FACED with the prospect of more rigorous oversight of the State Department from a Republican Congress, Secretary of State Warren Christopher is weighing a major reorganization plan - a move that has touched off an internecine battle within the nation's foreign policy making apparatus.
He is looking at bringing independent agencies that deal with foreign aid, arms control, and Unites States public information activities abroad under the control of Foggy Bottom.
What the changes might mean for US foreign policy and overseas aid is unclear. But top officials of the three targeted agencies are said to have privately threatened to resign if their operations are folded into State.
[Reports that Mr. Christopher himself might step down were put to rest Wednesday after President Clinton intreated him to remain on the job indefinitely.]
The Christopher proposal, which will be discussed today in the third of a series of White House meetings that began last week, could serve to advance the Clinton administration's ongoing initiative to streamline the operations of Federal departments and agencies.
But State Department insiders say there are more complex motives behind the plan, which has become the object of an internal struggle over turf and over how best to position the department in advance of the intense scrutiny it is about to receive from Republican lawmakers.
The proposal is to absorb the Agency for International Development (AID), the US Information Agency (USIA), and the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) into the State Department. ``It's a case of preemptive capitulation,'' says one State Department official. ``We need to take control of the process before Congress does.''
Congressional Republicans have already threatened to abolish ACDA and AID and many view foreign aid itself as a waste of taxpayers' money.
Consolidation is also popular among a number of senior State Department officials whose budgets and domains would be enlarged if the agencies were abolished and their functions transferred into the State Department.
But the idea of consolidation has been hotly opposed by each of the agency heads. ``We will not be here to help you implement the proposal,'' says an administration source, describing the sentiment of senior officials at AID.
The agency heads have been reassured by Christopher that no decisions have yet been made to go forward with the proposal. A decision on the matter is expected in advance of Mr. Clinton's state of the union address.
Under the proposal, most of AID's functions would be merged with the State Department's Bureau of Global Affairs. USIA activities would be housed in the public affairs office. ACDA would be melded into the department's office for security affairs.
As separate agencies, ACDA and AID - which have combined budgets that are more than twice as large as the State Department's $2.8 billion - have been able to carry considerable weight in policy deliberations at State.
ACDA officials and arms-control advocates on Capital Hill dissuaded the Clinton administration from abolishing ACDA two years ago, arguing that it was essential to preserve the agency as a source of independent advice on arms issues, divorced from diplomatic considerations. ``If you give arms control to the State Department, it's dead,'' says a State Department source.
AID, meanwhile, has itself beaten back several takeover attempts by State, arguing that the agency's programs are designed to advance long-term economic, political, and social development, not the short-term diplomatic interests of the US.
Officials in both AID and ACDA attribute the plan to empire-building at State and as an effort to mute criticism of the Clinton foreign policy record. ``They think that if you rearrange the organization chart, you'll create the impression of a more coherent foreign policy,'' says one skeptical department source.
The plan has also been criticized for not going far enough in dealing with the bureaucratic problems in the State Department, where instances of overlap and serious inefficiency have been endemic.
``Getting control of the three foreign affairs agencies doesn't get you even half of what's needed in the way of reorganization,'' says F.A. (Tex) Harris, a foreign-service officer and head of the American Foreign Service Association.
The abolition of AID has been threatened by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky, who heads the Senate subcommittee handling AID appropriations. But another critic of foreign aid - Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Jesse Helms (R) of North Carolina - has said that the agency's independence, if not its programs and budget, would be respected for now.
As for ACDA, officials insist that, given the opportunity, they can make a convincing case before the Senate foreign-relations panel that it should be preserved. Senator Helms is expected take a hard look at whether ACDA should be preserved.
USIA, for its part, acts as the public-affairs representative for all US departments and agencies with overseas operations, not only the State Department, an agency spokesman says.
State Department officials say consolidating the foreign affairs agencies could lead to substantial savings in administrative and program costs.