PD Commission KIA by Congress; Welcome Back, Matt Armstrong

On April last year, we posted about Matt Armstrong, author and publisher of MountainRunner.us, when he was sworn in as the Executive Director of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy (ACPD). At that time, he also suspended his popular blog,
including the publishing of guest posts, at MountainRunner.us.

Last December, after 63 years of existence, the Commission was KIA by Congress.  And the USG saved $135,065, the Commission’s operating budget for FY2011 (salaries excepted).  Besides the Executive Director, the only permanent staff of the ACPD, the Commission was supported by a detailee from DOD and two interns.  At the time of its closure, there was no Y-tour FSO working with the Commission.  Apparently, the senator who blocked ACPD’s reauthorization
admitted he did so not because of merit, or value, or mission, or demand, or even actual cost. The gesture was symbolic and that ACPD happened to cross the senator’s sights at the wrong time; would he have seen DOD’s $547 million for public affairs?

Patricia Kushlis of WhirledView writes: “An effective Public Diplomacy Advisory Commission is the single bipartisan governmental entity that reports to both the executive and legislative branches about what the US could and should do to improve the country’s image abroad. Given the fragmentation of US public diplomacy activities since USIA’s demise, this country is more than ever in need of an independent watch-dog body tasked with putting the jig-saw pieces together enough, at least, to see, report on and critique the most critical parts – now flung across a multitude of departments and agencies.”

You can read more about ACPD’s demise from the Public Diplomacy Council, ComOps Journal and eVentures in Cyberland.

We’re happy to welcome Matt back to the blogosphere; just wish it were under different circumstances.
Matt has a new post on the the role of the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs?  A comparative look on the tenure and gaps of the Under Secretary for “R”, “P” and “J” should be cause for concern.  Excerpt below:

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.  Indeed today, the office remains
unencumbered since June 30, 2011, while Tara Sonenshine awaits
confirmation by the Senate.  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 (as of January 1, 2012, known as the Under Secretary for Civil Security, Democracy, and Human Rights) and the Under Secretary for Political Affairs.  The differences in tenure length and gaps in tenure is stark.

The table, taken from the Commission report, is through December 16,
2011.  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.
But does this office continue to sit in a leadership position? 
[H]ow much “communication” does R oversee and is its domain eroding? Back to the Commission report, it concludes with questions for further research:

 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 suggest other, 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?

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

Read in full here.