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

Serving until Replaced: the recurring story of the Broadcasting Board of Governors

2011 BBG Board
The Broadcasting Board of Governors is presently working toward updating its organization and strategy to meet America’s 21st Century needs.  Whether you agree with the suggestions or not, most of the proposed changes remain just that: proposed as they await approval for many of the key changes.  The BBG provided a “narrative” but you will have to wait until next month, I’m told, for the detailed plan.

Back in September 2010, I wrote about the “honeymoon” the then-new Board would enjoy.  Indeed, after two years without a chairman and with only four members, serving appointments that expired six years earlier, the neglected BBG was due and eager for fresh leadership.

For background, the BBG is the only federal agency run by a committee.  The eight governors are appointed by the President, not more than four of whom may be from the same party, and the Secretary of State, who usually delegates his or her Under Secretary of State for Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy as the representative.

These eight are part-time leaders appointed to staggered terms.  The purpose was to provide fresh and state-of-the-art advice by top professionals and leaders to the Government.

The staggered and overlapping terms were a bid for continuity and to avoid radical shifts in policy.  The wholesale replacement of the Board in June 2010 with eight new members was a refresh that was not supposed to happen, and it was the first time since 2004 that the Board had a full complement.

However, we are now looking at the likely prospect of a wholesale replacement of the board due to term expirations.  Is twice in a row a coincidence or an emerging pattern of White House neglect?

Continue reading “Serving until Replaced: the recurring story of the Broadcasting Board of Governors”

All Quiet on the Western Front: a look at the Five-Year Strategic Plan for U.S. International Broadcasting

By Alan L. Heil Jr.
This article originally appeared at American Diplomacy. It is republished here, slightly modified, with permission of the author and American Diplomacy.

As the Voice of America marks its 70th anniversary, what lies ahead for all of the world’s publicly-funded overseas networks in the year ahead? For Western broadcasters collectively, 2011 was the most potentially devastating year in more than eight decades on the air. Now, because of fiscal uncertainties in their host countries and rapidly evolving competition from both traditional and new media, they face huge cuts in airtime and operations. Can America step up to help fill the gap? A new strategic plan for U.S.-funded overseas broadcasting charts a possible path.

Over the years, the government networks in Europe and North America have offered a window on the world and a beacon of hope for hundreds of millions of information-denied or impoverished people on the planet. They have done so by offering accurate, in-depth, credible news, ideas, educational and cultural fare, consistent with Western journalistic norms and the free flow of information enshrined in the 1948 U.N. Declaration of Human Rights. The broadcasts have enhanced America’s security, and even saved lives. They helped foster a largely peaceful end to the Cold War.

Continue reading “All Quiet on the Western Front: a look at the Five-Year Strategic Plan for U.S. International Broadcasting”

The Future of U.S. International Broadcasting: A Call for Debate on its Mission and Funding

By Alex Belida
With the 70th anniversary of the Voice of America approaching (Feb. 1st), it is an ideal time to assess the future prospects for U.S. International Broadcasting (USIB).

USIB has, over the past 70 years, grown into a multi-headed conglomerate.  Besides VOA, it now includes Radio Free Europe (founded 1950), Radio Liberty (founded 1953 and merged with RFE in 1976), Radio Marti (founded 1983) and TV Marti (founded 1990), Radio Free Asia (founded 1996) and the Middle East Broadcasting Network comprised of Radio Sawa (founded 2002) and Al-Hurra TV (founded 2004).

The current Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), headed by Walter Isaacson, this month approved resolutions (see record of decisions Jan. 13) aimed at consolidating these operations.  As a first step, the Board will study the feasibility of merging into a single corporate structure the three so-called Grantee or surrogate entities – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia and the Middle East Broadcasting Network.  Secondly the Board will seek legislative approval to create a Chief Executive Officer to oversee day-to-day operations of these non-federal elements of USIB as well as the federal elements, the Voice of America and Radio-TV Marti.

Continue reading “The Future of U.S. International Broadcasting: A Call for Debate on its Mission and Funding”

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.

State’s Foreign Affairs Policy Board

Josh Rogin and others reported last month on the Secretary Clinton’s new Foreign Affairs Policy Board.  Organized as a Federal Advisory Committee, it is reasonable to expect that all of the meetings will be closed door, which is unfortunate.  Derided as the “newest effort” to make State more like the Pentagon, it actually draws on a reasonable practice of seeking outside expertise.  For example, take a look at the seven advisory committees the Department put together in 1951 on the advice of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Information (now known as the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy).
Continue reading “State’s Foreign Affairs Policy Board”

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

Academia and Public Diplomacy: a new relationship

ArmstrongPDWG2011There was something new at the 2011 International Studies Association conference in Montreal, Canada: a working group on public diplomacy. Organized by Craig Hayden, assistant professor at American University, and co-chaired by Kathy Fitzpatrick, professor at Quinnipiac University, it was a unique discussion to create a community of scholars across the many disciplines that comprise “public diplomacy.”
Keynotes were given by Matt Armstrong and Maureen Cormack, Executive Assistant in the Office of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.

Congratulations to Craig for a terrific, productive and long overdue working group. I’ll leave it to the participants to highlight the discussions of the day. Hopefully we will see more of this type of event to increase collaboration, understanding, and relevancy of public diplomacy within and with academia.

China: Rebranding 101

By Roseline Twagiramariya

Even if you’ve been living under a rock, chances are you have heard about China’s impressive economic growth and its continuing rise as an important global player. A few weeks ago, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee released an informative report on the disparities between Chinese and American public diplomacy activities today. Most importantly, the report, commissioned by Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), the Ranking Member of the Committee, gave a clear and concise look at China’s current rebranding strategies. Aware of its current spotlight and of its negative perceptions abroad, China has heavily invested in their soft power in hopes to ameliorate their image and be seen as less of a threat during their economic expansion. However, having read the report and other articles about China’s so-called “peaceful development”, it’s easy to see how China could very well be standing in their own way. In terms of country branding, their initiative lacks one key factor and that is truthfulness.

Continue reading “China: Rebranding 101”

Diplomacy in Public Services

By Aparajitha Vadlamannati

I remember coming back to the States a few years ago after a long summer spent with family and friends in India. I felt homesick, tired from the 16 hour flight, and did not want to start school in two weeks but then I was pulled out of my funk when a customs official smiled and said ‘welcome home.’ It was such a simple act but it changed my mood and made me feel as though maybe all those customs officials, even the ones with sour faces, are not so bad after all. Little did I know, I doubt the official recognized this either, that this act is public diplomacy.

Public diplomacy was believed to be a job solely for the state department but it takes more than Foreign Service Officers to do the job well. It is important for every citizen, resident, official, supporter, etc. of a nation to do their best to fairly represent the nation they associate with to a foreign (i.e. those from a nation different than their own) audience. Those working for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are certainly no exception. In fact, they play one of the most important roles in maintaining a positive image of the US because of the opinions and experiences immigrants relay to family and friends back home. These experiences become a part of the composite image/impression that foreigners have of Americans overall; similar to the reasons why an exchange program works to shape an image of America.

Continue reading “Diplomacy in Public Services”