SFRC Clears Mark Green’s Nomination to USAID as Talks About State/USAID Merger Get Louder

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On July 12, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee finally cleared Mark Green’s nomination to be USAID Administrator. Also see Trump to Nominate Former Ambassador Mark Green as USAID Administrator (May 11, 2017);  Expected USAID Pick Ex-GOP Rep Mark Green Lost in the Trump Jungle.

Ambassador Green appeared before the Senate panel on June 15. Click here for the hearing video and his prepared testimony.

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AND NOW THIS —

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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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Donald M. Bishop: Sources of State Department Senior Leadership

— Domani Spero
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Donald M. Bishop, President of the Public Diplomacy Council, served 31 years in USIA and the State Department.  A Public Diplomacy officer, his first assignments were in Hong Kong, Korea, and Taiwan, and he led Public Diplomacy at the American embassies in Bangladesh, Nigeria, China, and Afghanistan.  He served as the Foreign Policy Advisor (POLAD) to two members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon. The piece below was originally published via the Public Diplomacy Council website and republished here with Mr. Bishop’s kind permission.

Sources of State Department Senior Leadership

by Donald M. Bishop

In recent months, the front pages, websites, columns, blogs, and talking heads rediscovered an old issue — the nomination of individuals who raised funds for a Presidential campaign to be ambassadors.  A few nominees were embarrassed at their Senate confirmation hearings.

This short piece is NOT about ambassadorial nominees.  Rather, let me step back and discuss the naming of political appointees to senior policy positions in the Department of State.

The American Foreign Service Association counts the number of political vs. career appointees as Deputy Secretary, Under Secretary, Assistant Secretary, Special Envoy, Special Representative, Director, Chief, Coordinator, Advisor, and Executive Secretary.  In 2012, 27 were career officers, and 63 were political appointees.  This was the highest percentage of political appointees in policy positions since AFSA began counting.  In 2008 there were 26 senior noncareer Schedule B hires; in 2012 there were 89.

How about Public Diplomacy?  Three bureaus report to the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs — Public Affairs (PA), Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), and International Information Programs (IIP).  All three bureaus are led by appointees.  The three bureaus have eleven positions at the level of Deputy Assistant Secretary, and six geographic bureaus all have Deputy Assistant Secretaries assigned Public Diplomacy portfolios.   For these 17 positions, the exact count varies with ordinary turnover, but it is safe to say about half are career, and half are political.

No matter the bureau or function, many of these appointees indeed have solid foreign policy credentials.  There are many paths to expertise and several different incubators in foreign affairs, and the Foreign Service is only one.  Many experts have worked in Congress, the NSC and the White House, Presidential campaigns, and at the think tanks at different times in their careers.   At the beginning of their careers, they may have served in the Peace Corps or, less often, the armed forces.

Over the years, I worked with many appointees.  Many brought energy and fresh ideas into the Department.  This essay is not about individuals – many of whom earned my admiration – but rather about organizational dynamics.

I have concluded that an overreliance on political appointees from outside the Foreign Service weakens the conduct of American foreign policy.  These reasons have little to do with the qualifications of the individuals.  If the administration decides that this or that position at the State Department is better filled by a political appointee than by a Foreign Service officer, there are three down sides.

First, the search and selection process, vetting, security clearances, and – for those positions requiring confirmation by the Senate — long waits for hearings and confirmation add up to long vacancies between incumbents.  During the vacancies, someone picks up the slack, for sure, but some other portfolio is shorted.  Even if a career officer serves as “Acting,” the Department waits for the President’s nominee to come on board before launching new initiatives and committing funds.  Preferring political appointees from the outside, then, slows foreign policy down.  Public Diplomacy, in particular, suffered from long periods between Under Secretaries.

Second, whatever their regional or issue expertise, whichever Washington arena gave them their chops, however close appointees may be to the President and his team, they have had no reason to understand “the machinery” or “the mechanics” of the State Department – its funding, authorities, planning, reporting, budget cycle, and incentives.

All organizations have an organizational culture.  For the State Department and the Foreign Service, it encompasses the five cones, the assignment and promotion systems, hierarchies, the “D Committee” which recommends career FSOs to the White House to become ambassadors, and agreements with bargaining agents.  The culture includes such intangibles as policy planning but not program planning, tradeoffs between goals, “buttons to push,” “energy sponges,” “lanes,” “corridor reputations,” and the “thin bench.” The “ship of State” can indeed respond to new priorities, but few appointees have the inside experience to know how to make it turn quickly and smoothly.

All understand, moreover, that if something more is needed – “reform” of the Department, its processes, or the Foreign Service – it can take many years to achieve.  A career officer can commit to a long process of reform and understand the payoff down the road.  A political appointee may understand the need to change the Department’s way of doing business, but what is the incentive for doing so?  The appointee will be on to fresh pastures, through the revolving door, and doing something else soon.  Why take on tasks that will outlast her appointment?

Third, political appointees naturally come to the State Department with a strong intention to advance the President’s agenda.  Their frame of mind is, then, “top down,” meaning that ambassadors, embassies, consulates, and the Foreign Service should take their lead from the White House and become implementers of this month’s or this year’s White House policy initiatives.  If, for instance, the President believes that the United States must promote action against climate change, the political appointees in the Bureaus insure that the Department responds.  As a result, even Embassies in countries with strong environmental records – Western Europe, say — adjust their priorities to respond to the “top down” agenda.

A focus on the administration’s global broad-brush themes, however, inevitably crowds out the attention paid to bilateral issues.  Every Mission spends a large part of its spring in a deliberate process defining specific bilateral strategic goals, but their implementation can be overridden by political appointees and top-down priorities.  Many Public Affairs Officers at overseas posts have noted the shift to a “Washington driven” agenda.  The Foreign Service is always ready to “surge,” so to speak, on the nation’s most important objectives, but it’s not possible to “surge” month in and month out.  When an embassy surges on one administration priority, moreover, it can’t be very effective when yet one more surge is asked for.

I submit, then, that reliance on political appointees weakens not strengthens the achievement of America’s national goals.  Long vacancies slow down the implementation of policy.  Lacking institutional knowledge, appointees increase the friction within the system.  They tip the scales to respond to worldwide, “top-down” rather than bilateral goals.  There will always be a mix of political appointees and career officers in the State Department’s senior policy positions, but in my judgment the nation is better served when there are more of the latter than the former.

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