Foreign Affairs

Records of the Agency for International Development (RG 286)

On November 3, 1961, President John F. Kennedy signed the Foreign Assistance Act reorganizing the structure of U.S. foreign assistance programs. By executive order, he created a new agency, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The records transferred to the National Archives from USAID comprise Record Group 286.

USAID unified existing aid efforts from its predecessor agency, the International Cooperation Administration (RG 469), along with the work of the Development Loan Fund, some functions of the Export-Import Bank, and distribution activities of the Food for Peace Program.

The agency focused its early efforts on technical and capital assistance and shifted, in the 1970s, to basic human needs: food and nutrition, population control and planning, health, education, and human resources development. Later, the focus turned to stabilizing free markets and economic growth channeling assistance through private voluntary organizations. In the last two decades, USAID has emphasized sustainability, democracy, and recovery from and rebuilding after war.


USAID records fall into two main categories: those maintained at maintained at Washington, D.C. based headquarters and those maintained at various overseas missions. The bulk of the records held by NARA are from the period between the 1961 establishment of USAID and the 1980s, although there are some records as recent as the early 2000s.

The records of USAID reflect its history and the changes to its organization that resulted from the various shifts in focus for U.S. assistance. There are files from headquarters regional and functional offices as well as the agency's overseas missions. The major organizational changes to the agency came in 1972, 1977-78, and in 1979 when USAID came under the supervision of the newly created International Development Cooperation Agency (IDCA) instead of the Department of State. Later, in 1998, IDCA was abolished and USAID became an independent agency taking its policy direction from the Department of State.

Records of predecessor agencies (the Economic Cooperation Administration, Mutual Security Agency, Foreign Operations Administration, and the International Cooperation Administration) are in RG 469: Records of the Foreign Assistance Agencies, 1948-1961. While the majority of the records in this record group are dated after 1961, the files may contain some documentation of predecessor organizations brought forward into later files.

AID did not maintain a central filing system. Instead, each operating bureau or office maintained its own records, often using a filing scheme similar to that used by the Department of State. Using published sources such as agency reports and telephone books, organization manuals, and references in the records, researchers must identify the office or offices that dealt with the subject of research in order to locate documentation of interest.

Mission records contain mainly subject or program records; records from the headquarters also contain documentation relating to projects overseen by the both program offices and the missions as well as the administration of the entire agency.

See the reference paper on records relating to foreign aid and counterinsurgency in Vietnam from 1950 to 1967.  This will give some idea of the types of records that exist.

USAID maintains the Development Experience Clearinghouse containing important documents that researchers might not find in National Archives holdings.

Regional Bureaus

Regional bureaus based in Washington focused on regional and country development analysis and administration separate from functionally specialized bureaus. Less developed countries were the primary emphasis of these bureaus.

Through its history, USAID focused roughly on Africa, Asia, the Near East and Latin America. The areas of Europe and Africa were managed by a single bureau in the 1960s, although after the fall of the Soviet Union, Europe was re-established as its own bureau. The Near East was at times paired with Asia or South Asia.

The series are organized broadly around those categorizations:

Africa and Europe

  • Bureau for Africa and Europe
  • Bureau for Africa
  • Bureau for Europe
  • Bureau for Europe and Eurasia
  • Bureau for Europe and New Independent States

Latin America

[Note that from 1963 to 1978, this Bureau and its counterpart in the Department of State (Bureau of Inter-American Affairs) were merged into a joint bureau to administer the Alliance for Progress.]

  • Bureau for Latin America
  • Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean

Asia and the Near East

  • Bureau for Far East
  • Bureau for East Asia
  • Bureau for Near East and South Asia
  • Bureau for Vietnam
  • Bureau for Supporting Assistance
  • Office of East Asia Development Programs
  • Bureau for Asia and Near East
  • Bureau for Asia
  • Bureau for Near East

Functional Bureaus

The functional bureaus of USAID served either for program support or agency administration, including those dealing with Congress, other US agencies, and public affairs. Program support functions were broadly based around technical and capital support for developing countries. Many of the offices dealt with development finance and sources of development support from private sources, foreign governments and other organizations.

As the perception regarding foreign assistance outlined by the President in 1970 and 1971 shifted focus, the agency reorganized to reflect the new ideas. Broadly, the emphasis tilted away from post-war foreign assistance ideas and needs towards those of a changing world. There was a re-emphasis on private investment, technical assistance, and food production and population control. The changes also reflected a need for a combined effort by the developed nations of the world to aid the under-developed with greater input from the developing countries themselves.

You can search our online catalog for entries from RG 286 or see a description in the Guide to Federal Records.