Enabling Public Diplomacy Field Officers to do their Jobs

By Bill Rugh at AmericanDiplomacy.org:

The many studies recommending public diplomacy reform have paid little attention to how public diplomacy is carried out at field posts around the world. The USIA-State merger has hampered public diplomacy field operation effectiveness because assumptions behind the merger over-emphasized the similarities between traditional diplomacy and public diplomacy which is a specialized profession requiring a separate set of skills. Those skills are learned primarily through on the job training, and proficiency grows with experience. While every Foreign Service Officer should understand public diplomacy and support it that does not mean every FSO needs a PD assignment. Public diplomacy positions at embassies above entry level should be filled by PD cone officers to ensure effectiveness at post.  Moreover, PAOs at every embassy need more local authority to manage their programs.   They also need a more efficient backup system in Washington, and that can best be provided by creating a new Bureau for Public Diplomacy Field Operations staffed by experienced PD professionals.  This restructuring proposal is fairly simple because it could be accomplished within the State Department. …

Today, a PAO must deal with PD professionals scattered all over the State Department under layers of bureaucracy and no single point of coordination. Karen Hughes as Undersecretary happened to have excellent relations with the President, but she had no effective bureaucratic control over PD professionals in the State Department or at embassies abroad. The budgetary and personnel control was in several other hands, including ambassadors, regional assistant secretaries and State’s personnel system. At one point, Karen Hughes tried to assert more authority over the PD professionals by sending a telegram to PAOs telling them that they should consider her office as their “home office” at State, but that has not worked in practice because the Undersecretary does not control their budgets and she does not write their performance evaluations or make their assignments. Her staff is very small and does not have the expertise or understanding of each PAO’s situation in the field that the USIA area offices used to have.

I recommend reading the whole article.

At the Foreign Service Institute last week, Secretary of State Clinton gave some related comments:

I want to assure you that I will continue to do everything I can to make sure you have the resources and support necessary to continue that tradition of excellence. I know that your new expansion will provide badly needed classroom spaces, a larger cafeteria, a childcare center. The President and I have requested funding that will allow us to create the positions we need for training and career development for all of our employees – Foreign Service, Civil Service, and locally hired staff overseas.

Both the President and I recognize that maintaining a diverse, well-trained, highly skilled workforce is absolutely critical to pursuing our nation’s foreign policy. I said on the first day that I walked into the Department that smart power requires smart people, and FSI is training the smartest people around. And every day, I am reminded what an honor I have to serve with the dedicated professionals that not only do the work that is so necessary around the world, but who really represent America and our values, and who communicate that in a million different ways every single day.

See also:

  • U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy: no one in PD conducts PD overseas – Strong words from the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy.  Strong and brutally honest. (June 24, 2008)
  • Public Diplomacy is not Public Relations – The State Department must become a hub of innovation that implements, trains, and coordinates with the rest of the government. This means revamping the incentive structure, breaking from zero-tolerance of informational errors, introducing the military concept of "commander’s intent", and educating, empowering, encouraging, and equipping all of the State Department of the "now" and ubiquitous global information environment. (Jan 23, 2009)
  • Hitting Bottom at Foggy Bottom – My article at ForeignPolicy.com on the structural failures at State and the need to fix it rather than let it breakup – or be cannibalized. (Sep 11, 2009)
  • Preparing to Lose the Information War? – Is Congress paying attention? (Sep 10, 2009)