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Re-Organizing Public Diplomacy: A Different Viewpoint

Congressionally-mandated United States (US) Advisory Group on Public Diplomacy in the Arab and Muslim World was unanimous in its recommendation that the US government must have a White House-level focal point. I share the majority view that we should not try to reconstitute the US Information Agency (although the case was made). But I do not believe our report’s proposed Special Counselor to the President with a “small” secretariat staff in the White House and a citizen “expert” advisory board modeled after the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board will be sufficient to “shake up the house” and better leverage already scarce resources to meet America’s ongoing public diplomacy challenges.

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Department of Defense now dwarf the State Department in money spent promoting democracy, building civil societies, educational fellowships, exchanges and other activities critical to the public diplomacy mission to inform, constructively engage, and influence the world beyond our borders. Many others such as Commerce, Justice, Treasury, Agriculture, Export-Import Bank and the Peace Corps also participate in significant public diplomacy related programs abroad. Today, more often than not, the only real coordination of these resources is at the Embassy level in “country team” meetings where the Ambassador’s staff attempts to coordinate, post facto, the agency initiatives involving their host country.

In order to better leverage the already woefully under-funded public diplomacy activities spread among diverse agency programs and to maximize new resource synergies, I propose the establishment of an ongoing White House-based focal point—but one with substantive resources to back it up, similar in structure to the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR). Unlike the ever-changing Counselor positions, a new Office of US Public Diplomacy, Education and Exchange (USPDEE) would have Cabinet or sub-Cabinet rank AND the clout of legislation needed to maintain a top-flight cadre of professional staff over the long term. Like USTR, a USPDEE would be legislatively empowered to provide top-level interagency leadership beyond coordination without attempting to overly centralize activities and expertise now residing in diverse agencies and budgets. In order to expedite White House-level attention to this strategically critical area, I further recommend that the new Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy serve on an interim basis in both the Under Secretary and the USPDEE positions until appropriate legislation and resource allocations and re-allocations can be made.


Note: Ambassador Dougan served on the US Advisory Group on Public Diplomacy for the Arab and Muslim World, which submitted its initial findings and recommendations to Congress on October 1, 2003.

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Chair, Cyber Century Forum;
Senior Advisor, Center for Strategic and International Studies;
United States Coordinator for International Communications and and Information Policy, 1982-1988