Congress and International Broadcasting

While the nominees for the Broadcasting Board of Governors remain in a holding pattern in the Senate, mostly likely because of Senator Tom Coburn, there is good news on the US international broadcasting front. The bill to permanently authorize Radio Free Asia has passed an important milestone.

According to a Senate source, last Friday, the Radio Free Asia bill was “hotlined” on the Republican side. This means there was no Republican opposition to considering the bill for unanimous consent. The next step is to hotline the bill on the Democrat side, which may or may not have occurred before you read this.

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USA Lost and other depressing news

Team USA lost to Ghana in the World Cup in a contest that went into extra time. The referring was not quite the factor it was in previous games, but the referee yesterday should have warned and even penalized Ghana for delay of game and pretending to be fouled. He did neither but in the end, that did not change the fact Team USA could not put the ball in the net, despite several good opportunities to do so.

South Korea, another team I hoped would make it to the next round, was also defeated.

Also depressing is the nominees for the Broadcasting Board of Governors have yet to be confirmed by the Senate. Senator Lugar’s report and Huffington Post article on the BBG has apparently had no effect on the primary opposition, which is still apparently Senator Tom Coburn. Hopefully the nominees will be confirmed immediately when the Senate returns.

Finally, my vacation in Hawaii is sadly coming to an end. However, on the brighter side, within hours of my return to the mainland, I’ll be on a plane to the 9th Annual Information Operations Europe Conference in London where I will speak on Tuesday about the convergence of old and new media. My presentation will focus on Wikileaks as an online propagandist whose products and influence transcend mediums as well as the timely if unfortunate example of the General McChrystal / Rolling Stone story.

Lastly, the upcoming seminar Now Media: Engagement Based on Information not Platforms takes place July 6 in Washington, DC. There is still space so sign up now. I will extend the “Early Bird” pricing to Wednesday, June 30. On July 1, the price goes up $100.

Lastly, you may have heard that the US military has renamed Psychological Operations (PSYOP) to Military Information Support Operations (MISO). Soup (and other) jokes aside, here is the memo from the Department of the Army that describes the change with the “direction and consensus of our most senior military leadership.”

Senate Report on the Broadcasting Board of Governors

The most extensive report on the issues facing the Broadcasting Board of Governors and US international broadcasting was released this week. “US International Broadcasting – Is Anybody Listening? – Keeping the US Connected” (1mb PDF) was prepared by the staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, under the leadership of senior professional staff member Paul Foldi, and is the best, if not the only, substantial review of its kind.
The report describes the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) as transforming from its intent of a political “firewall” to a modern political “football” that has resulted in an average vacancy on the board of over 470 days. Even now, the new slate of members of the BBG has yet to be confirmed by the Senate.

Beyond staffing difficulties and the resulting repercussions, the report describes the fierce competition and imbalance, particularly with China and Russia, to engage listeners, viewers, and readers around the world. The report also recommends changes to the Smith-Mundt Act, describing the firewall as “anachronistic and potentially harmful.”

Some highlights from the report:

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Movement on the BBG? (Updated)

imageNo, not yet. The Senate has adjourned until June 7. Questions from Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) to at least one of nominees to the Broadcasting Board of Governors is available from the Huffington Post (scroll down to COBURN’S QUESTIONNAIRE FOR DANA PERINO), or click here for the Word document with the questions.

Meanwhile, the head of the Persian News Network was “reassigned” and his deputy was fired.

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Want a visa? Give €15 and we can talk about it

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A reader comment reminded me of the strange reality of US public diplomacy.  As an effort to offset costs after Congress cut their operating budget (we hope this is the reason), some US embassies charge for the opportunity to setup an appointment to get a visa to enter the US.  At US consulate in The Hague, the charge is €15 (about $18). The consulate does recommend making sure you have all your documentation in order so you need only make one call – which they say you can do from anywhere in the world (which is a curious thing to say unless they are implying you can call collect). 

As the reader noted,

What a strange image this builds of America in a country which has diplomatic relations for hundreds of years.

I checked of four other US posts in Europe and failed to find a similar fee, which either makes Amsterdam unique or quicker to implement a policy. UPDATE: Jonathan writes that our embassy in Brussels requires the same payment

If this is the result of budget constraints and not a policy shift, has a demand signal been made to the budget and appropriations committees on the Hill (or to Jack Lew and others in State) on the need to get money to correct such problems?

Understanding State’s Budget Woes

Andrew Exum at CNAS blames – only somewhat tongue in cheek – the absence of federal money creating jobs in Congressional districts for the State Department’s budget woes. His point, of course, is that Congress sees little direct benefit from State’s activities. My friend draws additional insight from Gordon Adams and Cindy Williams and their highlight of an operational difference between State and the Defense Department:

The State Department’s dominant culture — the Foreign Service — takes pride in [the department’s] traditional role as the home of US diplomacy. Diplomats represent the United States overseas, negotiate with foreign countries, and report on events and developments. Diplomats, from this perspective, are not foreign assistance providers, program developers, or managers. As a result, State did not organize itself internally to plan, budget, manage, or implement the broader range of US global engagement … State department culture focuses on diplomacy, not planning, program development and implementation.

This is evident across the board at State, including, but not limited to, inadequate budgeting processes and systems, rigid hierarchies, and cultural bias against outside advice.

Below is a quick list of some of the other substantive issues I’ve talked in various public and private forums:

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Lynne Weil goes to USAID

One of public diplomacy’s best friends on the Hill, Lynne Weil, is going to USAID. Al Kamen writes about this move:

The beleaguered Agency of International Development is awaiting the arrival of some assistant administrators to give the new boss, Rajiv Shah, some help in restoring the dysfunctional shop to at least some semblance of robust health (he is a doctor, after all). …

Now comes word that he’s tapped veteran Hill foreign policy insider and media maven Lynne Weil to shore up the AID press shop as its director and to be the agency spokeswoman. Weil, who spent 15 years as a reporter, much of that time overseas, has worked on the Hill for nearly nine years , including stints for then-Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden and then for the House Foreign Affairs Committee, for the late Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) and more recently for Chairman Howard Berman (D-Calif.).

The House Foreign Affairs Committee and Chairman Berman’s loss is AID’s gain. This move should help USAID in ways more than just press relations. Lynne won’t check her public diplomacy legislative experience at the door.

As a result of the wonderful world of dysfunction created by Senator Jesse Helms when he abolished the United States Information Agency, Lynne will report to PJ Crowley. Yes, that PJ, State Department’s Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs. More on that when I write on the State Department Inspector General inspection report on the Bureau of Public Affairs. I’ll include comments from my sit down with PJ last week – after participating in a little send off of Ian Kelly to from State to Vienna – when we discussed this report.

Revisiting House Armed Services Committee Report 111-166 on NDAA FY2010

The House Armed Services Committee Report 111-166 on the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 intentionally, as confirmed by this blogger, used the phrase “military public diplomacy” to describe certain activities of the Defense Department based on effect. For your reference, the relevant section of the report is below.
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