More Bad Signs for Public Diplomacy at State

by Steven R. Corman

In an earlier post I commented on what seemed to be a rather unambitious Public Diplomacy agenda outlined by Secretary Hillary Clinton in her confirmation hearings.  At the time I noted that the new administration was just getting started and there was no point getting alarmed.  Since then there have been other worrying signs that Public Diplomacy might not get very high priority under new leadership at the State Department.

As Matt pointed out yesterday, after a name was floated about a week ago for potential Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy, nothing further has been heard on this issue.   Press reports described the candidate, Judith McHale, as a “longtime friend” of Clinton “and Democratic mega-donor.”  Add to this the arguments of some observers that she lacks relevant experience, and perhaps an appearance of patronage has taken some air out of her trial balloon.  In any case, nobody is talking, giving the appearance of a lack of urgency when it comes to filling this all-important position.

Meanwhile in another signal of potential low status for the PD function, Carolyn O’Hara at Foreign Policy reported last week that the PD offices may be getting moved off of the 6th floor.  Uh oh.  Unfilled positions are one thing, but an office downgrade–now that’s serious.  O’Hara concurs.  “Hardly a good message to send about the importance of public diplomacy under a new administration.”

Is this too much hand-wringing about a triviality?  Ask management guru Jeffrey Pfeffer, who wrote in his book Managing with Power:

Central physical locations provide power because of proximity.  Out-of-the-way locations both leave people out of the flow of events and symbolize how peripheral their work is considered by the organization.

In the same book he quotes none other than Henry Kissinger on the power of propinquity in the inner workings of government.

All of this is not lost on a “government employee with good contacts” quoted in O’Hara’s article:

Most comments I’ve heard thus far about reaction in the building aren’t quite suitable for print. But I think it can be summed up with a supremely cynical “oh, so THAT’s how they’re going to treat us.”

I continue to hope that these signs are misleading and that we can expect a robust effort to renew PD in the new State Department.  But I must admit, my optimism is getting harder to maintain by the day.

3 Responses to “More Bad Signs for Public Diplomacy at State”

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  1. msliberti says:

    After the joyous and tearful huzzahs at the welcoming ceremony for the new administration’s entourage at State, what did the PD people think was going to happen? The new Secretary’s husband together with the new VP with some help from the Clinton Secretary of State & the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Cm’te were responsible for transferring PD/USIA functions to the State Department and in one fell swoop destroying PD functions and international broadcasting (continued by the succeeding administration). So why is everyone now wailing?

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  1. [...] all we have to do is get someone at State for them to coordinate [...]

  2. [...] are going to change and that PD is going to get the priority it deserves.  Unfortunately, all the signs are pointing in the opposite direction.  So even putting the programmatic and organizational [...]