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]