R we to have a new “acting” Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy (and Public Affairs)?

There’s word there will be a new “acting” Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy (and Public Affairs) as early as next week.  The current “acting” for R, as it is known at Foggy Bottom, is Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Ann Stock.  I have not heard a single negative comment on Ann’s leadership while the “acting” U/S, except for early concerns she’d pay less attention to ECA.  However, I’ve also heard no complaints about the “acting” leader of ECA in Ann’s “absence,” Principle Deputy Assistant Secretary Adam Ereli.
So what is the reason for replacing Ann?
First, let’s look at where Tara Sonenshine’s confirmation as the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy (and Public Affairs) sits.  Tara had her hearing with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last year.  The next step is the SFRC approves her nomination and sends her to the floor of the Senate.   The approval happens in the SFRC’s regular business meeting, but no word yet if she’s on the agenda for the next meeting.  After the nomination is sent to the floor, then the Senate must vote.  Likely her nomination will be including in some larger group.

The challenges: a Senator may raise an objection prior to the SFRC’s business meeting or before the floor vote.  It takes only one Senator to bring the whole process to a halt.  It does not matter if the Senator is on the SFRC or not.

The environment on the Hill is such that it is likely State’s Legislative Affairs advised that no confirmations are likely in the near future.  This is, unfortunately, probably true.  Perhaps the saving grace here is the relatively low profile of this position, and fortunately, the lack of concern over Tara’s nomination.

So, if the sense is Tara will not be confirmed soon, why replace Ann?  A few ideas:

  • Secretary Clinton wants Ann back at ECA or Ann wants to be back at ECA.  Ann seems to enjoy her role but I wouldn’t be surprised if she’d be happier back at her hold job.  
  • Ann will leave State sooner than later.  She was likely to leave with Secretary Clinton, or soon before.  Leaving at this early date seems unlikely as the challenge of replacing Ann will be similar to that of confirming Tara.  And I sincerely doubt Ann would leave her post at this critical time to, for example, write a book.    
  • State has decided the U/S seat should rotate until Tara is confirmed.  While not ideal this option makes the most sense.  

The rumored replaced for “acting” Under Secretary is Amb. Kathleen Stephens, the well-regarded and respected former U.S. Ambassador to Korea.

The rotation option could have the unintended effect of further undermining the position.  As each new person comes through, if it is truly a rotation and more than one “placeholder” comes through after Amb. Stephens before Tara is confirmed (for the record: I believe confirmation will come sooner than later), the individual will naturally be project driven, focusing on products and inputs rather than impact and outcome.  This will be to the detriment of some or all of the fundamentals of public diplomacy that must be addressed, such as the office’s role within the Department, including the relationship with Public Affairs and the posts not to mention other offices and bureaus, across the interagency, support of PD coned officers, support of the practice and concept of public diplomacy, and, of course, IIP and ECA.

We shall see.  Amb. Stephens may start Monday, or possibly all of this was simply a rhetorical exercise.

Note: Acting is in quotes for technical reasons.  Ann Stock, for example, remains the Assistant Secretary and “assumed the authorities of the Under Secretary of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs on July 8, 2011.”