US Embassy Pakistan: quibbling about Public Diplomacy staffing numbers …

Image by Mikey G Ottawa via Flickr

Based on a recent OIG report, we have written previously about US Embassy Pakistan’s understaffed, inexperienced staff handling its $30 million public diplomacy programs. Last week, we received a comment in that post from Dan Sreebny, the Acting Coordinator of the Department of State’s Bureau of International Information Programs Bureau (IIP). Also, Mr. Sreebny had previously served for five months as Acting Director of the Global Strategic Engagement Center, working within the office of the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.  Comment reprinted in full below:

Dear Diplopundit,

I am pleased to inform you and your readers that Public Diplomacy in Pakistan is a priority for this Administration and we are staffing our embassy there accordingly.

The information noted in your blog posting was based on inspection interviews from earlier this year. The number of Public Affairs positions in Pakistan has increased with the growth in the Public Diplomacy budget. There are currently 21 Public Affairs positions in Pakistan and many of the officers coming into these positions have served more than fifteen years in Public Affairs overseas and domestically. In addition, the Department of State has also identified and deployed several experienced officers for temporary duty (TDY) assignments to “bridge the experience gap” in Pakistan.

These deployments are evidence of a clear recognition that the Public Diplomacy effort in Pakistan requires experienced personnel. For precisely this reason one of the most senior Public Diplomacy officers in the Department of State was moved to Islamabad to manage the significant growth of Public Diplomacy initiatives in Pakistan.

We recognize the central importance of public diplomacy in Pakistan and have marshaled every necessary resource to meet that challenge.

Sincerely yours,

Dan Sreebny

We appreciate Mr. Sreebny’s comment.

We should note that the OIG inspection was conducted in Washington DC between January 4 and February 2, 2010; in Islamabad, Pakistan, between February 4 and March 6, 2010; in Karachi and Lahore (two subteams) between February 15 and 20, 2010; and in Peshawar on February 13 and February 23, 2010. The inspectionn report was dated June 2010 and was released publicly on July 8, 2010.

Now, let’s try and deconstruct Mr. Sreebny’s comments:

“There are currently 21 Public Affairs positions in Pakistan …”

Actually, Mr. Sreebny’s number, 21 is off by one. The OIG report indicates that the total authorized US direct hire staff for public diplomacy in Pakistan is 22, with an additional locally employed staff of 53 — a total of 75, country-wide (see page 54).  So Mr. Sreebny’s staffing number is not even new.  And here I initially thought this was an improvement in the last five months since the conclusion of the inspection.  Presuming that Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar all have one Public Affairs Officer each, plus the six incumbents in PAS Islamabad — that’s a total of 9 PA officers currently in Pakistan out of the 21/22 authorized positions (Sreebny and OIG numbers). 

Mr. Sreebny’s comments made it seem like the 21 is an improvement. Not so. But we would have liked to know how many of these 21/22 authorized positions are actually filled.   

That – Mr. Sreebny did not say.

Really, what does it matter if US Mission Pakistan has dozens of authorized public affairs positions if only 9 positions are actually filled? Or filled and later voluntary/involuntary curtailed?   

That’s the funny thing with numbers — they can spin a story any way you want them to…

“many of the officers coming into these positions have served more than fifteen years in Public Affairs overseas and domestically …”

In any case, the Foreign Service is right in the middle of the summer transfer season now, so these officers (pick a number) are just coming into these positions —  between now and the stragglers, in late October. Also, that part about “many” of these officers have served “more than fifteen years in PA…” … Seriously, we don’t know how many that means exactly …. seven officers? More than ten? Fourteen? Don’t know, all we’re told is that many of them are experienced … so pick a number (again) ….

Bottom line — Mr. Sreebny helpfully pointed out to us and our readers that State has experienced officers coming to Pakistan — wait — they’re not there yet  And we’re also told, State has “identified and deployed several experienced officers for temporary duty (TDY) assignments to “bridge the experience gap” in Pakistan.” [I wonder if these are the same experienced officers who inadventernently posted photos of Pakistani journalists invited to an embassy reception in Facebook; the journalists then reportedly later run afoul with their employers?] 

Which brings us back to the title of our blog post US Embassy Pakistan’s understaffed, inexperienced staff handles $30 million public diplomacy programs.

Until those many experienced officers actually show up in country, all 22 of them, we think the OIG’s characterization of the PD operation in Pakistan in its report and our blog post, need no Corrections for the Record at this time. 

Related post:
OIG Report No. ISP-I-10-64 – Inspection of Embassy Islamabad and Constituent Posts, Pakistan, June 2010