Managing the problem: VOA, Smith-Mundt, and oversight

Public Law 80-402 opening

The White House, in typical fashion, very publicly lashed out at reporting it did not like. In this case, it was reporting from the Voice of America, a government-funded and managed news service, on Wuhan in China. The White House was triggered by a story published by VOA that did not come from the network, or its sister operation covering China, Radio Free Asia. VOA had republished a story from the Associated Press which VOA distributes under contract. Yesterday, I framed the situation as a failure of VOA’s leadership, and by extension a failure of VOA’s parent organization, the US Agency for Global Media, to focus on the mission and parameters of VOA. That mission and those parameters do not include providing coverage that is redundant to commercial media and does include focusing on audiences relevant to US foreign policy. Below, I continue the conversation by focusing on the “safeguards” Congress implemented around VOA to prevent and correct such failures, safeguards ignored by Congress and the White House abdicating their responsibilities.

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Quoting History: Information as an essential component of foreign policy

Events in the past year have made a United States Government information program more important than ever. Information is one of the three essential components in carrying out United States foreign policy — the other two, of course, being military and economic. Each has its function to perform in this great struggle for the minds of men, and each has, or should have, an equally high place in the strategic plan.

First Semiannual Report of the Advisory Commission on Information, March 1949.

In 1949, the Cold War was in full swing. Barely four years earlier, the White House and the Congress set about to make various programs permanent in the post-war world. These efforts included various information programs — radio, libraries, press feeds, motion pictures, books, and other publications — and various exchange programs — educational, cultural, and technical. There was one primary authority for these — the eventually named Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 — and several supplementary programs — the Fulbright Act and Defense Department information programs run in Japan and Germany/Austria. 

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Mid-Week Quote: “information consequences of policy ought always be taken into account”

Today’s quote comes from the Fourth Semiannual Report of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Information, submitted to the Congress in April 1951.

Sometimes policy is “made” by the junior officer who writes an original memorandum. Sometimes it is made by an unexpected utterance at a top-level press conference. But the information consequences of policy ought always be taken into account, and the information man ought always to be consulted.

The Mid-Week Quote will be a recurring feature of the blog, although it may not appear every week.  Email me to suggest a quote.  See below for more on the report this quote is taken from.

The 22-page report (available at the website of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy) assessed that the State Department’s information program is being effectively administered, that the personnel has greatly improved, and that most of the Commission’s previous recommendations had been put into effect.  The Commission expressed concern whether taking the program outside of the State Department to the about to be established United States Information Agency would be an improvement or a detriment to operation.

The Commission recommended that the program should be expanded, better evaluated, and remain closely tied to the policy-making and public affairs areas of the State Department.

It is worth taking a look at the number and purpose of committees the Commission recommended the State Department establish.

The Commission has been most desirous to carry out the purposes of Public Law 402 by opening up wider channels of contact with appropriate professional and private sources. To that end, under the authority of the Act, it has recommended and the State Department has set up seven advisory committees.

Radio Advisory Committee:

  • Judge Justin Miller, Chairman (& member of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Information)
  • William S. Paley, Chairman of the Board, Columbia Broadcasting System
  • Theodore C. Streibert, Chairman of the Board, Mutual Broadcasting Company
  • Charles Denny, Executive Vice-President, National Broadcasting Company
  • Wesley I. Dumm, President, Associated Broadcasting, Inc.
  • Donley F. Feddersen, President, University Association for Professional Radio Education, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois
  • Jack W. Harris, General, Station KPRC, Houston, TX
  • Henry P. Johnston, General Manager, Station WSGN, Birmingham, AL
  • Edward Noble, Chairman of the Board, American Broadcasting Company
  • John F. Patt, President, Station WGAR, Cleveland, OH
  • Mefford R. Runyon, Executive Vice-President, American Cancer Society
  • G. Richard Shafto, General Manager, Station WIS, Columbia, SC
  • Hugh B. Terry, Vice President and General Manager, Station KLZ, Denver, CO

General Business Advisory Committee

  • Philip D. Reed, Chairman (& member of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Information)
  • James A. Farley, Chairman of the Board, Coca Cola Export Corporation
  • Ralph T. Reed, President, American Express Company
  • W. Randolph Burgess, Chairman of the Executive Committee, National City Bank of New York City
  • Sigurd S. Larmon, President, Young & Rubicam, Inc.
  • William M. Robbins, Vice President for Overseas Operations, General Food Corporation
  • David A. Shepard, Executive Assistant, Standard Oil Company of New Jersey
  • J.P. Spang, Jr., President, Gillette Safety Razor Company
  • Claude Robinson, President, Opinion Research Corporation
  • Warren Lee Pierson, Chairman of the Board, Transcontinental and Western Air, Inc.
  • Meyer Kestnbaum, President, Hart, Shaffner & Marx

Ideological Committee

  • George Gallup, Institute of Public Opinion
  • George S. Counts, Teachers College, Columbia University
  • Allen W. Dulles, Director and President, Council on Foreign Relations
  • Elmer Davis, News Analyst, American Broadcasting Company
  • Alexander Inkeles, Harvard University

The following were Members of the Advisory Commission on Information at the time of the report:

  • Erwin D. Canham, Chairman
  • Philip D. Reed
  • Mark A. May
  • Justin Miller
  • and Ben Hibbs was nominated but not yet confirmed

There is a new Executive Director of the US Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy

The U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy is charged with appraising U.S. Government activities intended to understand, inform, and influence foreign publics. The Commission formulates and recommends to the President, the Secretary of State, and Members of Congress policies and programs to carry out the public diplomacy functions vested in the State Department, Broadcasting Board of Governors, and other government agencies, as well as appraising the effectiveness of the public diplomacy policies and programs carried out by government agencies.
There are seven members on the Commission, with “not more than four members may be from one political party.” In February, the White House sent to the Senate four nominations for the Commission. The Commission also includes an Executive Director hired as a civil servant on a two-year appointment.

Today, Matt Armstrong, author and publisher of MountainRunner.us, was sworn in as the Executive Director of the Advisory Commission. The immediate impact is the suspension of blogging, including the publishing of guest posts, at MountainRunner.us.

You may reach the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy at 202-203-7463 or by email at pdcommission@state.gov. Visit the website at http://state.gov/pdcommission.

And for your bit of trivia and the “obligatory” mention of Smith-Mundt: The Commission was established by the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 as a result of a June 1947 amendment by Rep. Everett M. Dirksen (R-IL), later Senator Dirksen.

Defense Department Plan on Strategic Communication and Science and Technology

A newly released report from the Department of Defense may be the first to specifically consider the role of science and technology (S&T) efforts supporting the broad range of Strategic Communication (SC) activities across the whole of government. The Strategic Communication Science and Technology Plan, April 2009, (PDF) produced by the Rapid Reaction Technology Office (RRTO) within the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s Director, Defense Research Engineering (DDRE), responds to direction in the Fiscal Year 2009 National Defense Authorization Act, which calls for the Department to leverage these efforts to designate an “S&T thrust area for strategic communication and focus on critical S&T opportunities.” Congress and RRTO authorized publication of this report on MountainRunner.us.

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