Asst Secretary for Consular Affairs Janice Jacobs to Retire Effective April 3

— Domani Spero

The State Department’s Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Janice Jacobs announced last week her retirement from from the State Department effective April 3.  Ambassador Jacobs was appointed  to the CA Bureau on 2008. Previous to this appointment, she was the U.S. Ambassador to Guinea Bissau, accredited at the same time to Senegal and was a resident in Dakar.  Excerpt from the announcement email sent to CA folks:

“It has been a wonderful thirty-plus years with the Department of State, serving in many different roles and in

English: Janice L. Jacobs

English: Janice L. Jacobs (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

many different locations around the world. As many of you have heard me say, my almost six years as Assistant Secretary has been the most enjoyable and the most rewarding of all the positions I have held.  I am extremely proud of the role the Bureau has played as a trailblazer in the area of leadership, and now, management.  Our team is recognized by counterparts throughout the Department for our balanced approach, our smart goal-setting, and our wise use of resources.  I am confident that you all will continue to innovate to provide the best of government service.” 

Ambassador Jacob’s two immediate predecessors, Maura Harty and Mary Ryan were both career Foreign Service officers, but seven of the twelve appointees since 1953 had been non-career appointees.

A quick summary of this top CA position via history.state.gov:

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (Jun 27, 1952; P.L. 82-414; 66 Stat. 174) established within the Department of State a Bureau of Security and Consular Affairs, headed by an Administrator with rank equal to that of an Assistant Secretary. From Mar 1 to Dec 30, 1954, the Bureau was renamed “Inspection, Security, and Consular Affairs”. From 1953 to 1962, the Secretary of State designated incumbents to this position. The Migration and Refugee Assistance Act of 1962 (Jun 28, 1962; P.L. 87-510; 76 Stat. 123) made the Administrator a Presidential appointee subject to the advice and consent of the Senate. In 1962, the Department transferred the security function to the Deputy Under Secretary for Administration, but the title remained unchanged until 1977, when the Foreign Relations Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1978 (Aug 17, 1977; P.L. 95-105; 91 Stat. 847) changed the Administrator’s title to “Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs.” This title has been given in full in all subsequent commissions to this office.

Here are the previous appointees.

The last political appointee assigned to the CA Bureau as Assistant Secretary was Elizabeth Tamposi under President George H. W. Bush . If you don’t remember the Bill Clinton passport files scandal, the NYT covered it here and here. More reading  here (Berry v. Funk) for some background and a separate judgement here, where the court granted monetary award to Ms. Tamposi for reimbursement of attorneys’ fees and expenses.

If you  have time to spare, you might also want to read Sherman Funk’s Oral History interview here; he was the IG at that time.  All Oral History interviews referenced to here are available via the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training.

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State Dept’s $630,000 Social Media “Buying Fans” Campaign, a Success — But Where’s the Love?

—By Domani Spero

 

The widely anticipated, much awaited OIG report on the State Department’s  Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP) is finally here.  The 50-page report, which had a snippet of it leaked to WaPo and published previously by Al Kamen in In The Loop only contains one redaction, the names of the inspection team members.

Below is an excerpt from the OIG report reviewing the use of social media:

With the Department’s use of social media comes strategic questions of the role, purpose, and limitations of the medium. A consensus is emerging that developing numbers of Facebook followers and Twitter fans may not lead automatically to target audience engagement.

After the 2011 reorganization, the coordinator initiated a push to expand the bureau’s presence on social media and other digital platforms. IIP started or expanded English-language Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, and blogs aimed directly at foreign audiences. The bureau also started or expanded online activities in six foreign languages.

The coordinator initiated two campaigns in 2011 and 2012, with the goal of building global outreach platforms for engagement with foreign audiences by increasing the number of fans on IIP’s four thematic Facebook properties, primarily through advertising as well as through some page improvements. The bureau spent about $630,000 on the two campaigns and succeeded in increasing the fans of the English Facebook pages from about 100,000 to more than 2 million for each page. Advertising also helped increase interest in the foreign language pages; by March 2013, they ranged from 68,000 to more than 450,000 fans.

Many in the bureau criticize the advertising campaigns as “buying fans” who may have once clicked on an ad or “liked” a photo but have no real interest in the topic and have never engaged further. Defenders of advertising point to the difficulty of finding a page on Facebook with a general search and the need to use ads to increase visibility.

IIP’s four global thematic English-language Facebook pages had garnered more than 2.5 million fans each by mid-March 2013; the number actually engaging with each page was considerably smaller, with just over 2 percent “liking,” sharing, or commenting on any item within the previous week. Engagement on each posting varied, and most of that interaction was in the form of “likes.” Many postings had fewer than 100 comments or shares; the most popular ones had several hundred.

In September 2012, Facebook changed the way it displays items in its users’ news feeds. If a user does not interact with a site’s postings, after a time these postings will no longer appear in the user’s news feed unless the site buys sponsored story ads to ensure their appearance. This change sharply reduced the value of having large numbers of marginally interested fans and means that IIP must continually spend money on sponsored story ads or else its “reach” statistics will plummet. For example, a posting on cyber censorship in March 2013 reached 234,000 Facebook users on its first day; only about 20,000 would have received the item on their news feed without advertising. An item on “Women and the Web” reached the news feeds of 360,000 people; without advertising, 27,000 would have received it.

After the major advertising campaigns, the coordinator shifted the focus away from increasing total fan numbers and toward engagement, as measured by “likes,” shares, and comments. IIP has targeted the bulk of its sponsored story ads in a way most likely to boost engagement statistics. The bureau uses Facebook’s automated system to place the sponsored story ads into the 25 countries with the largest number of young users and the highest engagement rates, regardless of the item’s content, importance, and relevance to the countries in which the ad appears. However, engagement is a means, not an end. The bureau could reduce spending and increase strategic impact by focusing its advertising not on raising overall fan numbers or general engagement statistics but on accomplishing specific PD goals. This approach would entail tying any general page advertising to the promotion of special information content on high-priority issues as well as manually selecting key items as sponsored stories and advertising them only to relevant countries and audiences. This approach would also be in line with the November 2012 report of the Social Media Working Group, which endorsed “judicious and targeted use of paid advertising,” and telegram 13 State 06411, Social Media Guidance Cable #1: Social Media Advertising, which advocated a “selective use of social media advertising” in a “strategically planned, well-targeted” campaign with preset goals and evaluation. During the inspection, IIP paused its Facebook advertising to assess its sites and goals.

Recommendation 36: The Bureau of International Information Programs should direct its digital advertising to specific public diplomacy goals in keeping with Department of State guidance. (Action: IIP)

In recent months, IIP leadership instructed social media staff members to put more policy-oriented information on their sites. However, page managers were concerned that too much policy material, especially if it is not related closely to the primary interest of the page fans, would drive away their youthful audience and cause their fan numbers and engagement statistics to drop. They felt caught between conflicting directives. In March 2013, IIP was developing a social media policy strategy. This kind of document is essential to clarify the goals of IIP’s social media efforts, acknowledge the tradeoff between seeking high numbers of fans and engaging with foreign audiences, and find the right balance between youth and elite audience engagement.

Recommendation 37: The Bureau of International Information Programs should adopt a social media strategy that clarifies the primary goals and public diplomacy priorities of its social media sites. (Action: IIP)

Facebook analytic tools can measure engagement by counting the number of people who click on a link, “like” a posting, comment on it, or share it with their friends. However, these measures do not evaluate the usefulness of the engagement because many people post simple remarks, like “so nice pic,” or comments on unrelated topics. A sampling of IIP’s Facebook sites raises questions about how much real interaction is taking place. During the inspection, the bureau began to address the need to analyze the sites’ effectiveness with an eye to determining how much of the activity classed as engagement actually accomplishes PD goals.

Staff members working on the IIP social media sites send out their best items in a daily social media feed for U.S. embassies, a service that PD officers overseas praise as a valuable contribution to their own social media efforts. Some say the items would be more useful if they were available earlier in the day. Placing items on an embassy-accessible internal digital site as they are prepared would enable posts to use them earlier.

Informal Recommendation 3: The Bureau of International Information Programs should make its social media feed items accessible to embassies online before sending out the daily social media feeds.


(See  -05/31/13   Inspection of the Bureau of International Information Programs (ISP-I-13-28)  [912 Kb]  Posted on June 20, 2013)

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State Department’s IIP Bureau — Bureau Over Troubled Water, Oh Where to Start?

—By Domani Spero

According to state.gov, the Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP) is the State Department’s foreign-facing public diplomacy communications bureau. It provides and supports the places, content, and infrastructure needed for sustained conversations with foreign audiences to build America’s reputation abroad.

IIP is also one of three bureaus that falls under the authority of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. The incumbent is Tara Sonenshine who assumed office on April 5, 2012 and is reported to be leaving her job on July 1, 2013.  According to the OIG, the IIP bureau has undergone extensive reorganization, including in 2006 and again in 2011.

The OIG inspection took place in Washington, DC, between January 7, 2013, and April 5, 2013. Ambassador Maura Harty (team leader), Mark Jacobs (deputy team leader), [REDACTED – (b)(6)] conducted the inspection.

A side note – kinda weird redaction so we inquired from the OIG and we’re told that the FOIA Exemption (b)(6) – “exempts from disclosure records or information which if disclosed would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” We’ll tackled that redaction topic in a separate post.

The IIP Bureau was headed by Dawn L. McCall who assumed post as Coordinator in July 2010.  The OIG report indicates that Ms. McCall announced her resignation during the inspection but officially resigned effective April 12, 2013. Maureen Cormack has been acting Coordinator since April 15, 2013.

Key Judgments

  • Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP) leadership failed to convey its strategic vision to staff members, despite formalized communications. Leadership created an atmosphere of secrecy, suspicion, and uncertainty.
  • A 2011 reorganization of the bureau did not resolve structural problems and caused new organizational difficulties. Morale is low.
  • With effective use of technology, IIP has made a significant contribution to the Department of State’s (Department) digital diplomacy outreach effort, increased the reach of its publications, and expanded the use of video in public diplomacy (PD) work.
  • Regularizing support for American Spaces overseas has strengthened these platforms for engagement with foreign publics, a cornerstone of the Department’s 21st century PD effort.
  • There has been limited outreach by top leadership to counterparts in the Department or at sister foreign affairs agencies.
  • Responsibility for information technology (IT) operations is diffuse, leading to problems of governance and oversight.
  • The Executive Office does not provide effective service. Response times to requests are slow, and customer service is inadequate.
  • The bureau uses many contractors (43 percent of employees) but does not manage its contracts well. This deficiency constitutes a potential vulnerability for the Department.
  • IIP’s digital outreach should focus more on PD goals rather than raw numbers of social media fans.
  • The Office of Audience Research and Evaluation is producing little work and is not engaged with either the bureau or other elements of the Department.

There’s more, we’ll have a few separate posts to follow.

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