When you’re my age, twenty years pass in the blink of an eye.
On an autumn day in 1999, I was standing by a bank of elevators watching office furniture exiting the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) building in Southwest Washington, enroute to its new location in the State Department. I was deputy director of USIA’s Western Hemisphere office at the time. Outside the large window behind me, a commemoration ceremony was underway to mark the end of a government agency that had spearheaded the Cold War and led our public diplomacy for 46 years. I had no time to look back.
A panel of other eyewitnesses reflected on that reorganization at First Monday Forum on October 7 – a bright autumn day like the one I remember twenty years ago. First Monday Forums are a joint project of PDC, the USC Center on Communication Leadership and Policy, and PDAA – the Public Diplomacy Association of America.
See the full panel proceedings on YouTube to watch Ambassadors Cynthia Efird, Kenton Keith and Jean Manes, and U.S. Agency for Global Media Senior Advisor Shawn Powers review the politics, the inter-agency negotiations, and the aftermath of a work still in progress. Powers focused on the progress of the broadcasting agencies that were spun off in the merger. Ambassador Cynthia Efird moderated and shared her own recollections and views on where public diplomacy went after 1999..
The anniversary coincides with a mini-reorganization at the State Department to combine a legacy bureau of the USIA with State’s Public Affairs Bureau. The State Department’s PD apparatus now consists of three major units: the bureaus of Educational and Cultural Affairs and Global Public Affairs, and the Global Engagement Center.
This is prompting a number of discussions in Washington, some public and others not. Our sister organization the PDAA will host Nicole Chulick, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Global Public Affairs, and Jennifer Hall Godfrey, Chief of Staff for the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, to speak to members of PDAA and PDC on Monday Nov. 18.
The U.S. public diplomacy effort is not losing resources in this process. It is a shuffle of people and offices to align them better under two major work streams: policy advocacy through media relations and messaging; and dialogue about the U.S. through educational and cultural exchanges and programs such as speakers and cultural centers. (Broadcasting, now called “Global Media,” is not affected.)
The bureau merger has received input from all directions, including Capitol Hill and the employees involved, but some asking whether public diplomacy field operations at the missions overseas may suffer and whether the separation of public affairs from public diplomacy is disappearing. That bright line, written in legislation, distinguishes the U.S. structure from those of other nations.
State’s PD leaders are making a strong effort to engage with interested parties, and we can count on this discussion to continue past the twentieth anniversary of the original merger.
Joe B. Johnson consults on government communication and technology after a career in the United States Foreign Service. He is an instructor for the National Foreign Affairs Training Center, where he teaches strategic planning for public diplomacy. Read More