More on USAID and U.S. Public Diplomacy

An email conversation about my post about USAID not being under Smith-Mundt included a comment (from a third party) that USAID had been “muzzled” in the U.S. for years.  Several government reports support this statement, but not because of Smith-Mundt.  They also note the “muzzling” isn’t specific to the U.S.

From the 2003 GAO Report on Public Diplomacy:

Officers responding to our survey, those with whom we met overseas, and numerous other State officials also pointed to the amount of extra time public diplomacy practitioners are required to spend on administrative, budgetary, and personnel matters due to the unique nature of the program. For example, embassy public affairs section officials in one country told us that the planned filming of USAID projects was held up because embassy procedures did not allow making advance cash payments to the television crew. Instead, the embassy preferred either making electronic fund transfers in dollars or issuing checks. The officials noted that, unlike in the United States, businesses in the developing world usually demand cash payments in advance because they do not have sufficient working capital to provide services and then wait for payment. Also, the businesses often do not have bank accounts that can accept electronic fund transfers in dollars. In this case, getting the television crew paid and working required the head of the public affairs section to become personally involved in persuading the embassy administrative section to act.

This tracks with the assessment of the recent report from the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy noting a focus on bureaucracy rather than public diplomacy. 

From the 2003 report by Advisory Group on Public Diplomacy for the Arab and Muslim World, commonly referred to as the Djerejian Report:

When we asked the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID) how much of his budget of $13 billion goes to public diplomacy, he answered, “Almost none.” He explained that AID is generally prohibited from using program funds to disseminate information about its activities – a restriction that the Advisory Group recommends be ended immediately. But, in a broad sense, a great deal of AID’s work is public diplomacy at its best. AID’s programs, in the words of one of its top
officials, are “American values in action.” …

How many people in the Arab and Muslim world, or anywhere else for that matter, know the extent of AID’s activities? Too few. …

As noted, we recommend that AID – which, like many other government agencies, is subject to extensive Congressional earmarking (more than 90 percent of its programs) – be free from burdensome legal restrictions on publicizing its work. A portion of funding from every major project should be devoted to communicating the project’s benefits to the public. “We are the message,” one AID official said to us, but “we get people saying, ‘Why don’t you publicize what you do?’”

While the GAO report captured the administrative obstacles to publicizing the activities, the Djerejian Report makes it clear USAID was outside of U.S. Public Diplomacy efforts.  No where in either report is a mention of some constraint to raising awareness brought on by Smith-Mundt, only by administrative and bureaucratic barriers.  Both reports, as well as others, note USAID has been muzzled, but for very different, and more easily corrected, reasons. 

Has progress been made?  Yes.  Is it enough?  No, more must be done.