The article in Foreign Policy, “State Department Considering Public Diplomacy Overhaul”, neglected to mention one critical facet of the State Department, both the bureaus that have been directed to possibly merge are within the office of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.
Furthermore, the position of Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs has been vacant for some time, with Heather Nauert as acting.
The article does, however, mention that State is struggling to develop and implement a concept to counter foreign disinformation and propaganda. Congress has approved the funding but approval for the release of those funds now falls somewhere within the Department of State. Without a concept, however, without a plan, without a strategy, those funds will probably lie fallow, even if released.
The situation is made worse, however, with the absence of a Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications within the National Security Council at the White House.
Worse, still, are the petty politics within the Strategic Communications and Public Diplomacy circles over the mission passed to the Department of State following the dissolution of USIA/USIS. Continuing to beat that dead horse, without a ‘national information strategy for strategic communications and public diplomacy’, all talk of recreating such an entity, all talk of beefing up the Global Engagement Center, all talk of actually countering foreign disinformation, are foolish without such a strategy.
Various talking heads and experts have waded into ankle-deep waters and given their opinion on one minor facet of this conversation. They have not, however, bothered to address the need for an overarching strategy to guide all actions of the US government in this regards. Those waters are deep, one can easily drown if foolishly creating a ‘hole in the water’ and not developing an overarching concept as a shell within which the whole boat may float.
Beware the pundits and pontificators.
State Department Considering Public Diplomacy Overhaul
The revamp comes as officials debate how to counter Russian and Chinese influence campaigns.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is weighing measures to overhaul the U.S. State Department’s public diplomacy arm amid a wider debate in Washington on how to respond to Russian and Chinese social media and disinformation campaigns.
This summer, Pompeo directed the Bureau of Public Affairs and the Bureau of International Information Programs to explore a possible merger, a State Department spokesman confirmed to Foreign Policy.
The plan drawn up entails merging the two bureaus under the new name Bureau of Outreach. Some of the international information programs bureau’s responsibilities would also shift to the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
The new bureau would likely be headed by Michelle Giuda, the current assistant secretary of state for public affairs, officials said, though the State Department spokesman did not confirm this.
According to three officials familiar with internal deliberations, the final decision on enacting the plan now rests with Pompeo.
The spokesman emphasized the plan was not finalized and there would be no reduction in staffing if the merger went forward. He said the decision is unrelated to former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s efforts to “redesign” the department last year—an unpopular effort that dissolved after President Donald Trump fired him in March.
“It would certainly not be a dismantling of anything. To the contrary, it would be a strengthening,” the spokesman said.
The potential move is welcomed by some officials and experts, who complain the current structure is outdated and sorely in need of reform. It coincides with a broader debate underway in Washington over how to effectively wield public diplomacy as a national security tool.
The debate was fueled by Russia’s role in influencing the 2016 U.S. presidential elections through targeted leaks and disinformation campaigns designed to boost support for Trump. But it takes in other issues as well, including how the government regulates and utilizes social media giants.
“Government bureaucracy is not on the front lines of adaptation to new technology,” said Sarah Heck, a former director for global engagement in the National Security Council. “In terms of foreign governments and actors who engage in disinformation, they’re not constrained by these sorts of legal rules and bureaucracy,” she said.