@StateDept Loses One More Under Secretary as Bruce Wharton (Public Diplomacy/Public Affairs) Steps Down

Posted: 4:31 am ET
Updated: July 29, 1:50 pm PT
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’]

 

One of the State Department’s top three senior officials is retiring this week. Ambassador D. Bruce Wharton was designated as Acting Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (R) on December 8, 2016.  He was one of the top two senior officials who remained at the State Department after the January 20 transition (the other official was  Thomas A. Shannon, Jr. who is Under Secretary for Political Affairs). Ambassador Wharton’s main task is public diplomacy and public affairs engagement and to oversee the following bureaus: Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA)Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP)Bureau of Public Affairs (PA)Global Engagement Center (GEC); and the Office of Policy, Planning and Resources (R/PPR).

U/S Wharton’s second in command is listed as Mark Taplin, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary (PDAS) in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). We understand that Mr. Taplin is also stepping down, so he will not be Acting “R”.

Apparently, there are no senior officials in the bureau who were previously confirmed by the U.S. Senate.  It is not clear to anyone on who might assume Ambassador Wharton’s duties and responsibilities when he steps down this week. The Special Envoy and Coordinator of the Global Engagement Center is currently vacant and the deputy assistant secretaries (DASes) in the Public Affairs bureau are all on “acting” status.

We understand that Ambassador Wharton will transition to retirement via FSI’s retirement seminar but will retain and exercise the authorities needed to keep everything moving forward until another person is appointed to assume those authorities. But the retirement seminar is not very long, so at some point, absent a new nominee, Secretary Tillerson will need to appoint a senior official in an acting capacity to oversee “R.” 

Per authority delegated under section 308(a) of the Foreign Service Act of 1980, as amended, the Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources (who is now also in an acting capacity) may recall any retired career member of the Service for active duty whenever he or she determines that the needs of the Service so require. This authority was used previously to fill temporary vacancies but apparently as of last Monday, recalled retired FSOs have had their recalls cancelled.

Ambassador Wharton served as the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of African Affairs from 2015-2016. Prior to that he served as the U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe from September 2012 to November 2015. He has also served as the Bureau of African Affairs Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Diplomacy, African Affairs Director of the Office of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, and Deputy Coordinator of the Department of State’s Bureau of International Information Programs. From 2003 to 2006 he was the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala.

Bruce Wharton entered the Foreign Service in 1985 and has served at U.S. embassies in Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. In Africa, he has also had temporary duty in Tanzania, Nigeria, Kenya, and Ghana. From 1992 to 1995 he worked in Washington, D.C. on Andean Affairs and Western Hemisphere policy issues. He has received Superior and Meritorious Honor Awards from the Department of State and the U.S. Information Agency, and was the 2011 recipient of the Edward R. Murrow Award for Excellence in Public Diplomacy.  He is a graduate of the University of Texas in Austin and speaks Spanish and German.

#

Advertisements

POTUS Designates Amb. Bruce Wharton Acting U/S For Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs

Posted: 12:28 am ET
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

On December 8, Ambassador Bruce Wharton was designated as acting Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (R). Quick bio below:

Ambassador Wharton served as as the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of African Affairs from 2015-2016. Prior to that he served as the U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe from September 2012 to November 2015. He has also served as the Bureau of African Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Diplomacy, AF Director of the Office of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, and Deputy Coordinator of the State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs. From 2003 to 2006 he was the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala.

Bruce Wharton entered the Foreign Service in 1985 and has served at U.S. embassies in Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. In Africa, he has also had temporary duty in Tanzania, Nigeria, Kenya, and Ghana. From 1992 to 1995 he worked in Washington, D.C. on Andean Affairs and Western Hemisphere policy issues. He has received Superior and Meritorious Honor Awards from the Department of State and the U.S. Information Agency, and was the 2011 recipient of the Edward R. Murrow Award for Excellence in Public Diplomacy.

He is a graduate of the University of Texas in Austin and speaks Spanish and German.

#

Obama Nominates Richard Stengel to the State Department’s Public Diplomacy Bureau

— By Domani Spero

 

In May this year, a group of 51 retired senior foreign affairs professionals including 37 former ambassadors 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.  See 37 Former Ambassadors Urge Appointment of a Career Diplomat to State Dept’s Public Diplomacy Bureau.  Well, that didn’t work.

Yesterday, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Richard Stengel for Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. The WH released the following brief bio:

Richard Stengel is the Managing Editor of Time Magazine, a position he has held since 2006.  From 2004 to 2006, Mr. Stengel was the President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.  In 2000, Mr. Stengel served as a Senior Adviser and Chief Speechwriter for Bill Bradley’s Presidential campaign.  In 1999, Mr. Stengel was the Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton.  From 1992 to 1994, Mr. Stengel worked with Nelson Mandela on his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom.  Mr. Stengel has written for many publications and is the author of several books.  He began his career at TIME in 1981 as a writer and correspondent.  He received a B.A. from Princeton University and was a Rhodes Scholar at Christ Church at the University of Oxford.

If confirmed, Mr. Stengel would succeed Tara D. Sonenshine, and would be the 8th Under  Secretary for the “R” bureau since its creation in 1999.  No career-diplomat to-date has ever been nominated for this position.

  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 (2012-2013)

 

A useful read would be Mountainrunner’s: R we there yet? A look at the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy (and Public Affairs).  The average tenure in this position is just 512 days with Karen Hughes serving the longest at 868 days.  Below is the Incumbency Chart for the Office of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs from a 2011 report by the United States Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy.

Screen Shot 2013-09-18

👀

 

What Sunk the State Dept’s $16.5 Million Kindle Acquisition? A Complaint. Plus Missing Overall Goals

—By Domani Spero

Remember that $16.5 million multi-year Kindle acquisition that almost happened under the auspices of the IIP Bureau in August last year? (See State Dept’s Winning Hearts and Minds One Kindle at a Time Collapses …. Presently Dead). Well, it turned out that while the no-bid contract for 2,500 e-readers at a cost of $16.5 million had been cancelled, IIP had actually already deployed a first batch of 2,000 eReaders to overseas posts.  The OIG inspection report did not say how much that first batch of eReaders cost, or how much was the contract for the content. The report does include the reason why that sole source contract was cancelled, the real  reason not the spin. Below an excerpt from the OIG report on the IIP Bureau:

Mobile Learning Initiative

Senior PD leadership conceived an initiative to provide eReaders to embassies and American Spaces. IIP would purchase the devices and the content by contract, benefiting from an economy of scale, and deliver eReaders to embassies. However, the embassies had no input in planning the initiative. IIP delivered the first batch of 2,000 eReaders to embassies without advance notice or procedures in place to register the devices and download content, which took significant staff time, especially in regions with poor electronic infrastructure. IIP learned from these mistakes, and a second batch included preregistered devices. Despite these difficulties, some IROs found creative ways to use the devices in programming. Others, in countries with advanced technology, commented that their audiences were not interested in devices without the latest in touch-screen technology. The consensus among IROs was that if they had been consulted in advance, they could have contributed to more effective PD use of eReaders.

When asked about the cancellation of the Amazon sole-source contract, this is what the State Department told the Digital Reader last year:

“In order to conduct additional market research and further explore technological options for our public diplomacy programs, the Department of State opted on August 15 to end the Request for Proposals for the Amazon Kindle in favor of proceeding with a Request for Information (RFI) process. This action will open to all vendors the opportunity to respond to the Department’s requirements for a mobile learning program.”

In fact, the real reason for its cancellation according to the OIG report is a protest from an unnamed organization citing non-compliance of the selected eReader with Section 508 requirements. It did not help that the eReader initiative also did not have an overall goal besides handing the Kindles out.

Last year, somebody familiar with the dysfunctional going ons at the “R” Bureau told us that this program was “not supported by project planning,” only seat of the pants “this sounds good” thingee. Below is an excerpt from the OIG report:

As the bureau was planning the second phase of the initiative, an organization protested the Department’s sole-source solicitation for the project, asserting that the selected eReader is not compliant with Section 508 requirements pertaining to information access for persons with disabilities. The Department retracted the solicitation, and the bureau spent several months reevaluating its approach. By March 2013, the bureau had changed the initiative’s goal to focus strictly on providing digital content to eReaders. This approach gives greater flexibility to embassies in determining the appropriate eReader technology for their region. However, the new plans are still vague on the initiative’s overall goals. The bureau does not have specific objectives to define success or a timeline to shift from an initiative requiring increasing resources each year to a program with predictable demands and a regular budget. These objectives are essential to measure the success of the initiative and to provide oversight.

Recommendation 32: The Bureau of International Information Programs should implement a plan for the eReader learning initiative that includes measurable goals. (Action: IIP)

IIP has supplied 2,000 eReader devices to embassies around the world. These devices must be tracked and managed to avoid loss or theft. The bureau’s Office of Research and Evaluation asked embassies to report on the eReaders in their possession, but not all embassies responded. The office is focusing on the question of replacement rate, not of responsibility for managing Department property. Furthermore, the existing property management system for IT does not easily include eReaders in embassy inventories. Some embassies have created their own tracking solutions, but these cannot address the question of central property management.

Recommendation 33: The Bureau of International Information Programs should create a property management plan for bureau-supplied eReader devices currently in embassies. (Action: IIP)

The Clinton-Bezos global launch of the Kindle Mobile Learning Initiative was supposed to happen on June 20, 2012. It was postponed for later rescheduling.  The event was never rescheduled and was very quietly forgotten.

👀

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

sig4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.
sig4