Quickie: The trouble with Twitter and cake diplomacy

Twitter bird logo icon illustrationImage by Matt Hamm via Flickr

Brian Whitaker writes for the Guardian about the trouble with Twitter: “As the sacking of a CNN journalist for a tweet on an ayatollah’s death has shown, it’s hard to convey nuance in 140 characters.” State Department officials mentioned by TSB here, also got special billing in the article: 

Two tech-savvy State Department officials recently travelled in a delegation to Syria to discuss IT issues.

“I’m not kidding when I say I just had the greatest frappuccino ever,” one of them tweeted during the trip. Another tweet talked about challenging a Syrian government minister to a cake-eating contest.

For some, this was shocking evidence that the officials were getting far too matey with the Syrians but their boss, Hillary Clinton, doesn’t seem much troubled. To her mind, it’s all part of “21st century statecraft”.

Not that there’s anything very new about it, really: it’s just one side of a diplomat’s life that we’re not accustomed to seeing. Diplomats have always fraternised to some extent with “the enemy” and journalists, for their part, have always had opinions about the things they cover. We’re kidding ourselves if we pretend that they don’t, so why not be up-front about it? Twitter, though, may not always be the best place to do it.

Read the whole thing here.

Wanted: New "DMR" for State Dept — Jack Lew off to OMB

Deputy Secretary of State for Management and R...Image via Wikipedia

Today, President Barack Obama announced his intent to nominate Jacob J. Lew to serve as Director of the Office of Management and Budget. Jack Lew is curently the State Department’s #3 person, after Secretary Clinton and the Deputy Secretary.  He is the Secretary’s point person on the QDDR expected this fall and is actively involved in the civilian surge in Afghanistan. Although the DMR position at State was authorized previously, this was the first time this position was ever filled. The good news is he’s off to OMB. The bad news is now State must find a new DMR with just the right fit.  One name has been floated around here as Jack Lew’s successor; I’m sure a few more names will surface before this is over. Also UN Ambassador Susan Rice is mentioned here as “widely considered a likely candidate to eventually succeed Clinton in the Secretary job should Clinton depart before Obama finishes his term or if Obama is elected to a second term.” Huh?

President Obama said, “The experience and good judgment Jack has acquired throughout his impressive career in the public and private sector will be an extraordinary asset to this administration’s efforts to cut down the deficit and put our nation back on a fiscally responsible path. As the budget director who left the next administration a $237 billion surplus when he worked for President Clinton, I have no doubt that Jack has proven himself equal to this extraordinary task. I am grateful he has agreed to serve in this critical role, and I look forward to working with him in the weeks and months ahead.”

The WH released the following bio:

Mr. Jack Lew is Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources, serving as Chief Operating Officer of the Department. Appointed by President Obama, he was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on January 28, 2009, and sworn in by Secretary Clinton the next day.

Mr. Lew was managing director and chief operating officer of Citi Alternative Investments (CAI) until January 2009. At CAI, he was responsible for operations, technology, finance, human resources, legal and regional coordination. Prior to joining CAI in January 2008, he was managing director and chief operating officer of Citi Global Wealth Management.

From 2001 to 2006, Mr. Lew was executive vice president and chief operating officer of New York University, where he was responsible for budget, finance, and operations. He was also a professor of public administration.

Mr. Lew served in President Clinton’s cabinet as the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). From 1998 to 2001, he led the Administration budget team and served as a member of the National Security Council. During his tenure at OMB, the U.S. budget operated at a surplus for three consecutive years. Earlier, Mr. Lew served as OMB’s Deputy Director and was a member of the negotiating team that reached a bi-partisan agreement to balance the budget. As Special Assistant to President Clinton from 1993 to 1994, Mr. Lew helped design Americorps, the national service program.

From 1988 to 1993, Mr. Lew was a partner at the Washington law firm Van Ness, Feldman, specializing in issues related to power plant development. Mr. Lew began his career in Washington in 1973 as a legislative aide. From 1979 to 1987, he was a principal domestic policy advisor to House Speaker Thomas P. O’Neill, Jr, where he served at the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee as Assistant Director and then Executive Director. There he was responsible for domestic and economic issues including Social Security, Medicare, budget, tax, trade, appropriations, and energy issues.

From 2004 through 2008, Mr. Lew served on the Corporation for National and Community Service Board and chaired its Management, Administration, and Governance Committee. Prior to assuming his current position, he co-chaired the Advisory Board for City Year New York and was on the boards of the Kaiser Family Foundation, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Brookings Institution Hamilton Project and the Tobin Project. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the National Academy of Social Insurance and of the bar in Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.

Mr. Lew received his A.B. degree magna cum laude from Harvard and his J.D. degree from Georgetown University.

US Embassy Pakistan: Understaffed, inexperienced staff handles $30 million public diplomacy programs

Program budget jumps from $1.5 million to $30 million in one year

The OIG report on the US Embassy in Islamabad talks about the public diplomacy operation in Pakistan. It is worrisome, given the big foreign policy deal placed on that country by the current administration,  only to have an understaffed, inexperienced staff tackle one of the largest, most complex public diplomacy programs in the world. Here is part of what it says:

“There are currently six PD officers in the embassy’s PAS: one senior PD-cone Foreign Service officer with approximately 25 years of experience, two PD-cone officers on their first PD assignment, one political-cone officer in his first PD assignment, one Civil Service employee on an excursion tour, and one American contractor on a one-year contract. The public affairs officer (PAO) has 25 years of experience in PD work; the five others—in total—have less than five years of PD experience.

With the exception of the PAO, the staff has been sent to Islamabad on its first PD tour and expected to implement one of the largest and most complex PD programs in the world. To expect an understaffed, inexperienced (albeit hard-working and willing) staff to implement a large, complicated, and important PAS program is not good management (italics added).

About the embassy’s Public Affairs funds:

One year ago, PAS Pakistan managed a program budget of about $1.5 million. Today, PAS directly manages more than $30 million, one of the largest public diplomacy (PD) programs in the world. This year, the international visitor leadership program will bring nearly 200 Pakistanis to the United States; the Fulbright program will bring hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students and scholars to the United States; and other exchange programs will bring hundreds more.

Staffing issues and the Pakistan Communications Plan

“The Office of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs convened a working group that created the Pakistan Communications Plan, which details the public diplomacy challenges, the programs recommended to meet those challenges, and the performance indicators to be used to evaluate those programs.

Several of the goals required the completion of sub-plans prior to the arrival of the OIG team. These have not been created. Some goals require that baseline measurements be established so that progress can be measured against a starting point. No such benchmarks existed at the time of the OIG team’s visit. Some performance indicators require clarification or refinement before they can be used. Addressing these problems may require temporary duty expertise in polling and research based at Embassy Islamabad so that the revisions are informed by Pakistani expertise. Unless these issues are addressed soon, millions of dollars will have been spent and there will be no way to measure the effectiveness of the programs.(italics added)
The current staffing chart shows 11 PD officer positions—PAS Islamabad is operating with five of 11 positions unfilled. Until these positions are filled, the Pakistan Communications Plan will not be implemented as envisioned.”(italics added)

About the embassy’s Strategic Communications Coordinator:

“The head of all Embassy Islamabad PD programs is the strategic communications coordinator (at the time of the inspection, the incumbent was also the acting PAO and acting cultural affairs officer). The coordinator is charged with oversight of the information programs of PAS, USAID, ODRP, and the military information support team. The leaders of these programs meet once a week to discuss upcoming plans and programs, e.g. press releases, opening ceremonies, media events, and publications. All the leaders told the OIG team that they cleared plans and materials with the coordinator. However, one of the program leaders told the OIG team that “the system worked well,” but that, at present, it was “personality and relationship dependent.”

There is no written guidance establishing the responsibilities and authorities of the strategic communications coordinator. Without formal guidance, future incumbents could redefine responsibilities in such a way that there is no central coordination of the embassy’s public affairs programs. This could lead to ineffective or even contradictory efforts.”

As an aside, I should note that the OIG report also says that the US Ambassador to Pakistan has requested that first tour officers not be sent to post and that State has tried to accommodate her by sending second tour officers to Pakistan. I need not point out that most second tour officers conceivably are still doing their first or second consular tour or if they are “lucky” to be serving in their preselected cone that is non-consular, their second tour in Pakistan would be their first time serving in-cone.

And while the embassy has 5 PD officer positions unfilled at US Embassy Islamabad — I have to ask the following question:  How is it that the State Department, specifically the Director General of the Foreign Service is still  unwilling to give a mandatory retirement waivers to seasoned PD officers like Dr. Elizabeth Colton? I think Dr. Colton’s tenure as Public Affairs Officer in Karachi is running out fast as a sandtimer while her discrimination case runs its course in the DC court system.

But — do you really think that kicking out a seasoned public diplomacy officer as soon as she turns 65, despite staffing gaps in arguably one of the our most important U.S. missions in the world is really good management?  Of course, it is — just ask the HR bureau!  Oh, and if you do go and ask, please don’t blame me if you fall off your chair when you hear their response.

And plueeze — do not point fingers at my friends in Congress.  Doesn’t that law that HR like to cites allows for a waiver from the mandatory age retirement if it is in the public interest?  Yep, I thought so.  Of course, you and I have yet to see an itemized list of what is considered in the public interest by HR. You have to help me out here, dudes — this is beyond my expertise ….

… What’s that?  It is an über top secret list?  Really?  Only those with über top secret clearance are allowed to peek on what is considered “in the public interest?” Sorry?  No one is allowed to write down the list? Well, I’m not batshit mad, I just don’t understand why you can’t write down that list.  Um …afraid somebody might copy it?  I guess that means — we, the public won’t even know what is considered to be in “our” interest?

Well, that just sucks …

Related posts:

Related item:

07/08/10   Embassy Islamabad and Constituent Posts, Pakistan (ISP-I-10-64) June 2010   [667 Kb]