Minutes of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy February 2005 Official Meeting

Washington, DC
February 17, 2005

Chairman Barbara M. Barrett
Commissioner Harold C. Pachios
Commissioner Jay T. Snyder
Commissioner Maria Sophia Aguirre
Commissioner Charles Evers
Commissioner Elizabeth Bagley
Razvigor Bazala, Executive Director of the Advisory Commission

Subject: The Commission’s first official meeting of 2005.

Background: The Commission addressed public/private partnerships as a means to supplement USG academic and cultural exchanges; learned about the increased use of the Internet to widen the distribution of the Department’s information products to foreign audiences; and was briefed on the recommendations of the Defense Science Board (DSB) Task Force Report on Strategic Communication. Appearing before the Commission were Jeremy Curtin, Senior Advisor to the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs of the Department of State; Frank Ward, Deputy Coordinator of the International Information Programs Bureau of the Department of State; and Bruce Gregory of George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs who was also a member of the DSB task force.

The meeting opened with a discussion regarding the contributions public/private sector partnerships make to USG academic and cultural exchange programs. Asked for a current reaction to earlier proposals supporting such partnerships as beneficial, or at the very least advisable, Mr. Curtin responded that public/private partnerships already exist in the form of national Fulbright Exchanges Commissions and bilateral friendship societies. He contended that because USG public diplomacy programs are funded to advance U.S. foreign policy goals, the involvement of outside entities might result in defusing the impact of our intended messages thereby reducing the value of the limited budget for public diplomacy programs.

Mr. Curtin also responded to a question about the possibility of private contributions to U.S. cultural exchange activities, saying that the ability of the Department to accept donations from the private sector for this purpose is very narrowly defined. He added that the Department continues its efforts lessen the constraints but satisfactory solutions to this problem have not yet been found. Concluding his remarks, Mr. Curtin said the Department’s cultural programming has expanded with the establishment of "Culture Connect," which sends high profile artists abroad to communicate what is best in American arts and cultural performances.

Frank Ward spoke of IIP’s increased programming via the Internet to expand the global audience for public diplomacy products as the most significant development in the Bureau over the past year. The creation of "Info Central" has provided 4,000 public diplomacy professionals in all corners of the world instant access to thematic press kits via the Internet providing virtually real time updates to fast-breaking developments like tsumani relief that Embassies can share immediately with local officials and media. He characterized Info Central as "one stop shopping." It also provides a broad range of information on IIP’s publications, press backgrounders, factsheets, and transcripts of official policy statements. The web-based Info Central’s reach now extends to other agencies with public diplomacy programs both civilian and military. The interagency Fusion Team is now able to contribute inputs to its products.

Asked about the functions of the interagency Fusion Team that is coordinated by IIP’s Office of Strategic Communications, Mr. Ward said that the events of 9/11 were the impetus for its establishment. The Team consists of representatives from State, combatant commands at the Pentagon, Defense PA, CIA, NSA, AID, the Voice of America and other government broadcast services at the working level. The team has succeeded in speeding up the USG response process to tactical public diplomacy issues, such as the U.S. contribution to relief efforts in the aftermath of the December 2004 tsunami. The team’s efforts do not involve the policy making level, but its results have assisted substantively in advancing public diplomacy policy forward.

Mr. Ward then reviewed a broad range of other IIP activities related to its websites. He noted that the IIP Chinese website had been placed permanently in the websites of the Chinese government. Chinese officials have drawn upon it particularly for information about science issues, such as U.S. policy on AIDS, and even pulled down the texts of presidential statements. He also cited "HI" magazine, a journal aimed at Arab youth, as a product in which IIP takes considerable pride. In little more than a year, it has reached newsstands in 18 Arab-language countries with a print run of 47,000. While its impact as hard copy is still small, access to its web page has "skyrocketed" to 21,000 per month and the site will soon go interactive, he added. Reaction to the magazine has been positive in the area. Mr. Ward concluded by citing a recent article by a major Kuwaiti Islamist who wrote that "HI" is a positive product, an attempt at dialog and not policy promotion.

Bruce Gregory then spoke in considerable detail about the Defense Science Board (DSB) Task Force Report on Strategic Communication. Its key recommendation focused on the need for strategic direction and tasking authority rather than coordination as the basic requirement for the implementation of effective future public diplomacy policy. He said that what is needed is the capacity at the strategic level, not to get the NSC into operations, but to get the NSC into a serious relationship with DOD, State, the broadcasters, the democratizers, all of the tribal cultures of the world of public diplomacy, and do it in a way that results in senior level involvement. The report called for presidential direction on the policy and legislative fronts, a National Security Deputy for strategic communications, a committee that would put all the players together under that deputy and a kind of authority for that deputy different from that of past PCC chairs.

Reaction to the report, which the Commissioners had read, was very positive. Chairman Barrett remarked that the DSB report points to public diplomacy as a national security issue that needs to be taken more seriously. She said the task force took seriously the contribution public diplomacy can make to advancing foreign policy objectives. Commissioner Pachios added that the DSB report was the best he had seen on public diplomacy in the many years he had been on the commission. He then asked about the extent to which the report and its recommendations had been publicized. Mr. Gregory enumerated a number of briefings the task force had provided to senior government officials and Members of Congress and staff.

Commissioner Aguirre inquired about the strategic communication center recommended in the DSB report. Mr. Gregory responded that even though government agencies tap into the vast array of public diplomacy consultant talent that is already available in the private sector, there is no focal point in the private sector to draw on. The center is modeled on the RAND Corporation, a federally funded research and development organization, and would not duplicate but have the capacity to do some self-initiated studies on foreign public opinion and cultural attitudes that would supplement what is not coming out of government and would tap into those parts of American society that have real expertise in those areas.

Commissioner Aguirre said that such work can be done by grants through existing bodies and countered that there are other means by which the results sought for public policy development could be achieved without creating a separate institution. Mr. Gregory said that such a center would also have the capacity to supplement government operations, by establishing, for example, a temporary communications team in Central Asia when the State Department would not have online staff available for the function. He concluded by saying the center would be funded by an annual appropriation, which would a be steady-state appropriation for infrastructure and a small staff, and that most of the funding would be provided via task orders from DoD, State, the broadcasters and other government players who would find value in getting a short term program analysis to meet unanticipated short term needs.

Chairman Barrett then invited member of the public Tom Bridge of the Legislative Council for the National Assembly of Arts Agencies to make a statement. He said state arts agencies are already involved in international cultural exchanges and cited Nebraska, Maine and Vermont among the dozen states that conduct such programs. He added that the Assembly believes that the U.S. Government needs to be more involved with cultural exchanges and that for the past year it has included in its advocacy work bringing Congressional attention to the importance of focusing on public diplomacy. He said he hoped to have Commission support for Assembly’s objectives, which Chairman Barrett affirmed. After thanking Mr. Bridge for his remarks, the public meeting of the Commission was adjourned.