@StateDept’s Canned Article on Mar-a-Lago Roils Twitter, Hold On to Your Hats!

Posted: 6:55 pm ET
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The State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs runs ShareAmerica, the agency’s platform “for sharing compelling stories and images that spark discussion and debate on important topics like democracy, freedom of expression, innovation, entrepreneurship, education, and the role of civil society.”  It provides content for U.S. embassies and consulates in “more than 140 countries to engage with people around the globe on U.S. foreign policy and American society.”

One of its recent canned articles is Mar-a-Lago: The winter White House written by Leigh Hartman and posted on the Share America website on April 4, 2017. The writer has also penned other pieces like Trump holds first meeting with China’s XiWatch Trump’s grandchildren sing for China’s Xi First lady honors courageous women from around the worldArab-American women: Making their mark and sharing their storiesNew coin honors Frederick Douglass and about the New York restaurant named best in the world.

U.S. embassies and consulates overseas do not hire writers for their websites, and do not have the people nor the money to generate their own content.  Share America’s writers generate the canned content that can be shared through the embassies/consulates social media platforms. That’s what happened when the US Embassy in London used the  Mar-a-Lago: The winter White House article on its website.  As can be expected, Embassy London is not the only website that carries the article on its website.

Moira Whelan, the former Deputy Secretary of State for Public Affairs took to Twitter to explain that “Share America is meant to explain America to the world. A group of staff writers explain Americana to the world.” She writes that “In a large office the staff are trusted to make decisions and I can see how “let’s tell the backstory of Mar-a-lago” seemed like a good idea.” She added that “It was an error in judgement, but the White House has done much more to create this as “normal” than one writer at .” She urged that attention is important “but more important is not to assign malicious intent to what may just be an error.”

One reporter said on Twitter that “the State Dept. spokesman says he doesn’t know why the State Dept. posted this about Trump’s for-profit business.”  Yes, because that spokesman works at the Bureau of Public Affairs (PA), while the content creators for Share America work for the Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP), the foreign public facing arm of the State Department.  The Share America articles are intended for a foreign audience.

I called the piece a “snafu” but corrected myself, maybe poor choice. Given the controversies surrounding Mar-a-Lago, this is probably not the best pick for shared content particularly since the article is also available for domestic consumption. But the writer/s probably also did not think through the political angle and the domestic audience.  Since IIP’s role is to explain America to the world, perhaps  can write a follow-up post explaining this controversy in our current environment.

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Shortly after this post went up, we saw this:

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US Embassy Madagascar: A Post Far From Heaven With a $700K Imaginary American Center

Posted: 1:02 am EDT
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Last week, State/OIG released its inspection report of the U.S. Embassy Antananarivo in Madagascar. It’s one of those report that you read and you want to pull your hair in frustration. By the time the OIG came for a visit, there’s a new chargé d’affaires, a new staff rotated in and a new team is tasked with correcting the mess left by the previous officials assigned to post.  The previous CDA identified fuel as a management control deficiency but did not see the rest of the good stuff.  The OIG report notes that other vulnerabilities discussed in the report “would have been apparent if embassy leadership had conducted a comprehensive, office-by-office review of all activities with management control implications.”

The report highlights non-use of record email to effectively track important exchanges on policy and programs, use of social media to reach a mainly urban, youthful, and elite audience where only 2 percent of the Madagascar population has access to the Internet, and Meritorious Honor Awards without proper documentation. Beyond the more problematic public affairs grants and purchases discussed below, post also spent more than $10,000 on computer equipment for use in Comoros, even if — get this —  there is no U.S. Government office space in Comoros in which to place that equipment.

And here’s one that’s going to make you unfriend this fella on Facebook: “The previous chargé d’affaires departed the embassy without completing six interim evaluation reports for American employees he supervised, as required for periods of 120 days or more under 3 FAM 2813.4. He did not respond to email reminders from the embassy human resources office and the Bureau of African Affairs. ” 

A quick look at US Embassy Antananarivo:

The mission has a total staff of 296, with 57 U.S. direct-hire positions. In April 2010, the embassy occupied a new embassy compound (site acquisition was $3.6 million, and construction was $102.3 million), consisting of a chancery, a warehouse/shops facility, a Marine security guard quarters, and a swimming pool. Embassy housing consists of 38 leased and 2 government-owned residences, 1 of which is the Ambassador’s residence.

The good news: A recently arrived chargé d’affaires

Stephen Anderson arrived in August 2014, about two months before the OIG inspection.  The OIG inspectors write:

The recently arrived chargé d’affaires has made a good start in leading the embassy during a period of profound change in the political situation in Madagascar and the subsequent restart of the bilateral relationship between Madagascar and the United States. … The chargé d’affaires, working with a collegial country team, has also demonstrated interpersonal engagement within the embassy…..The chargé d’affaires has also demonstrated his commitment to management controls within the embassy. He directed that each Department section conduct a self-assessment of its management deficiencies. At the time of the inspection, the mission had completed corrective action on 73 of the 122 action items identified and was working to close the others.

Some other good news:

1) The information management office is led by a seasoned information management officer. The section received good scores on ICASS customer surveys and OIG questionnaires, as well as A+ ratings from the Department’s network and systems monitoring software. 2) Community liaison office operations received high marks, exceeding both regional and worldwide scores in the 2014 ICASS customer satisfaction survey.  3) OIG surveys noted that parents are satisfied with the quality of education; and 4) The health unit’s ICASS customer satisfaction scores are above worldwide averages.

Now for that American Center boondoggle: 

According to State/OIG, the American Center was funded with embassy public affairs funds (approximately $116,328) and by two large allotments provided in June 2012 by the Office of American Spaces in the Bureau of International Information Programs (totaling $559,062).  The OIG report is careful to point out that though current staff members will play a key role in identifying a path forward on this project, they are not responsible for the existing situation.  But all those responsible and accountable for this project are left unnamed in the OIG report presumably because they are no longer at post and have been successfully recycled to other posts. And since IERs (inspector’s evaluation reports) are no longer in season, none of the details from this report will ever make it anywhere near a promotion board.

A former embassy public affairs officer in 2011 proposed an American Center for the capital on the basis of a public-private partnership model. The concept initially envisioned a partnership of the English Teaching Program (ETP), a restaurant, Voice of America, a telecommunications company, and a publisher of a free entertainment monthly. A memorandum of understanding was drafted and signed by some of the prospective partners in June 2013 after lengthy delays. However, two prospective partners failed to sign on and a final partnership memorandum never entered into force.
[…]
Disregard of policies and procedures concerning grants and cooperative agreements have put at risk the embassy’s approximately $700,000 project to establish an American Center in Antananarivo. The OIG team noted that the decisions and actions that led to the American Center problems predate the arrival of the employees presently assigned to the embassy.
[…]
The embassy initiated a massive public relations campaign and announced the start of construction at a press conference in April 2012 attended by the former chargé d’affaires and the deputy coordinator of the Bureau of International Information Programs.

Image via US Embassy Antananarivo/FB, April 2012

Image via US Embassy Antananarivo/FB, April 2012

We were able to locate the embassy announcement of the new American Center from April 2012.

Welcome to the new American Center.  In a few months time this space will be transformed into the most modern and technologically advanced space that Madagascar has ever seen.  It will be a place to learn, to explore, and to connect.   It will not be your traditional cultural center.  This initiative is an innovative collaboration between the American Embassy, our private sector partners, and the English Teaching Program.   It is this ambitious vision for a cultural center based entirely on the model of a public-private partnership that has brought the person in charge of American centers worldwide for the State Department to Madagascar.  I would like to acknowledge Michelle Logsdon, the Deputy Coordinator for International Information Programs who has joined us today to learn more about this important initiative.
[…]
As you will see in the presentations that each partner will be delivering shortly, they have not only embraced the potential of this center, they have developed it in ways we would have never dreamed possible.  VIMA plans to put on some of the most spectacular shows Antananarivo will have ever seen.  Orange and Teknet will make the latest technology accessible to a new generation of Malagasy, while the Cookie Shop will create a new environment for learning, exchanging, and of course some great brownies.
[…]
We will organize trainings, cultural programs, and conferences with our partners that connect them and their clients to individuals, information, and opportunities from around the globe.  We will also have a team dedicated to finding the latest information, technology, and developments for the Center.  While many of the services at the Center will be fee-based, just like at an internet café or a theatre, the Embassy will ensure that there will be more resources and events than ever that are available to the public for free. 

This is going to be a fee-based center in a country where the per capita gross domestic product is only $1,000 (2013 est.), with 92 percent of the population living on less than $2 a day. Who’s going to be the audience for these programs? The same urban, youthful, and elite audience that belongs to the  2 percent of the Madagascar population with access to the Internet?


I Dreamed a Dream … a Cookie Shop and Some Great Brownies

The OIG team inspected Embassy Antananarivo from October 7–29, 2014.  At that time, the team visited the proposed American Center site in a shopping mall and observed the following:

[A]fter almost 2 years of construction, the site, covering 1,200 square meters (or 12,917 square feet), was a shell. Rooms were laid out, but lighting, flooring, doors, and other infrastructure were absent. A small bathroom shared with the rest of the mall was located at some distance from the site on the other side of the mall. Other problems included the lack of storage space, ceilings below standard height on the mezzanine level, and inadequate provision for air conditioning. On a weekday afternoon, some minor construction work was underway. However, no agreement had been reached on a final design or construction plan, including where the U.S. Government portion of the facility might be located.

Storage in seven 40-ft container for nearly two years?

As the American Center is not ready for occupancy, much of the furniture and equipment ordered for it has been stored in seven 40-foot containers located in the embassy parking lot, some of it for nearly 2 years. The OIG team spot-checked the contents of the containers and did not observe water or insect damage.

The embassy did not have a plan (which details needed resources, deadlines, partners, and costs) that could lead to a decision whether to close or salvage this project. Without such a plan, the embassy runs the risk of repeating past mistakes and failing to make the best use of funds already expended.

No Bona Fide Need for Much of Equipment Procured for American Center

According to information the embassy provided the OIG team, the embassy has expended approximately $400,000 to date on furniture and equipment for the American Center project. However, the embassy failed to establish a bona fide need for many of these procurements. This failure—and the subsequent misuse of some of the furniture and equipment—constitutes a management control weakness.

A notable example of a questionable procurement is a $47,938 telescopic theater-style seating system, which the embassy purchased even though the prevailing wage of workers who could set up and remove chairs is $10 a day. The shipping cost for this item alone was estimated at $19,175.

Other examples of questionable procurements abound and include the following (costs are rounded and do not include shipping):

  • Twenty-five 46-inch televisions ($21,500) and six 70-inch televisions ($24,600).
  • A motorized theater curtain system ($7,150).
  • Twenty iMacs ($22,935), 16 HP TouchSmarts ($14,247), 20 Wii stations ($4,230), 20 Apple TVs ($1,920), and 10 iPods ($1,790).
  • Fifty home theater chairs ($26,600).
  • A replica of the Seattle Space Needle, painted wall mural, and totem pole ($4,810).
  • Decorations, including more than a dozen fish and turtle sculptures ($5,400).


Whatsadoing with a $5,500 coffee grinder/espresso maker?

The OIG report says that records the team reviewed indicate that the public affairs section recommended specific vendors to the procurement unit, most often identified through Amazon.com. Looks like no one bothered to make a distinction between government shopping and personal shopping, and folks were in a hurry to spend end-of fiscal year funds:

No documentation in the procurement files shows that procurements greater than $3,000 were properly competed, as required. A number of the items ordered were not part of the original equipment lists submitted in support of the request for funds. For example, the original request did not include any food preparation equipment, yet the embassy purchased items such as a wine cooler, a $650 residential blender, grills, a $5,500 coffee grinder and commercial espresso maker, refrigerators, and other kitchen items.

Property Control Does Not Comply with Regulations, No Kidding

The amazing thing here is there is no discussion why USG properties were lent to two private businesses without documentation.  Who signed them out? Who approved these loans?  What did the USG get for this sweet arrangement? Did those companies just come by the embassy, pick up the USG properties and the embassy guards just waved “bye, come back soon?”

As the American Center was (and still is) not ready for occupancy, much of the furniture and equipment has been stored in seven 40-foot containers located in the embassy parking lot, some of it for nearly 2 years.

Other furniture and equipment was loaned to two private businesses for their use without any documentation. The embassy loaned at least $42,000 of computers and office equipment to one telecommunications firm alone. These items included 12 iPads, 16 iMacs, and 2 70-inch and 3 46-inch televisions. The embassy purchased a $6,700 eBoard from this company and then lent the item back to it. The embassy told the OIG team that these items were retrieved from the firm in February 2014 after a year or so in use, though the lack of documentation makes the timing unclear. The other firm, a restaurant chain, was lent at least $5,000 worth of U.S. Government property. The embassy warehouse unit retrieved these items, including a refrigerator installed in the restaurant owner’s private residence, on September 15, 2014—3 weeks prior to the OIG team’s arrival. These deficiencies were not, but should have been, included in the 2014 chief of mission statement of assurance signed by the previous chargé d’affaires on August 11, 2014.


Who Bears Responsibility For This Project, Anyways?

Short answer from OIG: Bureau of African Affairs, Bureau of International Information Programs, and Embassy Bear Responsibility. Here is the longer answer:

The lack of accountability for the American Center project extends beyond the embassy because additional management controls exist for projects of this scale. The Bureau of International Information Programs and its regional information resources office in Nairobi approved two large American Spaces funding requests despite warning signs. These included the requests’ hyperbolic language (“the possibilities are endless”) and the questionable suitability of such a large, public-private project in a very poor country, especially when the project would be managed by a public affairs officer and section lacking the necessary business and accounting acumen and grants management experience. The Bureau of African Affairs approved the project despite the fact that it had not received the necessary project details from the embassy and despite the many flaws in the grants documents that they did receive. The embassy did not caution the Department that the project’s prospective partners had never cooperated in such a joint venture, had no understanding of its public purpose, and had no record of such cooperation with the embassy in the past. The Department should have drawn on its technical and regional expertise and understanding of public-private partnerships to identify flaws in the initial plan before it was approved and funds were allotted.

Note that the new Ambassador to Madagascar Robert Yamate was only confirmed by the Senate in November 2014, and did not get to post until December 2014, five months after his nomination was announced and two months after this OIG inspection.  The previous ambassador appointed to Madagascar was R. Niels Marquardt who departed post in June 2010.

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Related item:

ISP-I-15-20A Inspection of Embassy Antananarivo, Madagascar | May 15, 2015  

 

Getting to Know The New Ambassadors: Jim Swan, Patricia Haslach, David Pearce and Caroline Kennedy (Videos)

— By Domani Spero

U.S. Ambassador to  the DRC – Jim Swan

Jim Swan, the new U.S. ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and his wife, Daphne Michelle Titus, introduce themselves to the Congolese people.  The French version is here.  177 views.

U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia – Patricia Haslach

Ambassador Patricia Haslach is a Career Minister of the Senior Foreign Service. She began her diplomatic career in 1986 as an agricultural attaché with the Foreign Agricultural Service, then transferred to the Department of State as an economic officer. 128 views

U.S. Ambassador to Greece – David Pearce

David Pearce is returning as U.S. Ambassador to Greece after his first visit to the country more than 40 years ago. In this video, he reflects on Greece’s influence on American democracy and outlines his plans to strengthen ties between the two countries.  Ambassador Pearce was previously Deputy United States Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. and  previously served as the United States Ambassador to Algeria. In Greek. 1,663 views.

U.S. Ambassador to Japan – Caroline Kennedy

Here is our new ambassador to Tokyo.   Japanese subtitle. 24, 553 views.  According to JDP, Ambassador Kennedy is set to arrive at the Narita International Airport Friday afternoon and on Tuesday next week, she will be presenting her credentials to Emperor Akihito to formally start her envoy duties.  This will be a closely followed tenure.

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State Dept Introduces More New Ambassadors: Gaspard, Hackett, Ayalde, Costos, Yun, Berry

— By Domani Spero

The State Department’s foreign-facing bureau, the  Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP) released a few more videos for its ambassador introduction series.  They obviously come from one script — say a greeting in the foreign language, include spouse, kids (or other relevant relatives) and/or pets, visit some Washington memorials, and say you look forward to meeting everyone in your host country.  We have to say that these videos are getting better, but they also come across as somewhat artificial at times, particularly when they get the ambassador and spouse do a duet in their greetings. Some of the ambassadors in this series, not just the ones below are naturally telegenic and excellent in delivery, of course, but others are less so.

One of our readers inquired who watches these videos.  These are  IIP products so the intended audience are presumably foreign publics.  Although, there doesn’t seem to be standard on how these videos are “push” to their intended audience abroad.  Some videos are posted across the missions’ multiple social media platforms with negligible results while others are posted only on the mission’s YouTube channels with better though uneven results. These videos are created by professionals (PR, video, digital?) at the IIP bureau, but just because you can, does it mean you should?  Does it make sense to make these videos for all chiefs of mission regardless of the Internet penetration rates in their host countries?  For instance, in Burkina Faso, the Internet penetration rate is only 3% of the population and in Chad that rate is 1.9%. Radio isn’t sexy, but wouldn’t it have more reach in those cases?  I supposed the answer whether it makes sense depends on what kind of return IIP is looking for in its investment of time and effort. For the chiefs of mission, it’s a question of whether they should get on this hot train because everybody’s doing it or if they should find an alternative outreach method more appropriate to their host countries’ infrastructures.

We have two previously related posts on this:

U.S. Ambassador to South Africa Patrick Gaspard

This video was posted by State/IIP on YouTube, and separately on US Embassy Pretoria’s website and Facebook page. The video was also plugged by the embassy’s Twitter account but the total eyeball count could not get above 400 views.

Ken Hackett, U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See
(with Italian subtitle)

This video was posted by State/IIP and linked to by US Embassy to the Holy See’s website and Facebook page.  Total views of about 1023 as of this writing.

U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Liliana Ayalde

Published in English and Portuguese by State/IIP on YouTube in mid September, we could not locate this video on the embassy’s website, Facebook page or a mention even on Twitter. It currently has 243 views.

James Costos, U.S. Ambassador to Spain and Andorra
(Spanish subtitle)

This video was posted by State/IIP in English and with Spanish subtitle with a total views of about 3,000. We have not been able to find this video on the embassy’s website or Facebook page, however, it was reposted by the embassy’s YouTube channel where it registered approximately 6,300 eyeballs.

Joe Yun, U.S. Ambassador to Malaysia
(Malay subtitle)

This video released by State/IIP in English and with Malay subtitle currently has about 320 views. It does not look like it’s posted on the embassy’s website but it was  reposted on the embassy’s Facebook page and YouTube Channel where it has about 755 views.

John Berry, the U.S. Ambassador to Australia

Posted by State/IIP in September, it has about 1030 views. Reposted by US Embassy Canberra on the embassy’s YouTube channel, it currently has 25,791 views

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White House’s Macon Phillips To Get New Digs at State Dept’s Bureau of International Information Programs

— By Domani Spero

Macon Phillips, the Director of Digital Strategy at the White House will reportedly get new digs at the State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs.  That’s the same bureau involved with buying FB likes and almost plunking a $16.5 million contract on Kindles.

Mr. Phillips ran the new media program for the Presidential Transition Team (Change.gov) and served as the Deputy Director of the Obama campaign’s new media department (BarackObama.com). Prior to the campaign, Phillips led Blue State Digital’s strategy practice, working with clients like the Democratic National Committee and Senator Ted Kennedy. His WH bio says that he is “a proud Americorps*VISTA alum,”  is a Huntsville, Alabama native and a graduate of Duke University. He is on Twitter @Macon44.

According to WaPo, the Obama administration is launching a new strategy aimed at revamping America’s “digital diplomacy” efforts. Secretary of State John F. Kerry has reportedly hired Macon Phillips, the 2008 Obama campaign’s digital guru to develop ways to expand engagement with foreign audiences:

Now, Phillips will be taking over the Bureau of International Information Programs — also known as the government’s “propaganda arm” — at a time when disseminating messages is increasingly complicated.

“It’s a double-edged sword: It’s easier to get information out, but also harder to correct misinformation that’s out there,” Phillips said.

[snip]

But much of the department’s A-list digital talent has moved on: Katie Jacobs Stanton directs international strategy at Twitter, Jared Cohen runs Google Ideas and Ross is writing a book.

A challenge for Phillips and his team is not simply reaching foreigners, but persuading them to change their views about the United States.

[snip]

Another challenge for Phillips will be to change the culture at the tradition-bound information bureau. The inspector general’s report found that morale was low and that “leadership created an atmosphere of secrecy, suspicion and uncertainty.”

Administration officials said they’re counting on Phillips to turn the page.

Active links added above. The Ross the report is referring to who is writing a book is Alec Ross formerly a senior advisor to former Secretary Clinton.

Mr. Phillips will presumably take the Coordinator of the  Bureau of International Information Programs position, the job vacated by Dawn McCall this past spring.  He will take over a bureau that staff described to the OIG inspectors as suffering from “reorganization fatigue.”  The OIG report noted that “The coordinator believes she was hired with a mandate to “fix” IIP” with the following results:

IIP’s front office leadership has focused on reorganizing the bureau’s structure without adequate engagement in and oversight of administrative matters. The front office has paid insufficient attention to mission-critical management controls, particularly in the areas of performance management, contracting, and travel. Front office decisions and management style do not reflect the PD family’s leadership tenets, which emphasize two-way communication and esprit de corps. A more inclusive approach could have helped the coordinator achieve her large scale changes more easily and successfully.

As far as we know, the IIP Coordinator position is not an assistant secretary level position.  According to the 2013 OIG report, the 2004 OIG inspection report recommended that the Department designate the senior position in IIP as an assistant secretary, given the size of the bureau and the responsibilities of the coordinator. The Department cited a congressional cap on the number of assistant secretaries as the reason it did not act. However, the lack of an assistant secretary rank continues to limit the coordinator’s effectiveness and Department perceptions of the bureau.

The 2013 OIG report similarly recommended that “The Office of the Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources, in coordination with the Office of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, should continue to seek legislative authority to designate the senior position in the Bureau of international Information Programs as an assistant secretary. (Action: S/ES, in coordination with R/PPR).”

We would not be surprised if this is the year when this position will be elevated to the assistant secretary level.  Obama White House alumni Heather Higginbottom has recently been nominated as Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources at the State Department.  Former Managing Editor of Time Magazine Richard Stengel has also  been nominated to the  Office of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.   Stay tuned.

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State/IIP Introduces New American Ambassadors on YouTube – Pick Your Favorite Now!

— By Domani Spero

The  State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP) has rolled out several videos for its Ambassador Introduction Video Series on You Tube.  The videos are mostly in English (with one exception) or with some local language subtitles. The most viewed from this latest releases is the video of US Ambassador to Belgium Denise Bauer.  The only one in a foreign language (with an English version also available) is delivered unexpectedly not by a career diplomat but by non-career appointee Alexa Wesner, the new ambassador to Austria.  The most viewed in this series at 377,521 views is still the video introduction of the late Ambassador Chris Stevens originally published in May 2012 by america.gov and US Embassy Tripoli. A good number of these videos get less than a thousand views.

See Here Comes the Sun: U.S. Senate Confirms A Slew of New Ambassadors as It Runs Out the Door for the recent confirmations. We expect to see mored videos like these as the confirmed ambassadors start getting to posts.

AUSTRIA

U.S. Ambassador to Austria Alexa Wesner  

Deutsch Version – 6,254 views |   Meet U.S. Ambassador to Austria, Alexa Wesner English Version – 687 views

President Obama Announces More Key Administration Post … – Jun 27, 2013

BELGIUM

U.S. Ambassador to Kingdom of Belgium Denise Bauer 

Views: 34,261

Officially In: Denise Bauer — from Women for Obama to Belgium

DENMARK

U.S. Ambassador to Denmark Rufus Gifford

Views: 9,974

Officially In: Rufus Gifford — From Obama for America to Denmark

ITALY

U.S. Ambassador to Italy John Philips

 English with Italian Subtitles – 105 views

President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts | July 9, 2013

CHAD

U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Chad James Knight

Views – 94

Officially In: James Knight, from Iraq to Chad

LEBANON

U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon David Hale

Views – 60

President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts – June 21, 2013

BURKINA FASO

U.S. Ambassador to Burkina Faso Tulinabo Mushingi

Views – 41

Officially In: Tulinabo Mushingi, from S/ES to Burkina Faso

LAOS

U.S. Ambassador to Laos Dan Clune

Part Lao/Lao With English Subtitles – 25 views

Officially In: Dan Clune – From HR/BEX to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic

UNITED KINGDOM

Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s Matthew Barzun

Views: 647

Special mention goes to the US Embassy in London for ditching the video formula and welcoming the new Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s, Matthew Barzun by looking back at some of the former Ambassadors to London in Position Filled at Grosvenor Square! Ambassador Barzun was previously the chief of mission at the US Embassy in Sweden duringPresident Obama’s first term in office.

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37 Former Ambassadors Urge Appointment of a Career Diplomat to State Dept’s Public Diplomacy Bureau

A group of 51 retired senior foreign affairs professionals including 37 former ambassadors recently wrote a letter to the Secretary of State urging that  “a career foreign affairs professional be appointed as the next Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.” Below is an excerpt from the letter.  The full text of the letter is at the end of this post:

A career foreign affairs professional, with years of overseas and Washington experience, is more likely to understand the larger world context and how public diplomacy can help achieve America’s policy goals.   
[…]
The President’s and your public engagements are among our country’s greatest diplomatic assets.  You have over a thousand skilled, culturally-aware, and language-trained public diplomacy officers ready to leverage advanced technology and person-to-person communications skills in order to change foreign outcomes in America’s favor.  All they need is truly professional, experienced leadership.

 

Tara Sonenshine, the incumbent of what is known as the “R” bureau  was appointed on April 5, 2012 and reported to be leaving post early this summer. This position was created on October 1, 1999 after the abolishment of the United States Information Agency. The Under Secretary oversees three bureaus at the Department of State: Educational and Cultural Affairs, Public Affairs, and International Information Programs.

Matt Armstrong’s Mountainrunner posted a backgrounder on this position: R we there yet? A look at the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy (and Public Affairs) in January 2012.

No career diplomat has ever been appointed to this position (via history.state.gov):

  1. Evelyn Simonowitz Lieberman (1999-2001)
  2. Charlotte L. Beers (2001-2003)
  3. Margaret DeBardeleben Tutwiler (2003-2004)
  4. Karen P. Hughes (2005-2007)
  5. James K. Glassman (2008-2009)
  6. Judith A. McHale (2009-2011)
  7. Tara D. Sonenshine (2012-)

The ambassadors’ letter and the reportedly forthcoming “scathing” OIG report on the IIP Bureau might just be the nudge to move this bureau under a career professional. But that remains to be seen.

If you haven’t read that OIG report, that’s because it has apparently been floating around for months but has yet to be released to the public.  Somebody got tired of waiting, of course, and leaked a portion of it to WaPo’s Al Kamen:

“The unredacted version of a new IG report on the state of the Bureau of International Information Programs the modern successor to the USIA and a part of the underscretary’s portfolio, says that “leadership fostered an atmosphere of secrecy, suspicion and uncertainty” and where staff “describe the . . . atmosphere as toxic and leadership’s tolerance of dissenting views as non-existent.”

There’s a “pervasive perception of cronyism,” the 50-page draft report says, “aggravating the serious morale problem.” But before you think the place needs a good old-fashioned reorganization, staffers already talk about what the report calls “reorganization fatigue,” for the constant prior reorganizations.”

Below is the text of the letter sent to Secretary Kerry.  The signatories include John R. Beyrle, Director, U.S. Russia Foundation, and former Ambassador to Russia and Bulgaria; Barbara K. Bodine, former Ambassador to Yemen; Edward Brynn, former Ambassador to Burkina Faso and Ghana, and Acting Historian of the Department of State;  Brian Carlson, former Ambassador to Latvia and Public Affairs Officer (PAO) in Spain, Norway, and Bulgaria; John Campbell, Ambassador (Retired), Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies, Council on Foreign Relations; Walter L. Cutler, former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and Zaire; John Evans, former Ambassador to Armenia; Linda Jewell, former Ambassador to Ecuador;  Robert Finn, former Ambassador to Afghanistan and Tajikistan.

It also includes Richard LeBaron, former Ambassador to Kuwait and Founding Coordinator of the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications and Thomas R. Pickering, former Ambassador to Nigeria, Jordan, El Salvador, Israel, the United Nations, India, and Russia, and Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs. Full text below:

We urge that a career foreign affairs professional be appointed as the next Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.  Such an appointment would support your efforts fully to integrate public diplomacy into U.S. foreign affairs.

No career professional has served as Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.  Coincidentally or not, today there is a wide consensus that U.S. perspectives are less well understood abroad, and people-to-people exchanges are less robust than they should be.  In today’s globalizing but still threatening world, and as our military forces abroad are drawn down, it is more important than ever that America strengthen its “soft power.”  For this, public diplomacy is an essential and powerful tool.

A career foreign affairs professional, with years of overseas and Washington experience, is more likely to understand the larger world context and how public diplomacy can help achieve America’s policy goals.  And it is challenging to direct and energize public diplomacy if the leadership  has brief tours or vacancies are lengthy.  Prior to the incumbent Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, leaving after just over a year in office, the previous four served, on average, nearly two years.  By comparison, the previous four Under Secretaries for Political Affairs, all career professionals, served, on average, nearly three-and-one-half years.  The U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy reports that the position of Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs has been vacant more than 30% of the time since it was created in 1999.  The position of Under Secretary for Political Affairs has been vacant only 5% of that time.

Studies by the Defense Science Board, RAND, and other independent groups have found that America’s engagement with foreign publics succeeds best when led by experienced officials having the authority to establish priorities, assign responsibilities, transfer funds, and concur in senior appointments.  Leaders must have direct access to you and the President on critical communication issues as policies are formulated and implemented.

When done well, public diplomacy works.  Large numbers of foreign heads of government, legislators, and social, economic, and political leaders — many of them America’s staunch allies and stalwart friends — have participated in U.S. public diplomacy programs.  The University of Southern California recently reported that of individuals exposed to U.S. public diplomacy, 79 percent have used what they learned to bring about positive change in their own communities by running for political office, organizing a civil society group, doing volunteer work, and starting a new business or other projects.  Fully 94 percent say the exposure has increased their understanding of U.S. foreign policy, and America’s people, society, and values.

The President’s and your public engagements are among our country’s greatest diplomatic assets.  You have over a thousand skilled, culturally-aware, and language-trained public diplomacy officers ready to leverage advanced technology and person-to-person communications skills in order to change foreign outcomes in America’s favor.  All they need is truly professional, experienced leadership.

End text/

 

We’ll see if anything happens.  In the meantime, we’re looking forward to reading that IG report.  We hope it comes out before the end of summer.

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