J. Brian Atwood became dean of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs in October 2002, where he is widely credited for raising the school's profile and national ranking. He served for six years as Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) during the Administration of President William Clinton. In the Clinton Administration, Atwood led the transition team at the State Department and was Under Secretary of State for Management prior to his appointment as head of USAID.
During the Carter Administration, Atwood served as Assistant Secretary of State for Congressional Relations. He was dean of Professional Studies and Academic Affairs at the Foreign Service Institute in 1981 to 1982 and the first president of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (1986 to 1993).
In 2001, Atwood served on UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's Panel on Peace Operations. He writes and speaks frequently on international development, post-conflict reconstruction, foreign policy, the role of the United Nations and other multilateral organizations in international affairs, and the United States' role in the world order.
Atwood holds a bachelor's degree in government and history from Boston University and received an Honorary Doctorate of Laws from American University. He joined the Foreign Service in 1966 and served in the American Embassies in Cote d'Ivoire and Spain.
In January 2011, Atwood took a leave from the University to serve as chair of the Development Assistance Committee (DAC). The DAC is a permanent forum of the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that coordinates international development policy.