Congratulations Tara Sonenshine! confirmed to be Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs

Tara Sonenshine (USIP)
Tara Sonenshine (USIP)

Congratulations to Tara Sonenshine, who was confirmed this evening to be Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs!
Also confirmed was Mike Hammer as Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs (finally dropping “Acting” from his title).

Below is a list of all State Department.

  • 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.  

R we there yet? A look at the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy (and Public Affairs)

U.S. Department of State

(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 a someone in an “acting” capacity.  Today, Assistant Secretary Ann Stock runs the office in lieu of a confirmed Under Secretary.

The Commission compared the tenure of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs with two peers: the Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs (on January 1, 2012, this office became known as the Under Secretary for Civil Security, Democracy, and Human Rights) and the Under Secretary for Political Affairs.  As shown in the table below, the differences in tenure and gaps in incumbency are stark.

Data from state.gov & wikipedia and compiled by the author in January 2012.
Data from state.gov & wikipedia and compiled in December 2011 and originally published in a report by the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy the same month.

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.

Data from Wikipedia & State.gov through 1 July 2016.

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.

At the time of this writing, the website of the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (known inside State as “R”) states both the purpose of public diplomacy the role of the office succinctly:

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…

But does this office continue to sit in a leadership position?  In addition to the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (a bureau of understated impact and potential), R has the Bureau of International Information Programming (IIP), which is the Department’s “public diplomacy communications bureau,” and the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC).

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 a€™s 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 entry’s 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.

This might be a good time for the Congress, the State Department, and the White House to have a board of experts look into how the Government organizes and conducts activities intended to understand, inform, and influence foreign publics.

Getting a handle on Strategic Communication

I have been in many discussions over the past few weeks concerning DoD’s efforts at “Strategic Communication.” In one discussion I was asked, “just what is ‘strategic communication’ and why can’t DoD get a handle on it?”

A fair question and one I’ve heard often. I thought it time to put this down in print. “Strategic Communication” is the deliberate application of information and boils down to: Who do I need to know What, Why do I need them to know it, When do I need them to know it, Where are they, and How do I reach them. A relatively simple task that scales with the complexity of the goal you are planning to achieve. It is also a matter of situational awareness as a friend of mine pointed out, “As I reflected on our discussion, I thought about my old commander, Maj. Gen. John H. Admire, Commander of the First Marine Division, and his saying for good situational awareness. He told us to ask ourselves, ‘What do I know? Who needs to know? and Have I told them?'”

Continue reading “Getting a handle on Strategic Communication”

An opportunity to de-militarize public diplomacy

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Last week, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) convened the third annual Magharebia.com Writers Workshop. The workshop is a professional development course for new and established writers for AFRICOM’s Maghreb-centered news and information website, www.Magharebia.com. According to AFRICOM public affairs, the event “introduced new media tools and technologies while stressing the importance of sound journalistic principles for writing, blogging and podcasting.”

The website www.Magharebia.com was started in 2005 by U.S. European Command (EUCOM) to “reach out to a younger audience in the North Africa region with news, sports, entertainment, and current affairs about the Maghreb in English, French and Arabic.” It is similar to EUCOM’s other sponsored news and information website, www.SETimes.com, “the news and views of Southeast Europe.”

Continue reading “An opportunity to de-militarize public diplomacy”

Public Meeting of the US Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy

The US Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy will hold a public meeting on July 20, 2010 from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. in the conference room of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) located at 1850 K Street, NW., Fifth Floor, Washington, DC 20006.

The Commissioners will discuss public diplomacy issues, including measurement of U.S. government public diplomacy efforts.

The Advisory Commission was originally established under Section 604 of the United States Information and Exchange Act of 1948, as amended (22 U.S.C. 1469) and Section 8 of Reorganization Plan Numbered 2 of 1977. It was reauthorized pursuant to Public Law 11-70 (2009), 22 U.S.C. 6553.

The public may attend this meeting as seating capacity allows. To attend this meeting and for further information, please contact Gerald McLoughlin at (202) 632-6570, e-mail: acpdmeeting@state.gov. Any member of the public requesting reasonable accommodation at this meeting should contact Mr. McLoughlin prior to July 15th. Requests received after that date will be considered, but might not be possible to fulfill.

Public Affairs and Information Operations: an influence capability

The April 2010 issue of the Marine Corps Gazette includes a discussion on the need for increased integration – doctrinal and operational – between public affairs and information operations. Public Affairs and Information Operations: An Influence Activity, written by Lieutenant Colonel Matt Morgan, USMC, and Major Jeff Pool, USMC, discusses the ideological struggle between military public affairs officers and others of whether public affairs is to “inform but not influence,” an impossible task since the intent of informing is to influence. Appreciation for the conditions and requirements of the modern age of global and instant information has yet to be fully understood in ways that can break down the firewalls between “inform” and “influence.” As Matt and Jeff point out, it is time that truthful and attributed information not be segregated or tainted by whether its delivery mechanism is active or passive – the real delineation between “inform” and “influence.”
Continue reading “Public Affairs and Information Operations: an influence capability”

Update on the confirmation of US Broadcasting Board of Governors

The US Broadcasting Board of Governors continues to operate with a minimum of members, just enough for a quorum. The Board currently has four members, no chair, each of which continues several years (from over 3 to nearly 6) past their terms expired. Since March 23, 2010, the six of the replacement slate of eight members have been queued up for confirmation. Two of members, Dana Perino and Michael Meehan, were in a holding pattern pending more questions and answers from Senators.

Last week, it appeared the nominees would be confirmed before the Senate recessed for Memorial Day. Alan Heil, noted expert on US government broadcasting explains the current situation:

The U.S. Senate has begun its Memorial Day recess without clearing any of the eight nominees to the Broadcasting Board of Governors. Congress resumes June 7, but a debate Friday over 80 of the more than 100 nominees throughout the US government awaiting confirmation on the Senate floor ended with no action taken. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell objected to a motion by Senator Tom Harkin to pass a unanimous consent approval of these 80 nominees. Among them, the largest block of nominees to a single US government oversight body, the BBG, a number of U.S. ambassadors, appointments to the National Labor Relations Board, the Peace Corps, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and several federal district judges. To further complicate matters, as regards the eight BBG nominees, there was no indication on the Senate Executive Calendar that Senator Coburn of Oklahoma had yet lifted his hold on six of them

The BBG is oversees the civilian (non-military) international broadcasting, including but not limited to the Voice of America, Radio Free Asia, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and others.

See also:

Why the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs tweets

Last week, Federal News Radio interviewed Capt. John Kirby, Special Assistant for Public Affairs for Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on why the Chairman actively engages in social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. The chairman, who began Tweeting and Facebooking in 2009, understood that social media was quickly becoming a part of mainstream media and it was just as important to listen to online conversations.

Prior to engaging in social media, the Admiral learned from his troops that his internal military audience, which includes younger men and women in uniform, frequently use social media to communicate with each other. 

Other federal organizations can learn from Adm. Mullen’s online efforts, who does personally “tweet,” as he continues to more effectively utilize Web 2.0 and Gov 2.0.

Click here to read the full article by Federal News Radio.

See also:

Renee Lee is a new contributor to MountainRunner.us and will be providing links and overviews of material – online and offline – deemed important for the individual or organization interested in public diplomacy, strategic communication or “signaling integration”, or global engagement.

Renee Lee is a graduate student in the Master of Public Diplomacy program at the University of Southern California. Renee spent six years in the U.S. Air Force as a public affairs officer in the Asia-Pacific region. Renee graduated cum laude from the University of Washington in 2003, earning a B.A. in Communications.

MountainRunner Institute at InfoWarCon 2010

By Chris Dufour

This week kicks off the second year of AOC’s InfoWarCon in Washington, DC. Subtitled “Future Warfare Today: The Battle for Information & Ideas”, the three-day gathering sports luminaries from different information disciplines beyond information operations, or IO. Joel Harding, the director of AOC’s IO Institute, has put together an agenda with panelists from across the spectrum of informational engagement: strategic communication, public diplomacy, public affairs, technology, and emerging media. The stated purpose of InfoWarCon is to advance the discourse about the evolving role of information in warfare of today and tomorrow, especially the kind where explosions, in the case they actually occur, are shaping events in support of information activities.

InfoWarCon provides the necessary forum to discuss the real and perceived differences and similarities between information warfare and communication in a modern competitive landscape where information, not platforms, matter most. This environment is one where dissemination and reception are increasingly disassociated from geography as audiences are less likely to be contained within the borders of traditional nation-states.

The opportunities and threats of this modern environment can reduce autonomy, empower, or both. Typically, the empowerment to the non-state actor, whether a group or individual and the restriction on acting unilaterally is on the state. The easy answer for this situation is agility to operate in today’s dynamic, fluid, and hyperactive information environment. No longer do major powers solely rely on direct force-on-force combat to achieve strategic objectives. Similarly, non-violent communications campaigns conducted by private organizations or individuals can no longer succeed without considering the competitive information landscape.

InfoWarCon will provide the opportunity to discuss the issues related to this evolutionary, perhaps even revolutionary, environment and the resulting splintering of doctrine and perceptions of influence.

Chris Dufour is a Senior Vice President at the MountainRunner Institute and will cover InfoWarCon starting with Tuesday evening’s kickoff reception. (See this page for the week’s full agenda.) He will live-tweet the event from @MRinstitute, MRi’s Twitter handle, using the hashtag #IWC2010. If you plan on making it out to InfoWarCon this year, ping Chris on Twitter and contribute your thoughts and observations using the hashtag #IWC2010 (“eye”-w-c-2010).