In December 1944, the State Department formally, and finally, acknowledged the important role of public opinion to U.S. foreign policy by establishing the Assistant Secretary of State for Public and Cultural Relations. Renamed to the Assistant Secretary of Public Affairs just over a year later, the assistant secretary was charged with expanding both the department’s domestic and foreign engagement programs “to provide American citizens with more information concerning their country’s foreign policy and to promote closer understanding with the peoples of foreign countries.” This integrated approach, given expansive global legislative authority by the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, was later shredded because ivy league diplomats at the department wanted the foreign cultural and information programs to conform to their “own long-established conventions [rather] than carrying out the congressional intention of [the Smith-Mundt Act].” This meant removing the public side to foreign affairs and creating the United States Information Agency in 1953 and institutionalizing the segregation of information from policy and the foreign from the domestic. In 1997, when Congress set upon shuttering USIA and reintegrating the bulk of its operations into the State Department, they directed the executive branch to establish a new Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy. Instead, the White House established an Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. Notionally akin to the integrated portfolio of the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs as it existed from 1944-1953. The reality was different and the segregation continued. The fact this office has been vacant four of ten days since the autumn of 1999 reveals the intentional marginalization of the informational component of foreign affairs continues even as many assert the U.S. is engaged in some kind of “information war.”
In public diplomacy history, did you know about the William Benton Scholarship? Established by Benton while he was serving as the Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, it was for “children of any officer or American employee of the Foreign Service or in the field service of the Department of State abroad.”
There was a time we could afford—or thought we could afford —to be unconcerned about what other people thought of us… That time is past. We shall be making decisions, within the U.N. and independently, that will have repercussions affecting the lives of ordinary people all over the globe. Our attitude and our actions—and rumors thereof—will be matters of concern everywhere.
Secretary of State James F. Byrnes in April 14, 1947
This is a quote from the past on the need to directly reach people abroad in the interest of US foreign policy. Today, we may call this public diplomacy, but then it was simply “public affairs.” The term “public diplomacy” would not be adopted for another two decades for the purpose of defending the independence of a bureaucracy.
A newer version of this topic, published 3 December 2020, may be found here.
The Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs was created in 1999 to lead the State Department’s existing public affairs operations and the reintegration of most of the global public affairs activities previously based in the department. These global activities had been removed in 1953 and rebranded in the late 1960s as “public diplomacy.” (Edmund Gullion is often credited with this rebranding, but proper attribution should go to Rep. Dante Fascell (D-FL), but that’s for another post.)
Since the office was established and the first Under Secretary was sworn-in on October 1, 1999, the office has been vacant 36% of the time. To be more precise, the office has been “unencumbered” with a confirmed Under Secretary for 35.8% of the days since October 1, 1999, with an average gap between appointments of 289 days (over 9.5 months). In December 2011, the Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy released a report about this vacancy issue (at the time, I served as the Executive Director of the commission) and the next month I published a less restrained commentary on the topic, R we there yet? A look at the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy (and Public Affairs). Above is an updated chart showing the tenure and vacancies of the office as of August 26, 2019.
There is much talk today about Internet Freedom and the Freedom of Expression. While worthy and laudable, they are myopic, misleading, and inadvertently shift supporting conversations away from the core requirements. Internet Freedom encourages ignorance of actual information flows to, from, and within audiences. Freedom of Expression is more about one-way outbound communication than it is about inputs. Both divert attention from the fundamental rights to hear and to speak. At the beginning of the Cold War, we were not focused on sound bites but instead the basic concepts toward clear purposes. Continue reading “The basic right upon which freedom rests “→
Dealing with the State Department is like watching an elephant become pregnant. Everything’s done on a very high level, there’s a lot of commotion, and it takes twenty-two months for anything to happen.
Source: Cary Reich, The life of Nelson A. Rockefeller: worlds to conquer, 1908-1958, 1st ed. (New York: Doubleday). 182.
2012 PDAA Awards Recognize Public Diplomacy Excellence
The Public Diplomacy Alumni Association, formerly the USIA Alumni Association, gave its 2012 achievement awards to U.S. public diplomacy professionals working in Zimbabwe, Okinawa, and Washington, DC. The announcement is below.
There are certain challenges to having an effective global policy. We may often look toward the environment and other actors, usually adversaries, but what about organisational structures and culture?
Two years ago, I wrote about the need to reorganize the State Department to meet modern requirements. There were two basic principles in my argument. First, the department needed to match its geographical breakdown with the Defense Department’s. Second, the geographic bureau chiefs at State should be elevated to be more equal with their Defense counterparts, the Combatant Commanders, and they have similar diplomatic powers as Ambassadors considering the changed role of Ambassadors today.
Recently, I came across a relevant journal article, “The Reorganization of the Department of State.” Published in The American Political Science Review (Vol 38, No 2, in April 1944), it was written by Walter H. C. Laves and Francis O. Wilcox. Both were on leave from the Bureau of the Budget, the predecessor to today’s Office of Management and Budget, and both were diplomats, and arguably public diplomats. Laves worked in the Office of Inter-American Affairs, a Presidential office intended to counter German influence in the Western Hemisphere, later serving as the Deputy Director at UNESCO (1947-1950), and then a professor of political science. Wilcox joined the State Department in 1942 and was later the first chief of staff to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations (1947-1951). He returned to State to become the Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs (1955-1961).
While the entire “The Reorganization of the Department of State” is worth reading, if you do not have access or the time, the opening paragraphs give a great overview.
This was written in 1944 after what would be the first of two Departmental Orders that year to reorganize the State Department. The first order was dated January 15 and the second December 20. It is worth reminding that this reorganization was done by the department and did not require Congressional pressure, at least direct pressure, or legislation. Conventional wisdom holds that changed oversight by authorizers and appropriators, decades of legislative directions to create this or fund that, that similar autonomy is not available today.
After the second order, Laves and Wilcox followed up with another journal article in April 1945: “The State Department Continues Its Reorganization.” An excerpt of this is below, though the entire article is worth reading.
It is fascinating, and sometimes distressing, that 50-60 year old reports and articles are highly relevant today. The arc of U.S. public diplomacy might be more aptly described as a spiral: always in motion and nearly making a full circle as it goes up or down and covering an always changing surface area.
If you have not seen the Proctor & Gamble marketing campaign entitled “Thank you, Mom“, you really should. An Olympic Partner for London 2012, the campaign will run for these last 100 days before the start of the summer games. It is the largest campaign in P&G’s 174-year history.
The campaign launched with the digital release of the short film “Best Job,” a moving celebration of mom’s raising great kids and Olympians, according to a press release. The video was shot on four continents with local actors and athletes from each location — London, Rio de Janeiro, Los Angeles and Beijing — and will be found online, across social media, TV, and print.*
How might the State Department produce similar vignettes that could translate policy initiatives including women’s issues, empowering young people, and other democracy and civil society issues?
Such cross-cultural outreach like this P&G campaign that supports and praises moms would likely enjoy the support of senior leadership in DC and the field. It would likely have traction with Ambassador moms and Ambassador wives. The vignettes would have a ready audience to the growing number of Facebook friends of the various State Department sites, many of which need content.
What do you think?
*Does this make the ad “old media” or “new media”? Try “now media”…
By Brian Carlson The following originally appeared at the Public Diplomacy Council and is republished here with permission.
Tara Sonenshine was confirmed Thursday night by the Senate, and she will probably take office officially early this week. (She can be sworn in privately by some current official and begin work, even as a more formal ceremony is planned for a few weeks hence.)
It is a new beginning down at Foggy Bottom. Tara becomes only the seventh Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs since the job was created upon the merger of USIA into the Department in 1999.
It is a propitious time to consider what habits lead to success at the State Department, as well as what experience teaches about being the nation’s Olympic spear-catcher when they think we’re being out-communicated by some guy in a cave. Here are a few suggestions for how to succeed at this job, all gathered from my time working directly with five of the six previous Under Secretaries. (I had no contact with Margaret Tutwiler.)
Michael A. Hammer to be Assistant Secretary of State (Public Affairs)
Anne Claire Richard, of New York, to be an Assistant Secretary of State
Tara D. Sonenshine, of Maryland, to be Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy, vice Judith A. McHale.
Robert E. Whitehead, of Florida, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Togolese Republic.
Larry Leon Palmer, of Georgia to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Barbados, and to serve concurrently and without additional compensation as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to St. Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Antigua and Barbuda, the Commonwealth of Dominica, Grenada, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
Jonathan Don Farrar, of California to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Panama.
Phyllis Marie Powers, of Virginia to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Republic of Nicaragua.
Nancy J. Powell, of Iowa, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Personal Rank of Career Ambassador, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to India.
Frederick D. Barton, of Maine, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Conflict and Stabilization Operations), vice Bradford R. Higgins.
For Tara, getting started requires waiting for the President to attest (certify) the confirmation, then swearing in (mostly like at the Department, possibly by Secretary Clinton but possibly Under Secretary Kennedy, unless she has a specific individual in mind), and then she’s off and running. She could start as early as Monday but Tuesday may be more likely. It largely depends on the White House’s ability to turn around the certification and get it to State.
Congratulations also goes to State’s public diplomacy, including the people, bureaucracy, the practice and the supporters. Having a strong leader like Tara confirmed for the job is long overdue.
The mission of public diplomacy is generally described as seeking to “understand, engage, inform and influence” foreign publics and elites in support of national policy objectives. Public diplomacy has been practiced, in one form or another, for a long time – think Benjamin Franklin in France, charming the nobility to garner support for the American colonies in their struggle for independence. Its modern origins include the first broadcast of the Voice of America in February 1942 (VOA celebrates its 70th anniversary this spring) and the establishment of the Office of War Information in June of that year. Continue reading “A Call to Action on Public Diplomacy “→
It should be common knowledge that the “information consequences of policy ought always be taken into account, and the information man ought always to be consulted. This statement from 1951 foreshadowed Eisenhower’s dictum of the next year that “everything we say, everything we do, and everything we fail to say or do will have its impact in other lands.” Words and deeds needed more than just synchronization as public opinion could be leveraged to support the successful conduct of foreign policy. Continue reading “The President’s National Framework for Strategic Communication (and Public Diplomacy) for 2012 “→
The Secretary announces that President Obama has designated Ambassador D. Kathleen Stephens as the Acting Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs pending the Senate’s confirmation of the President’s nominee, Tara Sonenshine. Ambassador Stephens will begin work on February 6, 2012, and will exercise all of the authorities of the office for the duration of this designation.
Tara’s nomination remains in limbo as we wait for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to refer her to the floor. Maybe there will be a business meeting next week to move her to the next step, along with several Ambassadorial nominees. However, the real challenge is not the Committee but the floor of the Senate where the general sense is few if any confirmations will be allowed in the current less-than-bipartisan environment. Hence, the appointment of Stephens as Acting Under Secretary.
Amb. Stephens was most recently the U.S. Ambassador to South Korea.
For more on the unencumbered Under Secretary of Public Diplomacy (and Public Affairs), see “R we there yet? A look at the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy (and Public Affairs).” Unless there is some surprise in the Senate, perhaps a Valentine’s Day gift (to both Tara to give her the office and Amb. Stephens to relieve her of it), this Under Secretary position will have been empty, or not encumbered by person confirmed by the Senate to the position, for 1 out of every 3 days since the position was established in 1999. The question will be how much more than 1/3 the time will the seat be vacant (no slight to Amb. Stephens intended)?
Welcome back, DiploPundit. Many were undoubtedly pleased when DP went on hiatus and hinted not to return. Alas, the State Department’s foil returns with a new URL – www.DiploPundit.net – and a new look.
(This article was updated on 20 November ’17 with a new chart that reflects incumbent tenures through 1 July ’16 and some other edits.)
What is the role of the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs? That has been an enduring question of the State Department, the Defense Department, National Security Staff, the Congress and the many others interested in America’s efforts to understand, inform, and influence global audiences. Established thirteen years ago to manage many of the activities formerly run by the abolished United States Information Agency (USIA), its role within State and with other agencies across Government has been subject to reinterpretation nearly every time there was a new Under Secretary. The last report of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy looked at the turnover in the position of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. The Commission found that the position has been unfilled for over 30% of the time since it was established. Moreover, the average tenure of the six Under Secretaries since 1999 was about 500 days, or less than 17 months. Indeed today, the office remains unencumbered since June 30, 2011, while Tara Sonenshine awaits confirmation by the Senate. Technically, the office is never “vacant” as there is always someone in an “acting” capacity. Today, Assistant Secretary Ann Stock runs the office in lieu of a confirmed Under Secretary.
As Sonenshine is unlikely to be confirmed before February due to the Senate’s calendar, the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs will be unfilled for an aggregate of more than 1,400 days, or nearly 1 out every 3 days over the past thirteen years. Below is a chart showing how long confirmed Under Secretaries served, and equally if not more important, how long the office was not filled by a confirmed appointee.
The above chart does not, of course, reflect how the Under Secretary perceived “public diplomacy,” how they worked with (or didn’t) the Department, from the 7th Floor to other Under Secretaries to the field (namely, but not limited to, the public affairs sections the Under Secretary is notionally connected), other agency partners, or the private sector and civil society. Nor does the chart indicate consistency in vision or leadership by the incumbent, or the degree of support by the Secretary or the White House of that vision or leadership. Nor does the chart indicate how well, if at all, the Under Secretary helped, protected, or promoted the public diplomacy “cone” (State’s label for career track), sought input from the field, or empowered the field. Nor does the chart indicate how the Under Secretary provided leadership, direction, or held accountable those offices directly within the office’s remit, such as the Bureau of International Information Programs and the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, or indirectly, such as the Bureau of Public Affairs, the Global Engagement Center (formerly the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communication), and the Public Affairs Sections at embassies and consulates worldwide.
The mission of American public diplomacy is to support the achievement of U.S. foreign policy goals and objectives, advance national interests, and enhance national security by informing and influencing foreign publics and by expanding and strengthening the relationship between the people and government of the United States and citizens of the rest of the world.
The Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs leads America’s public diplomacy…
Not public when the report was published last month was the elevation of the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism (S/CT) to a bureau under the Under Secretary for Civil Security, Democracy, and Human Rights (or “J”), the office formerly known as the Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs (or “G”). The Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) called for the elevation of S/CT to the Bureau of Counter-Terrorism (now “J/CT” to reflect its position under J). The QDDR suggested a close connection with R: “the Bureau will play a key role in State as efforts to counter violent extremism, working closely with the Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs and the new Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications” (p.45). Reportedly, the Bureau was placed within J, capably led by Under Secretary Maria Otero, because of that office’s role in “transnational issues.” Is R then limited to “communication”?
The Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs (PA) is independently expanding his office’s social media presence independent of, and bypassing, the Under Secretary’s office. This is, according to many inside of State, to increase the A/S for PA influence over posts, which is a natural direction when the Assistant Secretary is charged with communicating with audiences in the U.S. and abroad. It is worth noting that the real relationship of PA to the Under Secretary is more peer than subordinate. (To reflect this relationship, one of the few entries in this blog’s style guide is writing the full title for R as “Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy (and Public Affairs)”.
Are these challenges reflective in how much “communication” R actually oversees? And is R’s domain eroding?
Back to the Commission report, it offered several questions for further research:
1. What do the long gaps between appointments of Under Secretaries for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs indicate about views on the role and skills necessary for the position, or the importance of public diplomacy and the role of the State Department in leading and coordinating Government activities that intend to understand, inform, and influence foreign publics?
2. What do the short tenures indicate about the challenges of the position?
3. Does the Under Secretary adequately support the careers of public diplomacy officers in light of leadership turnover and frequent and long periods when the position was unencumbered?
I’ll add to that list additional, more blunt, questions:
How does the office stay in the game and not get circumvented, or bypassed, and its resources and missions not get poached without an Under Secretary at the helm?
Has the Under Secretary’s role with other federal agencies, let alone within the Department, diminished due to uncertainties and shifting priorities resulting from the turnover and short tenures?
Certainly, Tara Sonenshine will have her hands full when she is confirmed after the Senate again takes up her nomination later this month.