Minutes of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy September 2007 Official Meeting
The National Academy of Sciences
September 12, 2007
On behalf of the Commission, Chairman Barrett welcomed the speakers and members of the general public, thanked the National Academy of Sciences for making the venue available, briefly described the structure and work of the Commission, previewed the topics for the day, and introduced the speakers. Barrett stated that the questions the Commission wished to explore in this open meeting were:
(NOTE: Except for Dr. Billington and Ms. Papp, all speakers listed immediately above are employees of the U.S. Department of State. Mr. Dandridge is an employee of the State Department, but he participated in this meeting in a private/unofficial capacity. Mr. Naland is an employee of the State Department, but he participated in this meeting in his capacity as president of the American Foreign Service Association, a non-governmental group.)
U.S. Public Diplomacy: The View from the Library of Congress
Librarian of Congress Dr. James Billington shared with the Commissioners his views on public diplomacy and briefed the Commissioners on the Library’s “Open World Leadership Program,” the only public diplomacy program lodged within the executive branch of the United States government.
Billington began his presentation by stating that public diplomacy is “extremely important.” He pointed to the success of U.S. public diplomacy during the Cold War as an example of the enormous impact it can have when practiced deftly. The “instinctive appeal” of the United States – its freedoms, its products, and so on – endure. Foreign peoples generally want to be a part of the modern world, but in a way that’s true to (and without losing) their own unique identity.
One fundamental problem with U.S. public diplomacy, Billington observed, is our inability – in some ways, structural in nature – to think long-term. In a context in which we’re more worried about stock prices at the end of the day than we are about some distant point years into the future, public diplomacy – which, by its nature, is a long-term enterprise – is difficult to undertake effectively. A second problem is that the United States pays insufficient attention to “discontinuous change” (which Billington broadly defined as “what happens when a challenge finds no response within the existing [socio-political] structures”). He pointed to the United States’ inability to predict, with accuracy (or at all), the rise of radical Islam or the implosion of the Soviet Union. America’s “elaborate predictive machines” failed to anticipate these profound shifts. (In the early 1980s, for example, the U.S. intelligence community was predicting that the Soviet system would remain essentially unchanged for another forty or fifty years. In contrast, some in the “artistic community” seemed to have a better feel for the decay that had set in to the Soviet system.) At the core of discontinuous change, Billington observed, are “ideas, ideals and identity.”
Public diplomacy must be a two-way street, Billington argued; it is as important that Americans understand foreigners as it is that foreign publics understand the United States and U.S. policy. In this connection, Billington characterized as emblematic of this problem the fact that, during the Vietnam era, the United States failed to produce even one indigenously trained Ph.D on Vietnamese culture.
U.S. public diplomacy flourished during the Cold War, Billington stated. He held up the Fulbright program as a model of success in that period, emphasizing that the two-way nature of the program made it particularly effective. Tellingly, though, the Fulbright program is probably better known outside the United States than it is in comparable circles in the United States. Exchanges like the Fulbright program, Billington said, promote the “immigration of ideas”; they also contribute to the absorption by the United States of an extraordinary amount of foreign-born talent -- something that has benefited the United States immeasurably over the years. In sum, Billington observed, “academic and long-term exchanges, such as the Fulbright program, can make a powerful difference over the long run.” He cited his year of study in Russia (in 1966-67) as “the most important experience in my lifetime of study.”
Public diplomacy must be about people, Billington asserted, because people are the “decisive factors” in the flow of history. The chemistry of dynamic, charismatic people and powerful exchange experiences can have dramatic, even historic, consequences; Billington pointed to a number of Soviet-era change-catalysts (e.g., Yakovlev) as examples.
Billington expressed support for exchange on a massive scale, suggesting that the U.S. government could fruitfully look back to the Marshall Plan era for a model. About 1.5% of Marshall Plan funds were devoted to bringing to the United States young Germans; the point was not to “lecture,” but instead, to “let them see our system firsthand.”
Billington then described the “Open World Leadership Program,” the only USG public diplomacy exchange lodged within the legislative branch of government. Founded in 1999, the program has brought to the United States approximately 12,000 future leaders from Russia and other states of the former Soviet Union. Under Open World, some 1,100 judges from the former Soviet Union states have come to the United States, in some cases, meeting with U.S. Supreme Court justices. Over half of the participants in Open World are women. Of the roughly 12,000 participants who have come to the United States under Open World auspices, not one has remained in the United States, Billington stated.
A critical component of Open World is home hospitality – that is, staying, for the duration of the visit, in the homes of average Americans. In this sense, Open World is “experiential”; the participants shadow their American hosts and interlocutors, and it is this element of the program that distinguishes it markedly from purely academic exchanges.
Billington also briefly reviewed for the Commissioners the Library of Congress’s “Digital Library” and “American Memory” programs, innovative archive efforts that have public diplomacy dimensions. These programs, among other things, leverage the Internet to get through to young people in developing and/or relatively closed countries with authoritative information about their own countries. In doing so, they help repatriate cultural heritage and show the world that the United States doesn’t just regard the outside world as mere consumers of American products and culture; it also reflects an American recognition of other national identities. In a sense, Billington explained, the concept is: to love us (the U.S.), you must first love yourself.
Concluding his presentation, Billington mused that if “imperialism is the last stage of capitalism,” then “cultural imperialism is the last stage of imperialism.” Americans, despite their extraordinary diversity, are seen as mono-cultural abroad. We need to study foreign cultures and languages to a much greater degree than we do today as a nation. We need to communicate, including in the context of public diplomacy, that we are not cultural imperialists, that we do care about the world and have respect for traditions not our own. And the United States needs to continually update its modes of communicating with the world.
QUESTION: What do you think the United States could do to “reintroduce” itself to the world?
Billington responded by saying that we need a more comprehensive, and longer-term, conception of public diplomacy. We also need to do a better job of involving alumni of USG exchanges in our PD efforts, starting with a consolidated list of these alumni.
“We can’t sell America like we sell toothpaste; it doesn’t work,” Billington said. We need to touch people at a deeper, more emotional level. International broadcasting (e.g., VOA, RFE/RL) have an important role to play, but we do need to work hard to build and maintain the credibility of these organizations. Our goal, in this respect, should be to attain a reputation for neutrality and credibility such as that generally enjoyed by the BBC. Good advertising can take U.S. public diplomacy only so far, because at issue is not a product, but a “human experience,” a “great story.” (Indeed, the U.S. victory in the Cold War can be called “the triumph of a great story over a great theory.”)
QUESTION: How important is China to U.S. PD efforts? Did the “Digital Library” initiative involve cooperation with Spain and Latin America?
China is, and should be, a major focus of U.S. PD efforts, Billington said. (Billington noted that he was in China this past summer with a presidential cultural mission.) China and India are also featured prominently in the American Memory project. The Library also works closely and productively with both Spanish and Latin American counterparts in its “Memory” projects. Billington said that in these projects and others, the private sector has an important role to play, particularly in terms of start-up funding.
QUESTION: What is the Open World budget? What are the relative advantages and disadvantages of those programs, relative to executive branch-based USG exchanges?
The Open World annual budget is about $13,000,000 at present, Billington replied. In terms of advantages, Open World recognizes, and gives play, to the critical role of Congress in the formulation of U.S. foreign policy, often linking parliamentarians from the former Soviet states with U.S. members of Congress. (Billington also made the point that it is very important for members of Congress to travel abroad, and that they should not allow themselves to be intimidated from doing so. Sending elected U.S. officials abroad, he added, is some of the most effective public diplomacy in which the United States can engage, because U.S. elected officials have “a healthy sense of irreverence toward fake legislators” and tend to “ask abrasive questions” – in contrast to academicians or diplomats, who are often “too timid.”)
Billington observed a disconnect between two important trends: on the one hand, the obviously greater interaction and interdependency between the United States and the world; and on the other, a trend toward withdrawal from the world in some ways – e.g., less coverage in U.S. newspapers of foreign developments, decreased numbers of students in area studies programs, etc.
How to structure, and house, U.S. public diplomacy apparatus is an important questions, Billington stated. Whether the State Department is the right home for the PD function is an open question; it’s also true that “every time it is moved [e.g., from the USIA to State], it is diminished.” The British Council [quasi-independent] model might work well in the U.S. context, Billington opined. In any case, we need more involvement from, and better integration with, the private sector. What the United States does as a country is variegated; the government has a coordinating role to play, but can’t do it all. We need an institution that works, and that can endure over the long haul.
Public Diplomacy Training
The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) officials in charge of public diplomacy training, Matt Lusenhop and Dara Dozier, briefed the Commissioner on FSI PD training efforts. Thanks to the leadership of Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Karen Hughes (note: this office is referred to as “R” within State), the Department attaches much greater importance to public diplomacy training than it did before and the funding reflects that. The PD Training operation at FSI works closely with R in the development of training for PD officers. The goal of PD training is to prepare PD officers to function effectively as CAOs, IOs and PAOs and serve as an active and important member of the ambassador’s “country team.” Secretary Rice and Undersecretary Hughes have both stressed that “public diplomacy is everyone’s job,” according to Lusenhop.
PD training aims, among other things, to give IOs (information officers) the know-how to deal with the media, give effective public presentations, and also, how to find policy guidance and other resources in short order. It aims to provide CAOs (cultural affairs officers) with the knowledge and skills they need to manage exchanges programs, recruit participants, administer budgets, human resources issues, and so on. PD training also serves officers who, while not PD officers, nonetheless have significant PD components to their jobs – e.g., ambassadors, DCMs (deputy chiefs of mission) and entry-level employees going into first and second tours of duty.
The FSI PD training office constantly seeks feedback, asking itself what it can do better. It’s currently considering how it can better leverage technology for training purposes, how to work more effectively with USAID, the military and other foreign affairs players, and how to share “best practices” with other interested parties.
A member of the Association for Diplomatic Training and Studies (ADTS) stated that PD training is of the utmost importance. The question at the core of PD training, he said, was how to take the U.S. message (which he characterized as “the best message”) and re-package it in a way that resonates with foreign audiences. At issue is persuasive communication.
He singled out the 1993 report of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy (on “Public Diplomacy in the Information Age”) as especially compelling. Its last finding was most important: namely, that in the end, what matters most in public diplomacy is the person-to-person connection, what Murrow called “the last three feet.” PD training, he said, should focus above all on the question of how to make our communications with foreign publics more effective. There are outside models, such as PD-related courses taught at Georgetown University and George Washington University (among others), that could be instructive for FSI.
He also briefly explained ADTS’s role on the FSI campus, characterizing it as FSI’s “think tank.”
QUESTION: How does FSI PD seek to maximize PD training impact within the constraints of a relatively small budget?
Lusenhop said that a key initiative is regionally-based training. He pointed out that FSI has, for example, a PD training program in Mexico that is more cost-effective than bringing FSOs stationed in Mexico or elsewhere in Latin America to the Washington, D.C., area. This particular program trains officers to be able to employ Spanish in media appearances.
FSI PD training deputy director Dara Dozier added that FSI is beefing up its distance learning capacity, another way of leveraging training dollars; nine distance learning courses (for both Foreign Service officers and Foreign Service nationals employed by the U.S. government in host countries) are being developed, and will be rolled out about a year from now in a phased process (with three coming online by 2008).
QUESTION: What is the size of the PD training budget?
The budget is approximately $1.4 million, according to Dozier; Dozier said this figure is an estimate, however, because the training monies come from a number of different places within the Department (e.g., R, the office of the Undersecretary of State for Management, etc.). This represents a significant uptick from even two years ago, when the overall PD training budget was closer to $1 million, Dozier added.
In a departure from past practice, two to three hours of PD training is now mandatory for outgoing ambassadors; this supports the exhortations on the part of the Department’s leadership for all ambassadors (and Foreign Service personnel more generally) to “get out” into the foreign media much more often than was typically the case in years past.
QUESTION: Was the regional training program in Mexico designed for senior or junior officers?
Lusenhop indicated that the program is designed principally for senior officers from constituent posts (e.g., the consulates-general); resources permitting, the training can sometimes accommodate entry-level officers, as well.
QUESTION: Was two or three hours of PD training at the end of a longer training program (usually, the last day of the week) sufficient for outgoing ambassadors? How does FSI ensure that non-career ambassadors get this training?
Lusenhop acknowledged that there have been complaints about scheduling the PD training at the end of the week, by which time, some ambassadors have to cut short their training owing to the press of business. FSI is exploring the feasibility of moving the training to a better slot in the schedule, and in fact, has already started doing this in the ambassador and DCM courses, according to Dozier. Recently, Amb. Richard Boucher, a former Department Spokesman, led the PD session for the ambassador course, a sign of the importance attached to this component of the training.
QUESTION: Where are the training courses convened? Would the hassle of getting over to FSI from Main State discourage senior-level participants from taking part in these programs?
Lusenhop explained that the training is held at FSI, and that, for example, Amb. Boucher is making the trip to FSI to deliver his presentation to the ambassador course.
QUESTION: Since the U.S. image is relatively tarnished today in comparison with a decade or two ago, is there discussion about this in FSI PD training courses?
PD training for outgoing officers includes segments on anti-Americanism, e.g., what are its sources, how do we counter it, and so on. This is an important aspect of PD training at FSI. Dozier added that FSI also incorporates real-world research and polling data on anti-Americanism (and other issues) into its PD training courses, and focuses on strategies for building on shared values.
QUESTION: Are outgoing PD officers taught about/trained in the research resources that are available at State?
Lusenhop replied affirmatively, stating that the Bureau of Intelligence and Research Office of Research (the State Department’s polling office) provides “great support” to FSI and, also, addresses the IO classes.
QUESTION: What has changed in PD training in recent years? How is PD training today different than it was ten years ago?
FSI PD course coordinator Marcia Bosshardt, who was sitting in the general audience, explained that PD training has changed a lot over the past decade. Indeed, the PD discipline itself has changed to a much greater degree than other areas of Department work, e.g., the consular function. Concomitantly, today’s PD training boasts new concepts, courses, and resources, relative to the situation ten years ago. For example, some are now looking at text messaging as a means of getting a PD message out to target audiences, something that wasn’t on the Department’s radar even a few short years ago. FSI brings critics of U.S. policy into class by way of training the participants in how to respond effectively to such criticism.
QUESTION: Since the Commission places a premium on the adaptation of technology and methodology to evolving PD environments and challenges, are there resource needs, in terms of PD training, that are currently unmet? What would you do with a bigger budget?
Lusenhop said that with more resources, FSI would try to bring more training out to officers in the field, as many officers have difficulty getting back to the United States for two-weeks of training, owing to the press of business at post. With more money, FSI could do more to bring the training to the people (e.g., via training programs held in regional hubs), which would likely result in an uptick in the number of people taking the courses. FSI would also do more in the area of training in the use of foreign languages, e.g., mock TV appearances using Arabic, Chinese, Spanish, etc. At present, officers use English in most of these exercises.
A Panel Discussion on Public Diplomacy Personnel Issues
For approximately 90 minutes, the Commission heard from a panel of senior Foreign Service officers on the topics of the function/role of the PD area offices; the function/role of the PAO in the post-USIA era; and the future of the PD career track (or cone). The following individuals participated in this segment of the Open Meeting:
Welch led off the panel with some general observations about the PD area offices (the offices of public diplomacy housed within the geographic bureaus of the State Department). She stated that since the consolidation of USIA into the State Department in 1999, PD has been integral to State’s work. That said, there’s always room for further progress. The Department’s PD leadership is aware of the many reports that have been published, including those by the Commission, on public diplomacy; indeed, State has adopted many of the recommendations made by these reports. Public diplomacy is now integral to the policy-making process at State, according to Welch.
QUESTION: Is the integration of public diplomacy into State Department policy-making more personality based, or structurally instituted?
Welch replied that the integration is now structural (e.g., through the introduction of PD offices into the regional bureaus).
QUESTION: Why has public opinion toward the United States deteriorated so much in recent years? (The questioner observed that the problem isn’t necessarily that foreign publics don’t understand us. Even leaving our current policies aside, the questioner argued, one big problem is that we too often are maladroit in expressing ourselves, as a nation and government, in ways that resonate with people overseas; too often, our soundbites and catchwords cause offense.)
Welch responded by noting that, like politics, all diplomacy is local; it revolves around the question, “What is the United States doing in my part of the world?” Sullivan agreed, citing a recent poll that indicates very high favorable ratings of the United States on the part of the Afghan public. The key PD challenge in Afghanistan, he added, is to counter the perception that “the United States is going to get out before the job is done.”
QUESTION: How are PD strategies designed, particularly at post?
Welch stated that the PAO (Public Affair Officer) is a key member of the country team; in that capacity, he or she is able to bring PD considerations into policy discussions at post. Dance agreed, adding that, in the past, the PAO was always this influential, whereas nowadays, the PAO is a much stronger presence in these types of discussions. Sullivan pointed out that since the merger of USIA into the State Department in 1999, there is much more cross-pollonization today, e.g., between PD and Political (and other cones) than there was before, resulting in a greater awareness of the PD aspect of issues than was generally the case in the past. In response, Aguirre noted that, in her experience, the PAO is not always as fully integrated into the country team as the panelists are describing. O’Keefe indicated that the “personalities” of the players can have an impact on this issue.
QUESTION: Are there lingering problems associated with the amalgamation of the two distinct agencies, with their different bosses, budgets, bureaucracies, and corporate cultures?
Dance replied that, in fact, since 1999, PD officers are better represented in the ranks of Department leadership than ever before. Pachios requested data on the number of PD officers in senior management positions at State; Welch said she would provide it.
QUESTION: What is the bureaucratic relationship between the area PD offices and the office of the Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (“R”)? How cumbersome is the current arrangement? Is the current structure the most efficient way to organize the PD bureaucracy in Washington?
High responded by saying the current structure is “a bit anomalous, but it seems to work reasonably well.” In the regional bureaus, he said, PD is “pretty thoroughly integrated”; at the same time, the PD offices are also “very closely tied to R.” One result of the current bureaucratic arrangement is “more meetings,” he added – a “drawback” noted by other panelists, as well. In response to a follow-up question as to whether there is a direct line of communication between the R staff than that of the Undersecretary for Political Affairs (“P”), High replied in the negative, but said that there are such lines between R and the regional offices. In terms of the funding structure, Welch pointed out that there is. PD has an earmark in the State Department’s budget. Barnes agreed that the “firewalling” of the PD budget is an important and good thing.
QUESTION: How does the bureaucracy handle message development, particularly in cases in which there might be tension between the policy and public diplomacy imperatives?
Dance said this is not an issue, as PD offices, being well integrated into the regional bureaus, produce a “consolidated message.” Welch added that the R weekly meeting with the PD area office directors helps to ensure the uniformity of message across geographic bureaus. Another feature of the current system that helps in this regard is the fact that in every regional front office there is a deputy assistant secretary (DAS) with responsibility for PD; these DASes also meet with R regularly. Another useful meeting is the one the PD office directors hold on Wednesday afternoons, said O’Keefe.
QUESTION: Is part of the reason for negative views toward the United States in the structure of our PD offices? (The questioner added that, in his view, the key drivers of high U.S. negatives are U.S. policy, and the words we use to articulate and explain that policy). Echoing a point made earlier by Billington, a participant stated that a basic message of “We’re good and you’re not” is seared into the minds of many foreign publics. How can we overcome this, given the fact that we can’t, or won’t, quickly withdraw from Iraq or abandon Israel? With respect to the latter point, is PD really “there at the take-off?” The participant cited one report on PD in which a State DAS was quoted as saying of PD officers, “I pay no attention to them.”
High responded by pointing to the case of Burma, which has recently figured prominently in the news. According to High, policy discussions of Burma have brought in PD considerations to a greater degree than would have been the case some years ago; indeed, the key briefing paper on Burma prepared by the Mainland Southeast Asia desk had a PD component to it, something “it wouldn’t have occurred to the desk to do” before.
QUESTION: How is it that the United States is the world leader in sophisticated political campaign messaging, while seemingly unable to make a dent in the negative views toward the United States across much of the globe? Our information officers should be looking at themselves as the equivalents of political press secretaries. In fact, that’s what every PAO should be doing – using their understanding of the local culture to translate American policy into terms palatable to the local public.
Douglas replied that, in fact, PAOs and their teams are doing this kind of thing, using different methods for different issues and circumstances. He cited Joshua Murvachik’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia as a U.S. Speaker and a photographic exhibition in the same country as examples of the array of program tools that are available to PAOs and their staffs.
QUESTION: What ought the Department to be doing more of?
O’Keefe highlighted the effectiveness of youth exchanges, a point echoed by other panelists. Like Billington, she also cited the need to continue to deepen the involvement of alumni in post programming.
QUESTION: If you were the ambassador, how would you build the country team – and specifically, the PD function in the country team – from the ground up? Might any of the panelists do away with the PAO? To put the matter another way, eight years after the 1999 consolidation, has anything really changed on the ground? Aren’t we using the same structure all these years later that we were using back then, when USIA/USIS was a separate agency (including at post)?
High responded that, in this hypothetical scenario, he’d construct the country team largely as it is currently structured, e.g., with a “PD counselor” (PAO), and chiefs of Political, Economic and all the other sections. He stated that he would not separate the IO and CAO functions, but instead, would keep the two functions joined under the PAO. Most of the other panelists generally echoed this sentiment. Several of the panelists added, however, that the PAO’s role is primarily managerial, rather than representational, in nature; as Dance said, “The PAO is not necessarily the outreach person.” Welch made the point that while there is now an expectation on the part of senior Department leadership that “everyone does PD,” what is really meant is that everyone ought to be engaged in “outreach” (as distinct from PD, per se); that notwithstanding, there is still a need for PD officers, that is, trained practitioners of public diplomacy who are capable of conceptualizing, managing, implementing, and measuring the effectiveness of PD programming writ large. This skill- and knowledge-set is distinct from those associated with outreach. As Welch put it, “This ain’t rocket science, but it is science”; we need seasoned officers managing our PD efforts in the field.
QUESTION: In the world today, public opinion is a significant driver of domestic policies and other developments – much more so, in much of the world, than was the case during the Cold War, when totalitarian governments were entirely immune from these kinds of considerations. Today, even dictators have to weigh public opinion than they did before. Given this, it would seem that PD officers ought to have a much more central role in diplomacy than they did during that era. In this vein, the PAO is probably the most important officer under the ambassador, and ought to be considered as such; indeed, in the “embassy of the future,” the ambassador’s function might well become largely a “PAO” function. If I were the Secretary, I’d want someone like Nick Burns to be the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy – in other words, this job, not the Undersecretary for Political Affairs, would be the most important one in the Department at that level. Do we need to make changes in this regard?
Welch responded by saying that we are beginning to see that kind of change in the State Department. To take Burns as an example, before becoming the Undersecretary for Political Affairs, he was the Department spokesman – a fact that would seem to suggest that the “public” function (albeit, in this case, a public affairs function, not a public diplomacy one) constitutes at least one proven route to the top of the Department hierarchy. Welch added that EAP Assistant Secretary Hill, though himself not a PD officer, has one of the highest media profiles in the Department. Welch told the Commissioners that she sits on the “DCM Committee,” the body that vets choices for deputy chief of mission positions, and, from that perch, has observed that the range of programming, outreach and media experience that PD officers typically bring to their DCM bids serves them well. As Dance put it, the notion that PD needs to be a major consideration in these kinds of personnel decisions “is slowly coming into the culture at State.” Welch predicted that with the construction of the new State Department annex right across from the Department’s main entrance, and thus, the move of the PD operation much closer to all Main State operations, coordination will improve even more and integration will deepen further.
QUESTION: There seems to be a widespread perception that PAOs, inasmuch as they are PAOs, aren’t generally on the right track for higher-level postings. Is there a perception problem in this respect?
Barnes replied that, to a degree, “We’re victims of our own success.” Now, it’s hard to fill senior PAO jobs, in part, he said, because a number of senior level PD officers have moved on to other kinds of opportunities.
QUESTION: To the degree this isn’t happening by design, then how do we make it happen by design, rather than serendipity?
Welch replied that Undersecretary Hughes went a long way toward making this a matter of “design” by building into the promotion precepts a requirement regarding public diplomacy – something that had been lacking heretofore.
QUESTION: How possible is it to undertake out-of-cone assignments (both into and out of PD)? To what degree are there career consequences for going out of cone?
Sullivan explained that in the Foreign Service personnel system, every officer has “two bites at the apple” – that is, every officer is considered twice each cycle for promotion, once on the basis of in-cone work; the second time, in the context of a class-wide competition (across all cones). Thus, going out of cone is not the impediment to career advancement it was some years ago. Welch added that today, PD is one of the Department’s most popular cones.
QUESTION: What improvements the Department could make in the four areas (as they pertain to PD) the Commission was actively exploring at present: recruitment, training, retention, and promotion?
Recruitment: High suggested that the Department get out to more college campuses across the country and to explain what work at an embassy is all about. O’Keefe called for enhanced internship opportunities. Douglas suggested that the Department needs to get officers started on foreign languages, especially the “super-hard” ones, earlier on in their careers. In response to a follow-up question from a Commissioner, High noted that the lag between the time the prospective employee applies for the job and the time he or she is brought into the Service has narrowed somewhat in recent years.
Training: The panelists agreed with the earlier speakers that PD training has improved significantly in recent years, particularly in the area of media relations. Welch stated that the relationship between the Undersecretary’s office and the FSI training staff is strong. The “Diplomat-in-Residence” program, which places senior diplomats on ten major college campuses across the country, is sparking considerable interest in the Foreign Service.
Retention: The panelists agreed that the most problematic issues are spousal employment and family hardships. Most agreed that more can and should be done vis-à-vis the former and that the latter is fairly intractable, and, in any case, is not specific to PD.
Promotion: Barnes raised a concern as to whether the Foreign Service sufficiently rewards service in cultural affairs. Welch acknowledged that promotions seem to be slower in coming for those who have served mostly or exclusively in cultural affairs. Dance agreed, observing that PD officers who serve mostly in one or the other of the PD sub-tracks tend to be “less competitive” than officers who have demonstrated success in both sub-tracks. Most panelists agreed that the problem is essentially structural; it is more difficult for CAOs and ACAOs to stand out relative to peers of the same rank working in other embassy sections. The CAO sub-track did not appear to be a fast-track to the top ranks of the Foreign Service, they agreed.
Security and Public Diplomacy
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security Patrick Donovan briefed the Commissioners on the issue of mission security and its impact on the conduct of public diplomacy, particularly in high-threat and war-zone posts. He said that at some 85-90% of overseas U.S. missions, security measures do not impede the ability of FS personnel to get out and conduct their business. In war zones (such as Iraq and Afghanistan), however, embassy and consulate personnel face “significant limitations.” Intensive security measures, such as having to have armed escorts and armored vehicles, “does cause problems in terms of getting the [PD] message out,” Donovan stated. The Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) is cognizant of these problems and is “doing the best it can” to secure the missions and people it is charged to protect with the least disruption to the ability of mission personnel to do their jobs. The Secure Embassies Act of 1998 requires that all elements of the U.S. mission under chief of mission authority, with the exception of the Peace Corps, be housed in one building.
QUESTION: We appreciate the work DS does, and the sacrifices it has made, to secure U.S. missions and personnel. The perennial challenge for DS, and other Department managers, is to find the right balance between the need to protect and the need for mission personnel to be accessible to their interlocutors and the general public. Should the evident trend away from city centers and toward distant suburbs, which are less accessible to the general public, be of some concern?
Donovan replied, acknowledging that, in some instances, U.S. embassies have moved out to the periphery of the capitals, but added, “If we build it, they will come.” DS will continue to do its best to combine security and function.
QUESTION: What is the impact of security considerations on library access?
Donovan said that in instances in which a library facility is co-located with the Mission (as is now the standard), library patrons must be screened before entering the facility.
QUESTION: It is very difficult to get to the U.S. mission library in Turkey, partly because it’s inconvenient to the public transportation routes, and partly because the security at the facility is intimidating and difficult to navigate. A Commissioner echoed this concern.
Donovan said that DS has had discussions of this issue with Gretchen Welch, and shares the view that “you have to have a degree of openness.” That said, constraints, e.g., on available real estate, can hinder efforts to maximize openness and accessibility. It’s very difficult overseas to find land that meets all of the various (and competing) USG needs.
A Commissioner observed that security measures, while sometimes troublesome or inconvenient, are nevertheless a necessity, whose benefits outweigh the costs in most instances. Getting the right balance is very important; toward this end, periodic reviews of the impact of security on the conduct of public diplomacy are worthwhile.
Foreign Contact Reporting Requirements and Public Diplomacy
The meeting’s concluding session focused on the impact of the Department of States foreign contact reporting requirements on the conduct of public diplomacy. John Naland and Sharon Papp, the president and general counsel, respectively, of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), briefed the Commissioners on the impact of the Department’s foreign contact reporting rules on the conduct of public diplomacy.
Naland led by stated that AFSA does not question the need for this rule-set, but, as with the case of physical security, there needs to be an appropriate balance between the reporting requirements, on the one hand, and the need to interact intensively with foreign interlocutors, on the other. Foreign Service personnel need “up-to-date, clear, comprehensive, reasonable” rules, he said. The problem with the current rules – particularly in terms of their impact on the conduct of public diplomacy – is that the rules are “outdated, contradictory, an unclear, to put it charitably.” DS is presently working to overhaul the rules, and AFSA is involved in this process, but DS has claimed to be working actively on this issue since at least 2005, if not earlier, and yet to date, there is nothing to show for it. Until the new rules are finalized and disseminated, FS personnel, including PD officers, will continue to be unclear as to what kinds of contacts are okay and what kinds of contacts are off-limits, creating a “chilling effect” on the conduct of official business, including public diplomacy. As he put it, “Obviously, the rules [currently on the books] hinder the conduct of public diplomacy, because Foreign Service personnel can easily run afoul of regulations that they don’t understand, and possibly end up curtailed from post because of it – naturally, that’s going to have an impact on how people view contact with foreign interlocutors.” Papp added that consequences for supposed “violations” of these rules can be harsh; in many cases, employees can lose their security clearances, and even careers, over violations, real or imagine, of these rules.
Naland reviewed some of the specific problems with the rule-set, including the fact that, for example, there are two sets of rules (one of which dates back to 1998), there are numerous internal contradictions within the rules, there are no published rules in the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM), the Department’s only authoritative rulebook, that govern the highest and most sensitive clearances, and the list goes on.
Of all the problems, perhaps one of the most serious, according to Naland, is that a key section of the contact reporting rules was last drafted or revised in 1998; these rules were drafted with the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact in mind, setting out guidelines for dealing with citizens of “Communist-governed/allied countries,” but the countries the rule-set was seeking to address are almost all defunct. Only five Communist countries remain today, but the rule-set has nonetheless remained unchanged in nearly twenty years. What’s more, Naland continued, the rules currently on the books do not even regulate contacts with citizens from adversarial countries such as Burma and Iran, or even individuals – including known terrorists – from Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Hamas and Hezbollah. A Foreign Service officer, under these rules currently on the books, would not have to report a contact with Osama bin Laden.
Imprecise language and the absence of key definitions also contribute the chilling effect these rules have on contact with foreign interlocutors. For example, there are six different terms referring to countries of special interest in the foreign contact reporting program, but no one knows for sure if these terms refer to the same grouping of countries. Again, he emphasized, this lack of clarity has real implications for the conduct of any work that necessitates contact with foreign citizens; officers may not know whether a contact with a certain foreign citizen will win them an award or get them fired – and obviously, that’s bad for the conduct of public diplomacy. Inconsistency on the part of, and lack of oversight over, DS exacerbate the problem considerably, according to Naland.
In short, Naland said, these outdated and unclear rules can endanger national security; they need to be changed.
QUESTION: What do officers who are forced into limbo as a result of going afoul of this rule-set do on a day-to-day basis if they don’t have a clearance and can’t work in the normal, full sense of the term?
Papp indicated that most people in this situation are given “do-nothing” jobs well below their rank or skill level. This results in a waste of government resources. Snyder followed up by asking if employees in these circumstances remained on the payroll. Papp stated that they are, but pointed out that their careers generally suffer serious consequences, including low-ranking in the promotion panels and, in some cases, ultimately selection out (termination). Donovan acknowledged that violations of these rules “can have career ramifications,” but clarified that the Bureau of Human Resources, not DS, is responsible for firing employees.
QUESTION: What is DS doing about the problems described by AFSA.
Donovan replied by stating that he took issue with much of what Naland and Papp said. He characterized the problem as being of a very small scale, e.g., involving perhaps “dozens” of people at the most.
QUESTION: Do the rules in fact adversely/unfairly affect FS personnel, particularly in their ability to deal with foreign contacts (and thus, engage in public diplomacy)?
Donovan acknowledged that the rules do have an impact on contact with foreigners, saying, “Are there ramifications? Yes.” That said, having a security clearance is not a right, but a privilege, he added.
QUESTION: Please elaborate on what was referred to as the ambiguity of the rules.
Papp reiterated many of the points made earlier by Naland, adding that many people run afoul of the regulations inadvertently because they simply don’t understand them. The rules are very unclear, in some cases self-contradictory, and not well understood, even by DS (which administers them).
The Chairman of the Commission thanked all the participants once again and adjourned the meeting at 1:00 p.m.
Released on June 3, 2008