Getting the People Part Right, Part II: The Human Resources Dimension of U.S. Public Diplomacy in 2015

June 17, 2015


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The U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy, in partnership with Meridian International Center and their Senior Fellow, Ambassador Laurence Wohlers, launched "Getting the People Part Right II: The Human Resources Dimension of U.S. Public Diplomacy in 2015" on June 17, 2015. The report examines how the U.S. Department of State can improve public diplomacy’s effectiveness by rethinking how we are recruiting and selecting public diplomats, improving their training and advancement, and strengthening their influence on policymaking. It builds from the 2008 ACPD report “Getting the People Part Right,” updating much of the prior data on recruitment, selection, training and advancement. Yet this 2015 report also emphasizes that the success or failure of our public diplomacy activities rests heavily on how we nurture and support personnel and create a leadership environment conducive to strategically-based public diplomacy. This is especially important as we aim to recruit and maintain new generations of PD professionals who come of age in an increasingly interconnected and wired world, and are eager to apply their knowledge and experience to connect with global youth and advance U.S. foreign policy.

The report provides key findings in five areas and makes 18 recommendations:

I. The Struggle to Define Public Diplomacy’s Mission and Priorities: A sample of more than 50 PD professionals at the State Department revealed an underlying sense of frustration that, while PD is closer to policymaking than ever before, there is no collective understanding within the Department on the mission and conduct of long-term PD and how it contributes to statecraft. There is more clarity on the public affairs function, since senior leadership is inevitably focused on short-term messaging and crises. A comprehensive and inclusive strategy-development process can mitigate the problems of blurred lines of authority for PD within the Department and the multiplicity of objectives that can weaken PD effectiveness. Holistic resource support for PD officers, most feasibly based in within the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs’ Office of Policy, Planning and Resources (R/PPR), is also vital to strengthening PD implementation capacity. This report recommends:

  1. Create a structured but dynamic process for developing and implementing public diplomacy strategies that is rigorous, comprehensive and inclusive that is overseen and facilitated by strategic planners in R/PPR;
  2. Strengthen R/PPR as the office with a holistic oversight of the entire range of supporting resources for public diplomacy.

II. Modern U.S. Public Diplomacy Staffing: There are currently nearly 1,500 PD Foreign Service Officers who represent 19.5 percent of the Foreign Service. Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs is currently the fourth largest cone in the State Department, slightly behind the consular and economic cones and slightly ahead of the management cone. Yet as many as one-third of PD-coned officers at any given moment are not in PD assignments and the vast majority of PD officers are presently at entry and mid-level grades. This report recommends:

  1. Strengthen and institutionalize R/PPR’s oversight role over PD HR questions;
  2. Develop a comprehensive approach to developing in-cone expertise at mid- and senior levels;
  3. Define the PD function’s personnel requirements;
  4. Define a career path for Civil Service Officers.

iii. Recruitment and Selection of pd professionals: Seventy-five percent of the hires for the PD cone recently were over the age of 30, which indirectly indicates some level of professional experience. Yet it is unclear how that experience was/was not relevant. The Foreign Service is framed by the generalist ethos of the Department that eschews recruitment based on specialized needs of each of the five cones. So while the Department spends roughly $60,000 on recruitment per successful applicant, it does not recruit for PD skills, and other skills specific to cones. Currently, only one mid-level officer is represented in the Board of Examiners process that selects officers. This report recommends:

  1. Identify public diplomacy-relevant skills for now and the future;
  2. Increase targeted recruitment for PD professionals;
  3. Review the Foreign Service oral exam to add questions demonstrating PD-like skills;
  4. Create a program to establish cultural, educational, or artistic Fellows in Residence;
  5. Develop incentives and encouragement for PD officials to serve on the Board of Examiners (BEX) earlier in their careers.

iv. Training and Education of pd professionals: The generalist nature of the hiring process places a considerable responsibility on the training and mentoring capacities of the State Department to prepare new entrants to function effectively. The Department, however, is not structured or resourced to ensure a significant level of training and professional education opportunities for public diplomacy assignments. The two to three weeks mandatory courses do not represent a full professional training program. FSI’s Public Diplomacy Division readily admits that it has neither the resources nor the mandate to provide more comprehensive training. Civil Service Officers working in PD also have very little opportunity to receive training at FSI. This report recommends:

  1. Establish a meaningful standard for professional competency in public diplomacy positions;
  2. Develop an ambitious set of goals for ensuring that all PD officers are fully acquainted with the latest thinking in the fields of marketing, cross-cultural communications, strategic planning and research;
  3. Design a more robust practicum for entry-level officers;
  4. Develop a module on public diplomacy for non-PD courses and seminars, especially for training for consular, economic, political and management officers, in addition to Deputy Chiefs of Missions and Chiefs of Missions;
  5. Set aside funding for Civil Service officer training;
  6. Encourage more mentoring.

v. Public Diplomacy FSOs’ Advancement into leadership positions: Despite representing approximately one-fifth of the Foreign Service and 17 percent of the Senior Foreign Service, there are no PD-coned officers who hold the rank of Career Minister or Career Ambassador. In the last seven years, no PD-coned officer has been promoted to Career Minister or above, while 22 Political-coned officers have been. Only 4 percent of FSOs serving as Ambassadors are PD-coned, an increase from 3 percent in 2008. A positive sign for the future, however, is that 13 percent of recently selected Deputy Chiefs of Mission were PD-coned. PD is also the only cone that has no officers currently serving at the Assistant Secretary level; those positions in the ECA, PA and IIP bureaus currently are held by political appointees. The Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs has never been filled by a career FSO. While many entry- and mid-level PD officers promotions have been rapid, HR is predicting that officers of all cones will be confronted by a period in which assignments and promotions will be much more competitive and promotions slower. This report recommends:

  1. Use the advancement slow down to increase training and build the professional knowledge foundation for PD.