History of NAGC

Based on an article by Joseph J. Carvajal, 1977 NAGC President

The National Association of Government Communicators began among federal communicators in Washington, D.C., shortly after World War II, at a time when government communicators faced a threat to their existence.

Just as in recent years, the public demanded that the federal bureaucracy be reduced. Members of Congress found easy targets when they rediscovered a useful law, the Gillett Amendment, part of the 1913 Appropriations Act for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The amendment in the act stated, “Appropriated funds may not be used to pay a publicity expert unless specifically appropriated for that purpose.”

Some members of Congress tried to use the old act as a convenient way to reduce costs by removing public information personnel, whom they called “propagandists.” That is why many government agencies today use such titles as information officers, press office, public affairs experts, communications specialists, and press secretaries. Federal communicators were not organized then and were not able to effectively respond to these attacks. Fortunately, top officials in federal agencies realized that public information specialists were vital to the accomplishment of their missions.

During this time, a small group of federal information officers began meeting for lunches in Washington to exchange survival tactics. The key player, and the person who was the real founder of NAGC, was Clifford W. Patton. As this informal group grew, it began holding monthly luncheon meetings, attended by 40 to 50 government communicators.

The meetings became more structured and less clandestine as the “anti-propagandists” campaign in Congress abated. Members of Congress, cabinet officers, other agency officials and news media reporters and editors were even invited to speak at the monthly luncheons.

As the group, still without a name, continued to grow, the Gillett Amendment came up for discussion in Congress from time to time. One amendment called for a 25 percent reduction in information positions in all federal agencies; which sent the group underground again, but it reemerged as the Congressional climate mellowed.

In 1952, some federal communicators formed the Federal Editors Association (FEA), with Katharine Beauchamp as president. Among FEA’s early achievements was creation of the Blue Pencil Publication Awards in 1964 that survives today as the NAGC’s International Blue Pencil and Gold Screen Awards programs. Both competitions began accepting international entries in 1994.

When Clifford Patton retired, Mel White took over the group and began looking toward establishing a formal organization. In response to a questionnaire, more than 250 federal information officers in the Washington area showed interest. As a result, the Government Information Organization (GIO) was launched in 1971, with White as president. White immediately started discussions with then FEA president Kenton Pattie about a possible FEA GIO merger. Efforts languished until 1975, when GIO president David Brown and FEA president Geneva Curry proposed a new organization that would be national in scope and open to communicators in state and local governments, as well as the federal government. In 1975, members of the GIO and FEA voted to abolish the two organizations and establish the new National Association of Government Communicators (NAGC).

The NAGC began in January 1976 with David Brown as the first president. The first national communications school was held the following September and during the next year (1977).

In 2012, NAGC opened its membership to international government communicators.

More than three decades after the efforts that led to the founding of the National Association of Government Communicators, the NAGC has members from coast to coast, Canada and Europe, at all levels of government. Moreover, the NAGC is vigorous and vital, and continues to grow, both in membership and prestige as well as in its ability to speak for and work for the interest of government communications and government communicators, supporting the interests which all constituents have in honest, open and effective government communications.

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