Harrison was appointed by CPB's board after three days of private deliberation.
"I am pleased to join with the board and all stakeholders in the future success of public broadcasting," Harrison said in a statement released by CPB.
The CPB board's consideration and election of Harrison, who served as co-chairwoman of the Republican National Committee from 1997-2000, brought criticism from some Democratic lawmakers who have accused its chairman, Kenneth Tomlinson, of injecting politics into the public broadcasting system.
Democratic Sens. Byron Dorgan, N.D., Hillary Rodham Clinton, N.Y., and Frank Lautenberg, N.J., sent a letter to Tomlinson on June 17, expressing reservations about Harrison's candidacy for CPB's top post and urging the chairman to postpone the board's decision.
"We believe it would be a serious mistake to select Ms. Harrison as president of an organization that is designed to insulate public broadcasters from government and politics," the senators wrote.
PBS President Pat Mitchell, whose network receives funding from CPB, said in a statement Thursday that "PBS has had concerns about the appointment of a former political party chair to the position of president and CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting -- which must be nonpartisan in both appearance and execution. With that said, it is our hope and expectation that Ms. Harrison will execute her responsibilities with nonpartisan integrity."
Mitchell also said Harrison "is a well respected executive with a track record of significant accomplishments."
In a press statement issued by CPB, board member Katherine Anderson, who headed the search for CPB's new president, said, "Pat Harrison's career exemplifies outstanding leadership. She has demonstrated great strength in coalition building. She knows Capitol Hill and is devoted to public broadcasting and the mission."
In her most recent position, Harrison headed the State Department's Bureau for Educational and Cultural Affairs, which organizes international educational exchange programs and is responsible for presenting American history, art and culture to foreign audiences.
Early Thursday, CPB announced that Harrison would work to restore a $100 million CPB funding cut that was part of a $142 billion appropriations bill pending in the House. By late afternoon, the House had approved an amendment restoring the $100 million by a 284-140 vote, and the overall bill was considered likely to pass on Friday.
The original version of the bill attempted to reduce CPB's annual appropriation from $400 million to $300 million.
Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., offered the amendment to restore the funding.
CPB uses a portion of federal funds it receives to fund programming on PBS and NPR and disperses a portion to about 1,000 public television and radio stations nationwide.
Federal money makes up about 15 percent of public broadcasting's overall budget. The rest comes from viewers and listeners, donors and corporate underwriters. Still, CPB, NPR, PBS and local stations around the country have said a $100 million cut would have had a devastating effect on their ability to provide quality programming.
The Association of Public Television Stations, which represents PBS stations, has said federal funding is "crucial seed money that is then leveraged to attract the balance of funding."
Some Republican lawmakers countered that public broadcasting is successful enough to weather a reduction in funding, and should be making plans to stand on its own.
Supporters of the funding cut also said there was simply not enough money in the budget to give public broadcasting its full previous annual appropriation of $400 million. They said to do so would take money from other important programs like job training and education initiatives for the poor.