The World Watches Another Trumpster Fire Week #WhatNowPublicDiplomacy?

Posted: 2:38 am ET
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Last June, USC’s Center on Public Diplomacy did a piece on Islamophobia & U.S. Public Diplomacy in the Trump Era. In another post on re-thinking social engagement, CPD writes that “in the age of Trump though, global organizations, especially those with American origins, must do all they can now to shore up their reputational capital and strengthen bonds of trust with the people they engage with and serve – customers, employees, influencers, citizens – around the world.” On Wednesday, USC Annenberg will host P.J. Crawley, former spox and Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs for a conversation on U.S. domestic politics and the future of America’s global leadership in the age of Trump.

Former FSO John Brown once wrote that at its best, public diplomacy “provides a truthful, factual exposition and explication of a nation’s foreign policy and way of life to overseas audiences,”  — how do you do that particularly after what happened last week? After a new underground railroad from the United States to Canada is widely reported to “escape a harsh new U.S. regime”?

Also a quick reminder that the State Department’s Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (R) who leads in America’s public diplomacy outreach is currently vacant. Ambassador Bruce Wharton, the acting “R” retired in late July. There are no announced nominees for the undersecretary or for the assistant secretaries for the Bureau of Public Affairs (PA), Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), or for Special Envoy and Coordinator of the Global Engagement Center (GEC).

Some cartoonists below looking at the United States.

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Matt Armstrong: No, we do not need to revive the U.S. Information Agency

Posted: 3:55 am EDT
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Matt Armstrong (@mountainrunner) is a lecturer on public diplomacy and international media. He is writing a book on how the White House, State Department, Congress, and the media fought, struggled, and ultimately collaborated in 1917-1948 to establish U.S. “public diplomacy.” In 2011, he served as executive director of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy. He was nominated and confirmed as a member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) on August 1, 2013.  He blogs sometimes at mountainrunner.us. He recently wrote, No, we do not need to revive the U.S. Information Agency for War on The Rocks.  Below is an excerpt. He says that the views expressed in this piece are his own, so don’t blame anyone else.

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More than once in the past decade or more, I guarantee that you have heard — or read — someone declare the United States would be better off today if the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) were still around and how without it, the United States was robbed of the ability to properly engage in information warfare today. Some of these discussions have been in Congress and at least one bill was introduced in recent years to try to recreate a limited USIA. However, laments about USIA are really a coded way of saying that we lack a strategy, an organizing principle, and empowered individuals to execute information warfare today.
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In 1999, the “peace dividend” needed more money, and either USAID or USIA was going to help fund it. While USAID’s chief fought for his agency, USIA’s did not. But why was USIA even on the chopping block? Partly because of the incomplete, or tainted, knowledge of its role (primary credit goes to Fulbright), but also partly because USIA’s narrative, its raison d’être, had failed to adapt to the new normal, which would have been a lot like its early years.

Abolishing USIA was messy. Parts went to State, mostly under the purpose-built office of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, but not all. And the broadcasting portion was spun off into a separate federal agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors. A 2000 report on the status of the so-called merger captured part of the culture clash. While accounting at USIA served the mission and the field, at State, former USIA employees saw “accounting is an end itself.”
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If we truly want to recreate USIA, the public affairs officers and their sections at our Embassies and Consulates would go to the new agency. The libraries and America’s Corners and all the similar programs would be moved, and likely moved out from behind fortress walls where some are invite-only, if they are accessible at all. The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs would also leave State. The Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs would be abolished, though the Bureau of Public Affairs would remain in the department. The Broadcasting Board of Governors would be merged with this new entity as well. Perhaps most important of all, the Defense Department would defer to this new agency in its public communications, as would USAID and other agencies. Obviously such a reorganization is not going to happen.

We must remember that USIA operated in a simpler time of limited information flows and limited government communications. It virtually owned access to many foreign media markets, markets where the only “competition” was local government propaganda or silence.

Perhaps State could revamp itself. It is worth noting here that the title “public affairs officer” used by State and the United States Information Service were created in 1917 by the foreign section of the Committee for Public Information because State refused to do “public diplomacy” abroad. Nelson Rockefeller’s Coordinator for Inter-American Affairs was established prior to Pearl Harbor as a USIA-like organization focused on Latin America because State refused to respond to FDR’s requests and engage the public. In 1953, State was all too eager to dump the responsibilities of engaging foreign publics directly in the interest of “streamlining.” And in 1999 through today, we see how poorly State integrates, funds, and prioritizes “public diplomacy” into its operations. Even the title of the public diplomacy chief is discordant: “Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.”

The lesson here is that each successful change followed a clearly defined and articulated requirement to fulfill a strategic purpose. Consolidation, or dis-aggregation, is not a strategy and it will not conjure up a strategy. In today’s noisy communications environment, we need coordination that comes not from a supremely empowered individual or central organization, but comes from a clear mission and purpose. USIA is held out as a symbol of our success to organize for information warfare, but it really was part of a larger effort. And ultimately, it came to reflect the segregation of “public diplomacy” from “diplomacy” that remains today. Today is not yesterday, so let’s stop looking at a mid-twentieth century solution for a 21st century problem.

Read in full here via War on The Rocks.

Click here for the end notes.

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$630K To Buy Facebook Fans — Is That Really Such a Sin? Only If There’s Nothin’ But Strategery

◉  By Domani Spero

 

We blogged last month about the OIG report on the State Department’s IIP Bureau (See State Dept’s $630,000 Social Media “Buying Fans” Campaign,  a Success — But Where’s the Love?). At one point, we Googled $630,000 and we got 6,260 results in 10 seconds. Few of them complimentary for blowing that much dough to buy “friends.” The Daily Beast asks, “Oh, State Department, didn’t anyone ever tell you that you can’t buy your friends?”

C’mon folks, the USG buy friends all the time. It even buy frienemies, who occasionally bites it behind and in front of cameras.

Anyway, today, The Cable’s John Hudson has  this: Unfriend: State Dept’s Social Media Shop Is DC’s “Red-Headed Stepchild” where a former congressional staffer with knowledge of the bureau calls IIP or the Bureau of International Information Programs “the the redheaded stepchild of public diplomacy.”  An unnamed source also told The Cable that its main problem was finding something it actually does well. “It has an ill-defined mandate and no flagship product that anyone outside of Foggy Bottom has ever heard of.”

Actually, it used to run america.gov, an easily recognizable product created under the previous administration. But some bright bulbs decided to reinvent it into something easily memorable; you think  IIP Digital and you think, of course,  America. (see Foggy Bottom’s “Secret” Blog, Wild Geese – Oh, It’s Pretty Wild!).

The Cables’s piece has a quote from Tom Nides, the State Department’s former deputy secretary for management and resources who defended IIP in the wake of the OIG report:

“We have to allow our departments to be innovators and take risks. And if you’re an innovator, some things just aren’t going to work… The bureau does some really innovative and interesting stuff.” 

Like the e-reader debacle.  When somebody run something by the seat of their pants .. well, okay we’ll agree to call it interesting but please, let’s not/not call this innovative.  See What Sunk the State Dept’s $16.5 Million Kindle Acquisition? A Complaint. Plus Missing Overall Goals

Tara Sonenshine, until recently the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs who oversees IIP also spoke to The Cable:

“OK, they spent time acquiring too many followers. They built up the traffic to their site. Is that really such a sin?” she asked in an interview with The Cable. “They moved quickly into social media at a time when Secretary of State Clinton said we should have 21st century statecraft. I don’t know why that’s such a bad thing.”

Is that really such a sin? Here is the problem that the OIG inspectors were not happy with:

“The absence of a Department-wide PD strategy tying resources to priorities directly affects IIP’s work. Fundamental questions remain unresolved. What is the proper balance between engaging young people and marginalized groups versus elites and opinion leaders? Which programs and delivery mechanisms work best with which audiences? What proportion of PD resources should support policy goals, and what proportion should go to providing the context of American society and values? How much should PD products be tailored for regions and individual countries, and how much should be directed to a global audience? What kinds of materials should IIP translate and into which languages? Absent a Department wide strategy, IIP decisions and priorities can be ad hoc, arbitrary, and lack a frame of reference to evaluate the bureau’s effectiveness. The 2004 OIG IIP inspection report recommended that the Department conduct a management review of PD. The Office of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs created an Office of Policy and Outreach but did not carry out the management review. A strategy that ties resources to priorities is essential to resolving questions of mission and organization for IIP in general and for the PD function in particular.”

Makes one wonder why not.

The recommended management review in 2004 did not happen under Margaret D. Tutwiler (2003-2004) not under Karen Hughes (2005-2007) not under James K. Glassman (2008-2009) or Judith McHale (2009-2011).  And it did not happen under Tara D. Sonenshine (2012-2013).

Which is how you end up with State Dept’s Winning Hearts and Minds One Kindle at a Time Collapses …. Presently Dead.

Or how you get an odd Facebook campaigns on intellectual property theft and the importance of IP rights led by US embassies in Canada, Spain, Estonia, Uruguay, Suriname, Guyana, and Chile. (via Ars Technica). You’d think that if you do an embassy FB campaign on IP rights, you should at least target the 39 countries in USTR’s Watch List. Suriname, Guyana and Estonia did not even make that Watch List.

Or how tweets can get “bungled” and no one has the @embassyhandler’s back, not even the State Department Spokesperson.

Or how embassies create “fun” videos that cost time and money that does not fit/poorly fit an occasion or serve any real purpose (See employees around the U.S. Embassy in Manila sing and dance to the Carly Rae Jepsen’s hit song “Call Me Maybe” in December 2012, the Harlem Shake by U.S. Embassy Algiers in February 2013, or the U.S. Embassy Tashkent Navruz dance celebration in Uzbek Gangnam style in March 2013!

Look, we are not averse to seeing videos from our diplomatic posts, but they do require time and money.  Rehearsals, anyone?  We’d like to see some purpose put into them beyond just being the “in” thing to do.  (see some good ones US Embassy Bangkok’s Irrestibly Charming Happy 2013 GreetingUS Embassy Warsaw Rocks with All I Want For Christmas Is You, and US Embassy Costa Rica: La Visa Americana, Gangnam Style).
In December 2012, Ms. Soneshine gave a speech at the Heritage Foundation, touting  “real success” with IIP’s FB properties:

IIP, the Bureau of International Information Programs, has had real success with its four major Facebook properties, which engage foreign audiences on issues related to innovation, democracy, conservation, and the USA.

Our metrics help us refine our understanding of the hopes and aspirations of young people in key countries, allowing us to explain our goals, policies and values in particular and responsive ways. In just 15 months, our Facebook following has expanded from 800,000 to more than 8 million, as they like, share, and retweet in their communities. And that includes young people in Indonesia, Pakistan, Egypt, Jordan, and Venezuela.

Ms. Soneshine did not mention how much money the USG spent to expand the number of those Facebook followers or the rate of the engagement.

In the same speech, she touted the use of “rigorous, evidence-based” work that “demonstrate the effectiveness” of the State Department programs:

[O]ur in-house staff – Statewide – includes Ph.D. social scientists, program evaluators who have worked all over the world, pollsters who left successful careers in the private sector to work for us, and other communications experts.

Our rigorous, evidence-based, social scientific work now allows us to go beyond anecdote and demonstrate the effectiveness of our programs and work in increasing foreign public understanding of U.S. society, government, culture, our values and the democratic process.

Here is what the OIG says:

The Office of Audience Research and Evaluation is charged with assessing bureau programs and conducting audience research for PD work. It is not performing either duty adequately. The coordinator brought a former colleague from the private sector into the bureau to oversee the operation, which is attached to the front office. However, that employee had no U.S. Government experience with the issues surrounding PD research or familiarity with the programs, products, and services IIP offers. At about the same time, the Office of Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs transferred to IIP the responsibility for managing a PD database for tracking embassies’ work, along with the responsibility for preparing a report assessing the global impact of PD. Since the 2011 reorganization that put these changes in place, the office has accomplished little.

Zing!

In the aftermath of the release of the IIP report, Ms. Soneshine reportedly sent out a lengthy email offering to connect recipients “directly with the bureau’s leadership so that you can learn more about IIP and its great work, in addition to hearing how the bureau is proactively implementing the report’s recommendations.”

She reportedly also touted the bureau’s accomplishments and writes that “IIP is now positioned firmly in the 21st Century and will innovate constantly to stay at the forefront of modern Public Diplomacy.”

That must be why the fishes are leaping out the barrel; fishes to refer to multiple species of fish in that specific barrel.

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Related item:

-05/31/13   Inspection of the Bureau of International Information Programs  [975 Kb]

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.

(._.)

Officially In: Matt Armstrong to the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG)

On April 11, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Matthew C. Armstrong to serve on the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). The WH released the following brief bio:

Matthew C. Armstrong is an author, speaker, and strategist on issues related to public diplomacy.  In 2011, he served as Executive Director of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy.  Previously, Mr. Armstrong was an adjunct professor of public diplomacy at the Annenberg School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Southern California.  In 2010, he founded and served as President of the MountainRunner Institute and published a blog on public diplomacy and strategic communication.  He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Public Diplomacy Council and a member of the International Institute of Strategic Studies.  Mr. Armstrong received a B.A. and an M.P.D. from the University of Southern California.

Matthew Armstrong, Executive Director of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy gives his remarks during a reception hosted in his honor by Deputy Ambassador James B. Cunningham on Monday, Oct 17, 2011. (Department of State)

Matthew Armstrong, Executive Director of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy gives his remarks during a reception hosted in his honor by Deputy Ambassador James B. Cunningham on Monday, Oct 17, 2011. (Department of State)

BBG Watch, a website that covers the BBG and maintained by former and current BBG, VOA and RFE/RL employees and their supporters released the following statement:

“BBG Watch welcomes the nomination of Matt Armstrong to serve on the BBG board. His expertise in public diplomacy will strengthen this very important institution and will help other BBG members and any future CEO in their efforts to reform the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB), the worst managed organization within the federal government. We hope that Mr. Armstrong will help to transform the IBB from a centralized bureaucracy bent on increasing its power into a lean support organization that serves rather than issues commands to individual media entities.”

I have blogged previously about Matt Armstrong and ACPD (see Matt Armstrong Joins the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public DiplomacyPD Commission KIA by Congress; Welcome Back, Matt ArmstrongU.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy Re-Authorized – Where the Heck Is It?).

Sorry to see that he won’t be returning to the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy (ACPD).  So now, we’ll have to wait and see how much work the re-authorized ACPD gets to do with “support” from the “R” bureau.

–DS

 

 

 

 

U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy Re-Authorized – Where the Heck Is It?

Back on January 13, 2012, we blogged about the demise of ACPD or the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy (see PD Commission KIA by Congress; Welcome Back, Matt Armstrong):

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.”

So the Commission has been dead for about 15 months but now it’s been re-authorized, retroactively re-authorized on January 3, 2013.

Screen Shot 2013-03-03

As of to-date, there does not seem to be any hint that the Commission will re-start work within the next 30-60 days.

The ACPD is supported by the office of the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs also known as the “R” Bureau (we’re looking at you A/S Tara Sonenshine).  With the exception of that tiny blurb about the ACPD re-authorization, there reportedly is word from the R/Front Office that no other changes on the ACPD website be done without the expressed approval from Ms. Sonenshine’s office. It does not look like Matt Armstrong, the executive director or the rest of the Commission staff has also been reinstated.

Screen Shot 2013-03-04

We should note that the ACPD reports to the President and the Secretary of State.

Quick background on the ACPD:

Since 1948, the United States Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy (ACPD) had been charged with appraising U.S. Government activities intended to understand, inform, and influence foreign publics and to increase the understanding of and support for these same activities.

The ACPD accomplished this through reports and symposiums that provide honest appraisals and informed discourse on these efforts. The ACPD conducted studies, inquiries, and meetings, and disseminates white papers, reports, and other publications with the approval of the chairperson and in consultation with the Executive Director.

Considering that the ACPD is tasked with appraising our public diplomacy programs, a good chunk of those programs produced by the “R” Bureau (hello Buzkashi Boys), is it appropriate for Ms. Sonenshine’s office to have hiring authority over the Commission’s staff or have authority on when it can operationally re-start or re-do its website? Does it need permission, too, when it can convene a meeting?  The current rules has the chairman of the commission having the authority to appoint the executive director and other additional personnel. It sounds like the “R” Bureau is looking to change that.

Well, boo!

The United States Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy (ACPD) is a bi-partisan entity. With taxpayer dollars leaking out everywhere in the name of public diplomacy, and not just from State, we need an independent commission that can appraise the effectivity of these programs.  Furthermore, the law that created ACPD actually requires that the Commission conduct an assessment that considers the public diplomacy target impact, the achieved impact, and the cost of public diplomacy activities and international broadcasting. It is supposed to assess and rate whether public diplomacy programs were effective or not, whether appropriate goals were set or not, whether the programs were managed-well and were cost-efficient  or if they do not have acceptable performance public diplomacy metrics for measuring results.

That’s a good enough reason to ensure that the ACPD is not staff by anyone from “R” or nominated by “R” who potentially can have a conflict of interest when it comes to bidding for future assignments within the State Department.

If this is all a misconception on our part, well, can you blame us if we’re reading the smoke signals?  If you know why it’s been 60 days since ACPD had been reauthorized and it is still hobbled in the bureaucracy, our comment section is open.
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