USIA's standards

Something is amiss at the United States Information Agency. It behooves agency director Charles Z. Wick to find out forthwith just what it is - and then correct it.

For the third time in recent months the agency has suffered a definite embarrassment, which calls into question whether it is practicing at home the openness that is a hallmark of the democracy it is preaching abroad. This is important: The agency should exemplify democracy in its inner workings, in order to retain full credibility both domestically and overseas.

The first incident concerned phone taping - information that director Wick had taped some calls without the knowledge of the person to whom he was talking. Then came knowledge that someone in the agency had drawn up a blacklist of people who should be forbidden to take part in a government-sponsored program to provide speakers overseas.

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Now it is disclosure that one copy of this list, this one reported to contain notations explaining why individuals were on it, was destroyed. The agency's general counsel, its chief legal officer, says he put it in his garbage can at home, and that such action was legal.

One journalist had previously inquired about the list, but agency officials deny the destruction was carried out to prevent it from being published by the press, maintaining instead that it was in the interest of good management practices. Among people reported to be on the list are Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and Ralph Nader.

Mr. Wick is reported to have been angry when he learned that a blacklist had been drawn up, and to have questioned its destruction when told of that. (In the matter of the telephone taping, he ultimately apologized for it.)

The question, then, is why other agency officials felt these actions were proper. Mr. Wick should find out. And he should make it clear to all agency employees that from now on no violations of the spirit of democracy will be tolerated.

It is not too much to expect that the substance of democracy exists within the US agency that represents it overseas.

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