State Department Winging it on Public Diplomacy Programs

State Department Winging it on Public Diplomacy Programs

According to a recent report from the Government Accountability Office, the dismal decline of America's public image is not a sufficient reason for the State Department to take public diplomacy as seriously as it deserves.

Well, to be precise, the report, titled "U.S. Public Diplomacy: Actions Needed to Improve Strategic Use and Coordination of Research" (pdf file), doesn't use exactly those words. But here's what it does say: The State Department's "commitment to the development of a defined approach to thematic communications, centered on program-specific research, has been absent." This is GAO-speak for the plain assessment that the U.S. government agency whose mission it is to promote America's foreign policy, as well as orchestrate our nation's communication strategy, doesn't do the homework required to engage effectively with the world audience. Not to put too fine a point on it, at a time of unprecedented international challenges, even as American soldiers are being blown up by roadside bombs in Iraq, and al-Qaida cells are mushrooming around the globe, our public diplomacy is not based on targeted, coordinated research.

What, then, is it based on? "In the absence of systematic processes to understand the needs or level of satisfaction of policymakers . . . agencies [like State] generally rely on ad hoc feedback mechanisms, such as conversations with individual users and irregular e-mail submissions." In short: They're winging it. Someone in the cockpit at Foggy Bottom is navigating on a hunch. Obviously, this is no way for the world's great hyperpower to engage in global communication.

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