Defense Department contracts for public affairs AND public diplomacy

At what point will the Government, not just the Defense Department, understand that engaging global audiences, within the U.S. and outside, requires staff, understanding of and competency in the modern “now media” information environment? Walter Pincus writes in The Washington Post:

The Army wants a private firm to provide a seven-member media team to support the public affairs officer of the 25th Infantry Division, now serving as Multi-National Division-North in Iraq — at least three media specialists, two Arab speakers, a Web manager in Iraq and a media specialist stateside.

This particular contract for the 25th ID is for services for

engaging Western and U.S. external audiences; informing our internal and home station audiences with aggressive media relations; as well as command information and outreach programs that support Iraq’s steady growth in its government.

in order to

Expand public information reach beyond traditional recipients of media products in order to garner maximum exposure to publics in the U.S. on a 24 hour basis.

Military public affairs, as most can attest, is understaffed and still too often out of touch with today’s aggressive and competitive information environment. Perhaps more exemplary is the solicitation for work that should, as Pincus notes, be performed by the State Department (or USAID).

Read Pincus’s whole article Solicitation for Media Team in Iraq Hints at Contracting-Overhaul Snags.

See also:

2 Replies to “Defense Department contracts for public affairs AND public diplomacy”

  1. Thanks Matt for highlighting this. At some point, the military will understand that to fight an information war, it is imperative actually to increase the number of information warriors. Of course, with this increase comes the need to overhaul military public communications, which in my view is a necessity as well.Both public affairs and psychological operations currently suffer negative connotations in some regard. Internal to the military, public affairs is often viewed as the staff section primarily responsible for ensuring all the various “grip and grin” photos are taken for the commander — hardly an important operational task in the grand scheme. External to the military, psychological operations is viewed as a branch of villainous deceivers who cannot be trusted. It’s time to take the skills inherent in both branches and create a military public communication branch that does not silo information depending on the targeted audience. To say that public affairs officers’ credibility is too important to intermingle with psychological operations and influence operations is ludicrous. Credibility belongs to the commander, not the PAO. Plus, PAOs have been engaging in influence operations for years already. I just moved to Germany, and the AFN stations here, which are run by PAOs, are undeniably chocked full of propaganda.

  2. While I generally agree with JG’s observations (more on that in a bit,) I am at a bit of a loss as to what interesting or useful observations can be found in Pincus’ article. That’s not a surprise, though. His writings on this subject generally lack context or a deeper understanding of the issues.Pincus quotes the contract work statement, “Expand public information reach beyond traditional recipients of media products in order to garner maximum exposure to publics in the U.S. on a 24 hour basis.”
    He then goes on to assert: “Except for informing division personnel and home station audiences, those tasks are normally handled by the State Department’s public diplomacy officials and before that by the U.S. Information Agency, not the military.”
    Unfortunately for Pincus, he’s just flat wrong. Despite the fact that he covers these issues on a regular basis, this assessment is superficial on its face, but downright hacky to those who appreciate the nuances involved here. Everyone operating in the environment has a role in shaping, not just State… even assuming they possess capability of doing it alone. This is about bringing ALL elements of national power to bear; not just the D or the PD or the ever-present Honored Ghost of the USIA.
    But Picus is not alone–and that is where I agree with JG. Too many within the military and DOS alike are too slow to adapt. So slow that, as Matt’s post notes, they are just plain out of touch. And that continues to hurt our country.
    NOTE TO COMMANDERS: If your PAO thinks his job, as JG puts it, is to ensure “all the various ‘grip and grin’ photos are taken”… OR if he allows YOU to think that; fire his ass now and get a PAO who knows better. There are too many talented people out there to let someone like that be a member of your communication team.
    As for 25th ID… good for them. The contract language Pincus has cherry-picked may not be perfect, but at least they are one of the units approaching the mission with the understanding that those local, Arabic-speaking Iraqi audiences will be critical to their near-term success.
    One can only hope that the 25th ID PAO and PSYOP planners are tied at the hip. Because regardless of what Picus (or others) might think, this kind of functional relationship is not only legal, it is necessary. What’s more, you will find this relationship going strong in the most effective units in the field, to include those with embedded PRTs (shout out to my DOS colleagues.)
    @JG One final comment: “The Military” is not a monolith (ref: “At some point, the military will understand that to fight an information war…”) Many, many within DOD D&A’s know this, and are working to affect change. The services have worked hard to increase manpower, update doctrine, and improve education in the fields leading our communication efforts. Certainly, it is moving too slowly, though. Trust me… we know that.
    Perhaps someone will take Tom Ricks’ recommendation and promote some smart people to the GO ranks like we did in WWII (i.e. Paul Yingling ala Brehon Somervell.) But until then, the new generation will just have to push up against the cold warriors until they fall out of the boat and the helm comes under control of those with a better understanding of the “now media” environment.

Comments are closed.