Confirmations: Goldstein, Lawler, Johnson, Gonzales, and Four New Career Ministers

Posted: 4:45 pm PT

 

On November 16, the U.S. Senate confirmed several nominations for the State Department, including the first under secretary confirmation under the Tillerson tenure, two ambassador nominees for Lesotho and Namibia, and two Foreign Service lists.

Mr. Irwin Steven Goldstein, of New York, to be Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy

Mr. Sean P. Lawler, of Maryland, to be Chief of Protocol, and to have the rank of Ambassador during his tenure of service

Ms. Rebecca Eliza Gonzales, of Texas, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Kingdom of Lesotho

Ms. Lisa A. Johnson, of Washington, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Namibia

The U.S. Senate also confirmed the following Foreign Service lists:

2017-11-16 PN1199 Foreign Service Nominations beginning Lisa-Felicia Afi Akorli, and ending Stephanie P. Wilson, which 169 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on November 1, 2017.

2017-11-16 PN1200 Foreign Service Nominations beginning John R. Bass II, and ending Sung Y. Kim, which 4 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on November 1, 2017.

For those keeping tabs that means the population of the current Career Minister rank in the Foreign Service just increased from 22 to 26 with the confirmation of the following:

  • John R. Bass II, of VA
  • John D. Feeley, of DC
  • Judith G. Garber, of VA
  • Sung Y. Kim, of VA

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@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.

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Photo of the Day: Under Secretaries for “J” and “R” Now On Board

— Domani Spero

Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights (J):
Sarah Sewall

sewall swearingin with jk

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry greets Sarah Sewall and her husband, Tom Conroy, before swearing her in as Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on April 14, 2014. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (R):
Richard Stengel

stengel_swearingin with jk

Secretary Kerry Swears in Rick Stengel as Under Secretary With his family looking on, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry swears in Rick Stengel as Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on April 15, 2014. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]


This completes the ranks of the senior officials of the State Department. Deputy Secretary Bill Burns is, however,  retiring in October so we expect that the top blocks of the org chart will be reshuffled/changed once more in the next six months.

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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

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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.

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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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