With everyone in Washington spun up in the recent defense strategy rollout and imminent cuts, BFAD wanted to take a step back to shed some light on an underreported omission in the omnibus 2012 spending bill: the US Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy (ACPD). On December 16, 2011, the State Department quietly posted the following message on the Commission’s website:
The U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy, the Government’s only body dedicated to overseeing and promoting Government activities that intend to understand, inform, and influence foreign publics, has not been reauthorized by the Congress. As a result, the Commission concluded its business on December 16, 2011, and the office has been closed.
Originally established in 1948 under the Smith-Mundt Act and reauthorized in 2007, the ACPD Charter required reauthorization by Congress after October 1, 2010. However, thanks to the continuing resolution that funded operations in FY11, the Commission was able to stay in business until now. Seven members who were nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate, served on the Commission without compensation. The ACPD’s only permanent staff was the executive director, who was assisted by a military detailee and two interns. These Commission members and the bare-bones staff conducted the important business of overseeing all US public diplomacy efforts with an operating budget of only $135,065 in FY11 according to the State Department’s website.
Following the news of the Commission’s demise, reports surfaced on the Public Diplomacy Council blog that the decision not to reauthorize was part of a deliberate Senate strategy to cut programs that were too small to be effective. Certainly there is little room for inefficiencies during times of budget austerity, but what is dramatic about the ACPD’s termination is that it comes on the heels of “countless studies, articles, and opinion pieces [that] have announced that US strategic communication and public diplomacy are in crisis and are inadequate to meet current demand.” According to a 2009 Rand report that collected and reviewed these studies, there was a clear consensus among the various recommendations calling for greater leadership and coordination across departments and agencies.
Maybe the ACPD was too understaffed and under-resourced to be effective in that role. But what if the Commission was a missed opportunity to provide much needed oversight and government-wide coordination for public diplomacy and strategic communication?