U.S. Public Diplomacy:

Interagency Coordination Efforts Hampered by the Lack of a National Communication Strategy

GAO-05-323: Published: Apr 4, 2005. Publicly Released: Apr 4, 2005.

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Jess T. Ford
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The war on terrorism has focused attention on the important role U.S. public diplomacy plays in improving the nation's image. The United States has undertaken efforts to "win hearts and minds" by better engaging, informing, and influencing foreign audiences; however, recent polling data show that anti-Americanism is spreading and deepening around the world. GAO was asked to examine (1) to what extent U.S. public diplomacy efforts have been coordinated and (2) whether the private sector has been significantly engaged in such efforts.

The White House has launched several recent initiatives designed to promote the coordination of U.S. public diplomacy efforts, but the government does not yet have a public diplomacy communications strategy. In 2002, a Strategic Communications Policy Coordinating Committee (PCC) was created to help provide central direction to communication efforts. The committee drafted a national communication strategy, but the committee was disbanded in 2003 and no strategy was issued. In 2003, an Office of Global Communications was created to facilitate White House and interagency efforts to communicate with foreign audiences. According to a recent report by the Defense Science Board and comments by agency officials, the office has not implemented this role. Although a national communications strategy has not yet been developed, the White House established the Muslim World Outreach Policy Coordinating Committee in 2004 to coordinate public diplomacy efforts focused on Muslim audiences. The group is in the early phases of drafting strategic and tactical communications plans. In addition to White House efforts, the State Department created an Office of Policy, Planning, and Resources in 2004 to help coordinate and direct the department's wide-ranging public diplomacy operations. Further, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Department of Defense are redefining their public diplomacy roles and operations in response to the increased attention given to U.S. outreach efforts. The State Department has had some success involving the private sector in the area of international exchanges. However, other efforts to engage the private sector have met with limited success. For example, in 2003 State formed a panel of outside advisors to recommend areas where the department and the private sector could coordinate their efforts. The panel's July 2003 report suggested a number of possibilities; however, none of these suggestions was acted upon due to a lack of resources, bureaucratic resistance, and limited management commitment.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In 2003 and 2005, we recommended the Secretary of State develop a strategy to engage with the private sector in pursuit of common public diplomacy objectives to help ensure private-sector resources, talents, and ideas are effectively utilized in support of U.S. strategic communications. In 2005 we reported that State had engaged the private sector in the area of international exchange programs, but other efforts led by State's Under Secretaries for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs had not yielded significant results. Since then, a former under secretary established an Office of Private Sector Outreach for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, which has partnered with the private sector on various projects, hosted a Private Sector Summit on Public Diplomacy in January 2007, invited private-sector experts to assist U.S. government officials in marketing public diplomacy programs, and identified action steps the private sector can take to support and improve U.S. public diplomacy. However, the office has not worked with the private sector to implement those additional action steps. While State's efforts thus far have merit, their effect may be limited if not backed by the type of comprehensive strategy to engage the private sector we have recommended.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that private sector resources, talents, and ideas are effectively leveraged and utilized, the Secretary of State should develop a strategy to guide department efforts to engage the private sector in pursuit of common public diplomacy objectives.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The White House's Office of Global Communications no longer exists. In response to the GAO recommendation, the White House, working with State Department, facilitated the development of a national communications strategy, which identified the key strategic goals guiding U.S. public diplomacy efforts.

    Recommendation: To better ensure that the United States' public diplomacy efforts are adequately coordinated, the Director of the Office of Global Communications should fully implement the role defined for it by the President's executive order, including facilitating the development of a communications strategy, assessing the methods and strategies used by the U.S. government to communicate with overseas audiences, and coordinating the delivery of messages that reflect the strategic communications framework and priorities of the United States.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Global Communications


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