute wholly or partly to a large variety of purposes: fire protection, first aid services, health programs, settlement houses, all levels of education, improvement of professional standards, encouragement of sound agricultural and conservation practices, protection of individual rights, development and maintenance of hosts of cultural activities, and meeting the needs of underprivileged children. Total American philanthropy approaches $10 billion annually.

Unfortunately, comparable voluntary organizations and associations are often lacking in developing countries. This lack is both a symptom and a cause of underdevelopment.

The Committee believes that voluntary organizations and associations can and should play a special role in developing countries. They [Page 593] can help to translate individual energies into effective group action. They can grapple more directly with the ancient and entrenched barriers to progress—the apathy and despair of the poor in many lands; social and community disorganization; and the distrust of outsiders and governments beyond the village.

Examples of the kinds of organizations which have been important to our national development and which can help similar groups in developing countries are:

Rural organizations, like our rural electric and farmers’ cooperatives, the Grange, and Farm Bureau Federation;

Businessmen’s organizations, like our Committee for Economic Development, Chambers of Commerce, Service clubs;

Adult literacy and family planning groups, like Planned Parenthood;

Credit unions and locally-run savings and loan associations;

Youth and student organizations, like 4H clubs, YMCA, Boy and Girl Scouts;

Free labor groups, like our AFL–CIO and independent unions;

Women’s organizations, like the League of Women Voters, the Federation of American Women’s Clubs;

Professional associations, like the National Education Association, Bar Associations, and scientific and learned societies.

As examples of their grass-roots development activities overseas, American voluntary organizations have:

—conducted a supervised credit program for 3,000 small farmers in India which has led to increased farm productivity, all managed and operated by local people (Cooperative League of the U.S.A.);

helped establish book publishing firms, managed and staffed with local people, in the Near East, Asia, and Africa (Franklin Book Programs, Inc.);

organized a settlement house program in Venezuela with a multi-purposed approach to problems of health, education, and community organization (National Federation of Settlement and Neighborhood Centers);

taught youth leaders in Latin America the basic skills of organizing community programs in construction, agriculture, conservation, and sanitation (Youth for Development).

Private voluntary organizations can play a crucial role in our relations with other nations which U.S. Government agencies cannot play:

• The organizations reach directly private individuals and groups in foreign countries which Government programs often cannot.

• They can play helpful roles in sensitive areas, such as family planning, education, land reform, and community organization.

• They develop institutions and groups which will exist when they leave.

• They offer the advantages of flexibility, innovation, enterprise, and commitment of the private sector.

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It is worth noting that our national life has been enriched by private voluntary organizations which originated in other countries. Most notable examples are the Red Cross, YMCA’s, the cooperative movement, Boy and Girl Scouts, trade unions, and the Salvation Army.

We believe it desirable to develop a new program of public support for private American efforts designed to assist like-minded groups in developing countries.

It need not be an expensive program. Because voluntary organizations tend to teach others and work through them, they can make relatively small sums go a long way. A modest public investment of $25 million a year, aimed at the crucial area of private grass-roots development, would have a multiplier effect in developing societies.

To administer such a program, we recommend establishment within the Executive Branch of a commission of 15 distinguished private citizens. To emphasize the independent and private nature of the program, the commission would be separate from the Department of State and other foreign affairs agencies. However, it could receive necessary policy guidance and information as to plans of other agencies through a liaison committee, composed of the Secretary of State, Chairman, and heads of relevant agencies.

The commission supported by director and staff would

receive from voluntary organizations3 specific proposals for work overseas;

make grants to support the most meritorious of the proposals in the national interest;4

—contract with voluntary organizations for government agencies and act as an information clearing house.

In making this recommendation, our Committee is fully aware of possible pitfalls: (a) with scarce funds relative to demand, the commission could dissipate grants over too many worthy organizations; (b) pressures from voluntary organizations could result in spiraling appropriations; and (c) the new source of public support could dry up private contributions, thus merely shifting private activities to the Federal budget.

We believe ample protection against such possibilities lies in the effectiveness of Executive and congressional review in the annual budget and appropriation process, the ability of the commission and [Page 595] staff within appropriations to select innovative and high impact projects, and the establishment in legislation and practice of strict criteria for making grants.

We envision that the commission should operate under such groundrules as these:

—Grants would not be given for work which can obtain adequate private financing.

—Voluntary organizations to be eligible for grants could not reduce the scope of activities currently supported by private funds.

—In choosing among competing grant proposals, the commission would consider the contributions of the voluntary organizations and local groups abroad.

—The proposed work would foster an activity or entity in the developing country which will continue on its own after the grant is completed.

—The commission would give priority to innovative or experimental projects.

—The commission would not finance major construction or long-term capital projects.

—All grants would be reviewed at least annually.

Support for overseas work of private voluntary groups is too important to be left solely to the commission or the Federal Government. A new initiative must be broadly supported by individuals who contribute money and service to the overseas activities of voluntary organizations; by business organizations; and by private foundations and philanthropic entities. There is much to be gained from increased support from all such sources.

Lastly, our Committee believes that voluntary organizations should not have to face unnecessary financial burdens and delay (a) in the long project approval process in Federal agencies, and (b) in meeting reporting and other requirements often more suited to larger contracting operations. We believe that the proposed commission and agencies should evaluate rigorously the work carried out. At the same time, we hope they would attune their procedures to the small grants and projects of voluntary organizations.


Early in the Committee’s work, the British Council was discussed as a possible organizational approach to the proposed program. The thirty-man Council is a royally-chartered body, with an annual budget of $28 million, almost all from government appropriations. Its broad purpose is to represent British life and institutions to the world and to increase understanding between Britain and other nations. It combines within its program functions performed in the U.S. by many agencies—academic and cultural exchanges (State); furnishing of libraries, books, lectures, and exhibits (USIA); technical assistance (AID); voluntary ser [Page 596] vices overseas (Peace Corps); and promotion of English language teaching (many U.S. agencies). It employs 3,700 people, about 2,100 overseas.

We concluded that the British Council offered little in the way of a model. With its mixture of public and private elements and its freedom from accountability, it is an institution unique to the British system of government.

Our recommendation conceives of a body separated from foreign affairs agencies, but with obvious governmental responsibilities. It places primary emphasis on privately developed relations through voluntary organizations and in fostering private groups and activities abroad.

We have examined the desirability of including within the proposed commission a number of functions now performed by Federal agencies. We believe that activities like the following, totalling $10 million, could appropriately be added to the grants to voluntary organizations discussed above:

Approximate Annual Appropriations (in millions)
1. Grants to special education projects, including the Bologna Center and Salzburg Seminar (now funded in State) $1.0
2. Grants to American-sponsored universities overseas, such as the American University of Beirut (now funded in AID) 9.1
3. Centrally administered book development activities (AID) .5
4. Assistance to American, privately sponsored libraries abroad (State has legal authority, but has not funded)
Total $10.6

These activities are conducted through grants to American organizations that sponsor a group abroad. Their administration would not overburden a new commission, beginning a new approach.

Some members of the Committee suggested that cultural presentations and exchanges of students, teachers, and researchers might also be added to the program of the new commission. Such an approach, however desirable, would involve the commission at the outset not merely in the making of grants, but also in direct administration of large programs. Moreover, this Committee did not consider a broad [Page 597] examination of international educational and cultural activities to be within its purview.


Our Committee is convinced that there is a real need for and a great benefit to be expected from open public support for the best work of private organizations overseas.

It is a program to give modest but effective help to those who ask it. It is targeted not to government functions, but to things people can do for themselves. It is a program to enlist and support the creative energies of American voluntarism in meeting a great challenge of our time—the conquest of ignorance, famine, disease, and social backwardness in two-thirds of the world. It will provide greater opportunities for an effective and lasting form of bridge-building—the face-to-face contact between, for example, a man who has spent a lifetime organizing rural electric cooperatives and people who seek the first benefits of electricity and don’t know how to go about it.

We believe this proposal is consistent with the support for voluntary activities abroad which has been expressed by many members of the Congress in recent years.


In summary, we recommend

1. legislation next session to authorize a commission of highly qualified citizens to make grants to voluntary organizations to encourage private activities in developing countries.

2. after establishment of the commission, an initial annual level of appropriations of about $25 million for the new program, augmented by $10 million of transferred support for existing activities.

3. more effective cooperation with private voluntary organizations by Federal agencies in the carrying out of their programs within present funds and authorities.

Senator Russell would like to make the following additional comment: “Senate duties have kept me from participating in the work of the Committee to the degree necessary for a constructive contribution to this report. Confidence in the other members of the Committee reassures me that the task has been approached objectively and diligently. I do wish to restate my conviction that the support formerly provided by the Central Intelligence Agency to voluntary organizations was not nearly so sinister in its design or effect as some critics would have the public believe.”

  1. Source: Johnson Library, White House Central Files, Confidential Files, Oversized Attachments, 11/30/68, Box 192 [1 of 2], C.F. Oversize Attachments: 12/2/68, Packet 1 [Cater 2/67–10/67 material re U.S. Government and Private Voluntary Organizations, Committee on Voluntary Overseas Activity (COVA), also the Rusk Committee]. No classification marking. According to newspaper accounts, this report was likely released on or about May 27. The report was to be released by December 31, 1967, but the Rusk Committee was sufficiently divided to prevent an agreement on a final document. (Robert H. Phelps, “Panel on C.I.A. Subsidies Divided Over Alternatives,” New York Times, December 18, 1967, p. 1)
  2. See footnote 2, Document 144.
  3. As used in this report, voluntary organizations are private non-profit organizations, defined in Section 170, Title 26 of the United States Code, which are capable of undertaking work overseas. [Footnote is in the original.]
  4. Excluded would be grants for general or disaster relief, research, construction and capital projects, and religious worship, sectarian, or proselytizing activities. [Footnote is in the original.]