The Foreign Service Journal, April 2024

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | APRIL 2024 41 Over the decades, reception centers were closed because of budget cuts and a perhaps mistaken belief that the private sector could do it better and cheaper. said it best, in 1976: “For the local public, our o ce—not Passport, Security, Despatch, or USUN—is the State Department” (emphasis added). e centers represented the State Department in engagements with local o cials, cultural institutions, and media publications; they met, managed, and curated visits of o cially sponsored exchange programs, not just those funded by the department but also for other agencies; and they provided protocol services when requested by U.S. embassies and consulates or the Department of State. e representational budget was minimal, requiring them to rely heavily on private individuals and organizations for entertaining. ey were sta ed by a mixture of Foreign and Civil Service personnel, with an average of six positions per center. In 1977 the director of the San Francisco Reception Center was the sole political-appointee position. In 1977, despite intense lobbying among high-powered applicants, President Carter appointed Joan Brann, whose late husband had been a prominent San Francisco lawyer, to that coveted position. New to politics and diplomacy, Ms. Brann had beat out Barbara Newsom Pelosi (former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s sister-in-law and Gavin Newsom’s aunt) and Hyatt hotel heiress Sue Pritzker (former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker’s mother), among others (see page 39). e appointment was controversial on many fronts: Brann’s husband had allegedly been delinquent in paying taxes, and her son from a previous marriage had allegedly killed a New Mexico state policeman in 1971, hijacked a plane to Cuba, and lived there as a fugitive. Brann resigned in 1979, and her successor, Nancy Honig, not without controversies of her own, led the center until its closure in 1982. Succumbing to the Budget Bludgeon Over the decades, reception centers were closed because of budget cuts and a perhaps mistaken belief that the private sector could do it better and cheaper. e centers’ responsibilities were picked up by a local organization, usually an a liate of the National Council for International Visitors (now known as Global Ties U.S.). e 1960s saw the closing of the Los Angeles Cultural A airs O ce (1968) and the Seattle Reception Center (1969). In 1978, the ve-center, then 20-person network was transferred wholesale to the U.S. International Communications Agency (USICA), when the Bureau of Educational and Cultural A airs was made a part of that new agency. USICA reverted to its previous name, the United States Information Agency (USIA), a couple years later. Coinciding with ECA’s transfer, USAID withdrew its funding for the reception centers, exacerbating budgetary pressure. e 1980s saw a number of signi cant changes, including passage of the Foreign Service Act of 1980 and the Foreign Missions Act of 1982 and the closure of the San Francisco (1983) and New Orleans reception centers (1987). In 1988, USIA noted in a response to Congress that the three remaining reception centers cost $1 million and were necessary to provide “an adequate level of service”—there was no cheaper private option—and that USIA still provided nancial support to the local organization in San Francisco, the International Hospitality Center later known as the International Diplomacy Council, to cover its expenses. President Ronald Reagan opened a Foreign Press Center in Los Angeles in advance of the 1984 Summer Olympics. USIA had previously established Foreign Press Centers in New York City and Washington, D.C., to serve foreign journalists, which still operate today as part of the State Department. e Los Angeles center was shuttered in 2008 due to a reorganization and accompanying reduction-in-force. Finally, Congress’ 1990s search for a peace dividend at the end of the Cold War resulted in the closure of the Honolulu (1990) and Miami (1992) reception centers. By 1999, at the time of USIA’s merger with the State Department, only the New York Reception Center remained. Today, it operates as a branch unit of ECA’s O ce of International Visitors. e functions of the former reception centers have been dispersed to other State Department entities and o ces: international visitor support (external nonpro t organizations), department liaison (O ce of Foreign Missions), recruitment (Diplomats in Residence), public outreach (Bureau of Global Public A airs and regional bureaus), cultural organizations (ECA), media engagement (O ces of Press Relations and Foreign Press Centers), and federal and local elected o cials (Bureau of Legislative A airs and O ce of Global Partnerships). Still, throughout the years, public diplomacy insiders and outsiders have asked whether the New York City model could