These days “accountable” is rarely an adjective used to describe the state of American diplomacy. With government waste running rampant, it’s easy to forget that there is congressional oversight intended to hold U.S. agencies accountable for their spending.
Today, the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy, a bi-partisan board, created by Congress whose members are appointed by the President, met to discuss the State Department’s performance on outreach and engagement with foreign publics. The Commission, who has been critical of U.S. public diplomacy’s performance in the past, devoted this morning’s meeting to discussing the State Department’s capacity to evaluate whether it was having an effective impact on international audiences.
Walter Douglas, representative from the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs office and Cherreka Montgomery from the Office of Policy, Planning and Resources for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (R/PPR) outlined the numerous areas of performance measurements that the State Department has undertaken. While the initial process for assessing U.S. public diplomacy’s capacity were established in 2005 under the Bush Administration, the push for gathering data has become more compelling as the emphasis on new media has transformed public diplomacy efforts. As a representative from the Bureau of International Information Programs (IPP) explained, the State Department has 6.8 billion audience members, and it is IPP’s job to evaluate the reach, engagement, and credibility of its electronic output. This is no simple task.
As the Administration has stated, foreign engagement is a major policy priority, and it is necessary that the State Department’s initiatives be as effective as possible. As a result, reliable quantifiable data is needed to ensure that the USG’s initiatives are working. While these measurements are a contributing factor to U.S. public diplomacy’s effectiveness, they do not guarantee policy success. At State, the wheels move very slowly. It took over a year for Under Secretary Judith McHale’s lackluster Strategic Framework to be written. Real change will likely take considerably longer.