Friday, September 26, 2008

More on Reforming Public Diplomacy

Diplopundit comments on the testimony by Ambassador Elizabeth Bagley, the Vice Chairman of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs. This is the testimony Mountain Runner discussed earlier in the week. Diplopundit offers some more details and some interesting points.

Reliance on Soft Power: Reforming Public Diplomacy

Earlier this week, Ambassador Elizabeth Bagley, the Vice Chairman of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy gave a testimony before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs’ (Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce, and the District of Columbia) on Reliance on Soft Power: Reforming the Public Diplomacy Bureaucracy.

This is part of what she said in her opening statement: [...]“ the final analysis, people are the key to the success of our Nation’s public diplomacy. Over a one-year period, the Commission met with scores of State Department officials and outside experts on PD human resources issues and we learned a great deal in the process.

In sum […], we found that the State Department:

recruits smart people, but not necessarily the right people, for the PD career track,
tests candidates on the wrong knowledge sets,
trains its officers in the wrong skills, and
evaluates those officers mostly on the wrong tasks.

In terms of personnel structures:

State has a PD bureaucracy in Washington that hasn’t been critically examined since the 1999 merger and that may or may not be functioning optimally, its overseas public affairs officers are spending the majority of their time administering rather than communicating with foreign publics, and meaningful integration of public diplomacy into State Department decision-making and staffing remains elusive.

In short, Mr. Chairman, we’re not “getting the people part right.”


"On recruitment, very simply, the Department of State makes no special effort to recruit individuals into the public diplomacy (or “PD”) career track who would bring into the Foreign Service experience or skills specifically relevant to the work of communicating with and influencing foreign publics. No serious presidential or Congressional campaign, or private-sector company, would hire communications personnel who have no background in communications, but to a large degree, that is exactly what the United States Government is doing."

Diplopundit notes: In fairness to the State Department, the agency makes no special effort to recruit folks into the PD track or any other track based on experience or skills relevant to the work in the other four career tracks (political, economics, management, consular). I do think that State prides itself with growing its own people which has its merits. But whereas in the past we have the luxury of time to grow and teach new graduates on how the world works, in this new universe of constant change, we don’t have that luxury. Why spend two years training an Arabic speaker, if you can hire somebody who already speaks Arabic, or Chinese, or Urdu?


Bagley continues: "In terms of public diplomacy training, though there have clearly been some improvements in recent years, a number of conspicuous, and serious, blind-spots persist. For one, we make virtually no effort to train our PD officers in either the science of persuasive communication or the nuts and bolts of how to craft and run sophisticated message campaigns. The Commission believes we need to rectify this. We would like to see more substantive PD offerings at the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute, including a rigorous nine-month course analogous to the highly regarded one currently offered to economic officers."

Diplopundit comments: We have some missions where entry level officers on their first tour are sent out to perform public outreach in print/online media, tv, and radio with close to no training. Well, actually as I’ve heard it told, one boss saw it fit to work with the PD officer to give one batch of officers some training, including apparently “murder boards,” but after that outreach program received an award, the next batch of officers got zero guidance (short term goals are terribly popular in some parts of this universe) but the public outreach nonetheless continued. I can understand why an officer, even a smart one who’s never been on television would lose sleep and sweat bullets over this one. Public diplomacy is not the area where you want to throw your staff members into the water to see who sinks or floats! Good grief! If we don’t send a soldier to war without training them how to shoot, we definitely should not send any of our officers to fight the war of ideas without "weapons" training. In a war zone, bullets are fired and spent and you die, in this other war, ideas, even the unkind ones have the tendency to live on and thrive. Seriously, if our officers have to be effective warriors of ideas, we cannot afford to let them simply wing it -- no matter how smart they may be.


You can read the rest of this post here.

In a comment I wrote to Mountain Runner on this topic, I noted that even in the instances where they have people with a background conducive to Public Diplomacy work, the Department often does not take note. I am a PD-coned officer. I have a B.A. in English/Journalism, and I have worked as a reporter and copy editor for several dailies. I have been an assignments editor for an NBC-affiliate. I also have an M.A. in anthropology and will soon have a PhD in it. All of these things should make me a better PD officer. However, I have yet to do a PD tour, and when I am in the midst of bidding (as I am now), prospective supervisors don't even consider my experience pre-State Department. A three-month "bridge" assignment I did as a press officer "counts" for more than all of my education and experience. A shame when you consider just how important Public Diplomacy is in today's world and how much a partner it could be in advancing our Foreign Policy goals if used properly by the right people.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the mention and the link, Digger. The larger question that I have is how State continues to make the case that it will have the diplomats of the 21st century without reviewing how it hires and trains people.

It does not look at strengths/talents, it presumes that anybody that it accepts into the service, it can successfully train/mold into an effective officer. That won't always be true.

If we have a PD-coned officer with no talent for public communications, State could send that officer to a thousand training courses, and at the end if it all, State would still end up with a mediocre officer -- who probably won't make much crater-like mistakes, but won't be an effective spokesperson for USG policies either.

I supposed I could not blame State for all this, after all, we are a remedial society fascinated more with the things we are not good at (that needs fixing) rather than working on the talents we are good at (that needs practice).