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CHAPTER I - Summary Recommendations

Summary Recommendations

  • Support passage of H.R. 4490, the United States International Communications Reform Act of 2014
  • Provide financial and technical support for American-designed open communications platforms
  • Use public-private partnerships to ensure privacy of communications and accessibility to communications links in denied areas
  • Reform the U.S. Department of State R Bureau
  • Centralize the research and evaluation section at U.S. Department of State
  • Create regional teams to message in the field and mobilize third-party validators
  • Create an operations center at U.S. Department of State for counter-messaging
  • Increase funding for U.S. Department of State and BBG programs
  • Train and equip all foreign service officers in public diplomacy and new media technologies

Since the inception of the United States Information Agency (USIA), the Voice of America (VOA) and other international broadcasting and public diplomacy entities, multiple studies have proposed reforms. Yet the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), in its latest iteration, remains faced with a number of questions and problems. These include questions about the effectiveness of current means of communicating with populations abroad, the role of politics in the overall organization, the impact of union rules and the need for infusing American public diplomacy with greater capacity in the newer types of social and mobile media. Similar problems affect bureaus of the Department of State’s (DOS) Office of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. To address these issues, i.e., the need to reinvent American public diplomacy, the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program convened 24 diplomatic and technology leaders at its annual Dialogue on Diplomacy and Technology in August 2014.

In past discussions in other fora there was agreement that it was time for a positive change, but there had been no clear agreement on the strategy for that change.i The Aspen meeting of distinguished, bipartisan experts was an opportunity to frame the challenges and to propose concrete actions to meet them.

One of the first steps agreed to at this meeting was to endorse passage of H.R. 4490, the House-passed United States International Communications Reform Act of 2014, which attempts to streamline America’s international broadcasting media. Passage was not seen as a panaceaii for all the problems facing public diplomacy, but it was seen as an immediate step that could be taken in addressing some of the challenges to America’s public diplomacy.

These challenges, as former BBG Chairman Marc Nathanson observed in his opening remarks: “How can the United States reach people in turbulent territories of the globe and get our message across effectively? How do we embrace new technologies that change every six months?” Further, the group also considered related questions, including the following: is public diplomacy, including State and BBG, just a public relations machine with the U.S. government its client? Are we just mouthing propaganda as part of a larger defense strategy, and if so, should public diplomacy be an arm of the Defense Department or, as more recently suggested, the CIA? Are surrogate journalism networks advisable in a world of extensive penetration by commercial networks? Shouldn’t America listen as well as talk? There is an imperative national security need to solving these questions immediately.

i A report by the Heritage Foundation in November 2008 found these shortcomings in the State Department’s public diplomacy efforts: lack of leadership, lack of personnel, insufficient language skills, not engaged, no integrated national strategy and doctrine, and an inability to use modern communications tactics. See Tony Blankley, Helle C. Dale, and Oliver Horn, Reforming U.S. Public Diplomacy for the 21st Century, Heritage Foundation, 2008. Available online:
ii Implementation of the legislation, which separates out the various broadcasting outlets of the BBG, will require adequate oversight to prevent adding more redundancy and miscommunication in these media outlets.
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