Part of the challenge of the debate over the Smith-Mundt Act today is that most people don’t know what the Act covers, or what “public diplomacy” is. While “public diplomacy” is liberally used by the media and pundits to apply to any activity by the government aimed at foreign audiences, the Smith-Mundt Act, however, is specific in applying only to a small part of the State Department’s bureaucracy and the BBG. Recent examples may be found here.
The subject requires getting past the hyperbole and propaganda and understand the nuanced issues. This is not a all-or-nothing discussion; there is room for clarifications or changes, if required.
Below are twelve answers to three basic questions on the Smith-Mundt Act, as it exists currently, and the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012:
- What does the current Smith-Mundt Act do?
- What does the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012 do?
- What does the Smith-Mundt modernization Act not do?
1) Prevents transparency, oversight, and accountability of U.S. international broadcasting and public diplomacy by the public and the Congress as it blocks access to what the BBG and one part of the State Department says and does with taxpayer dollars.
2) Portrays U.S. public diplomacy as bad and deceitful propaganda to both U.S. and foreign audiences.
3) Creates confusion in the government over how to engage global audiences, and which part of the government may do so.
4) Creates transparency so the taxpayer, and the government, can know the details of U.S. international broadcasting and public diplomacy to increase understanding, oversight, accountability of U.S. policies and programs.
5) Permits Americans – including the general public, the media, academia, and the Congress – to view taxpayer funded material intended for audiences abroad and allows the reuse or dissemination by the public, the media, academia, and the Congress.
6) Increases awareness of both the conduct and context of U.S. foreign affairs which increases understanding, oversight, and accountability of U.S. policies and programs.
7) Modernizes the Smith-Mundt Act by distinguishing between the separate leadership and activities of the State Department and the Broadcasting Board of Governors.
8) Extends the Smith-Mundt Act over the entire State Department, beyond the public diplomacy side of the Office of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (arguably a few other areas, such as Embassies, are covered as well).
9) The Smith-Mundt Modernization Act does not remove oversight over U.S. programs that intend to understand, inform, and influence foreign audiences. It increases the opportunity for this oversight.
10) The Modernization Act does not reauthorize the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy, the only government body charged with oversight over U.S. government activities that intend to understand, inform, and influence foreign audiences.
11) The Modernization Act does not remove restrictions on the Defense Department, or any other part of the U.S. government, that prevent domestic propaganda. The Smith-Mundt Act never applied to any other executive branch agency other than a part of the State Department and the BBG. In fact, the Modernization Act expands Smith-Mundt’s coverage to include the entire State Department. The Defense Department, and other agencies, was and continue to be covered by other legislation.
12) The Modernization Act does not give the government a free hand to propagandize domestic audiences. The Modernization Act emphasizes existing legislation to not compete with existing media. Further, the BBG does not have the authority to use its money for domestic broadcasting.
This page is subject to update and refinement. Visit (and comment on) the other short information pages under the Smith-Mundt drop down at the top of this webpage.