The Foreign Service Journal, April 2024

38 APRIL 2024 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL Matthew Asada is an FSO currently assigned as a visiting senior fellow at the University of Southern California, where he teaches public diplomacy and conducts research on global mega events (e.g., World’s Fair, World Cup, and the Olympics). USC’s Center on Public Diplomacy supported the author’s research for this article in the Special Collections at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, Arkansas. e views expressed are the author’s alone and not necessarily those of the U.S. government. Revisiting State’s mid-20th-century reception centers generates practical ideas for today, especially when it comes to engaging the American public. BY MATTHEW ASADA The Department of State’s Reception Centers Back to the Future In 1977, one of the most sought-after political appointments in President Jimmy Carter’s State Department was a job that cannot be found in today’s Plum Book or on any State Department Foreign or Civil Service sta ng pattern. A hotel heiress, philanthropist, and political kingmaker were among the six top candidates vying for the position, with competition, advocacy, and lobbying so erce that Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher wrote on April 16, 1977, to Assistant Secretary for Educational and Cultural A airs Joe Du ey: “ is position seems to have at least as much interest as the ambassadorship to the United Kingdom!” What was it about this job—director of the State Department’s San Francisco Reception Center—that made it so popular? What ever became of it? FS HERITAGE Today, almost a half century later, with a recently passed congressional directive to enhance the State Department’s domestic engagement (Section 6605 of the FY24 State Department Authorization Act) and an administration focused on city and state diplomacy, it’s worth revisiting State’s reception and foreign press centers to see what lessons can be learned from previous administrations’ engagement with the American public. What happened to these domestic o ces? Might it be time to resurrect and reimagine them for the 21st century? Welcoming International Visitors e rst State Department reception center was established in 1942 by Nelson Rockefeller, then coordinator for inter-American a airs, in Miami, Florida, to manage and meet exchange program visitors from Latin America (see page 40 for a map of the reception centers and their years of operation). Reception centers in New York (1943) and New Orleans (1945) followed, with State assuming responsibility for their administration in 1946. With passage of the Smith-Mundt Act (1948) and the establishment of worldwide exchange programs, centers were opened in San Francisco (1950), Honolulu (1956), and Seattle (1957) to support international visitors from Asia. e Washington International Center was established in 1950 to arrange programming for international visitors, and it became part of a separate nonpro t, Meridian House International, in 1960. at same year the