The United States Information Agency (USIA) was absorbed by State Department in 1999. I was there when they took down the USIA eagle and prosaically renamed the building State Annex 44 (SA 44). There was and still is a palpable feeling of loss among some of my colleagues and I miss some parts of my old agency, but not much. By the time of the anschluss with State, there was not much left of USIA worth saving. USIA suffered truly horrible top-leadership through the 1990s and they wrecked the place. We closed our libraries, shut branch posts, let our contact networks atrophy, laid off experienced FSNs and the director seemed actively hostile to hiring new public affairs officers; by 2000 there were only around half as many of us as there had been ten years before.
Our fearless leaders were under a general impression that since we had won the Cold War we didn’t need relics like public affairs anymore. After 9/11/2001 we found we were wrong and suffered mightily from our compromised ability to communicate with foreign publics. But all that is history.
I think we are better off integrated into State Department. But I still remember with nostalgia and pride coming into the USIA almost a quarter century ago, so the final closing of our offices in the old USIA building makes me sad. We are moving out next week and my group is the last to go. It is finally finished.
Tim Receveur took a few pictures of the end of days at SA 44 and you can see them on this post. There is a kind of Twilight Zone feeling to the old place. We will be moving to a new building across from the Harry Truman Building. The offices are nicer, but the location is worse. SA 44 is in a great place. The Orange Line is nearby and you always get a seat on the way home since you board before the big crowds get on after Metro Center. Gold’s Gym is a few minute walk. We are near the Mall, as well as restaurants. Our new building is near nothing. The State cafeteria is not very good and it is a little expensive for what you get. I will adapt. I just need to find a place to lock my bike and take a shower.
USIA has been gone for ten years, now the building is recycled and all its denizens scattered and relocated. I guess that’s all there is. Move along. Nothing left to see. Only a vague remembrance of past glories.