State Department Inspector General criticizes the Africa Bureau

state_oig_af_Page_01The State Department's Inspector General released an important report on the Africa Bureau (689kb PDF), or "AF" in State's lexicon. Of particular interest is AF's resource troubles and problems with integrating and supporting public diplomacy.

As the report notes, there were significant expectations with regard to Africa policy with the election of President Obama. It is important as both the President and the Secretary of State have recently completed high profile trips to the continent.

The troubles at AF could indicate deeper problems at the State Department at a time when Congress is asking why America's public diplomacy wears combat boots. The report includes a little data on the military support to public diplomacy that may surprise Congress and shows State must do more to not only fix its organization but to solicit more funds.

The report repeatedly highlights the failure to incorporate public diplomacy into AF operations ten years after USIA was abolished. However, it never addresses the reality that AF public diplomacy has, at best, only an informal relationship with the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs office, known as "R". This is a widespread but hidden issue many, especially in Congress but also pundits on public diplomacy don't "get": the Under Secretary actually has severely limited direct authorities over not only money but staff and programs. The report fails to mention that public diplomacy taskings from "R" to AF do not go through official channels to AF's leadership but through informal channels that bypass the leadership, both in the Bureau and in field, does not always know what the public diplomacy officers are working on or their impact.

The report notes the Bureau's Public Diplomacy / Public Affairs office is in trouble:

AF/PDPA was a failed office in 2002, and, if anything, the inspection team found the situation worse in 2009. PDPA is still not integrated into AF, and time is past due for the bureau to commission a frank "after action review" to determine why integration failed so utterly, and what must be done to create a functioning, productive office of public diplomacy and public affairs. Unsurprisingly, morale is poor in an office that feels estranged, in an office whose skills are not put to their best use.

The Inspector General includes a sad anecdote on the outsider status of AF/PDPA:

If the sense of geographic isolation were not bad enough, AF/PDPA's current information technology (IT) equipment did not have enough memory to support all of the software applications commonly used by public diplomacy offices, both in the field and Washington, such as Microsoft Office 2007. On occasion, PDPA officers went to other AF offices in the bureau to find unused workstations so they could complete their work on time.

(The creation of this report spurred an accelerated computer hardware rollout.)

Overall, the report paints a depressing picture of the Bureau:

If African policy issues were not enough to overwhelm the best of leaders, internal bureau issues are almost as daunting.

  • Leadership shortcomings often compound acute staffi ng problems.
  • Embassy platforms are collapsing under the weight of new programs and staffing without corresponding resources to provide the services required by new tenants and requirements.
  • Within AF, public diplomacy integration is a failure ten years after State-USIA consolidation.
  • Policy planning focuses on near term contingencies, such as outbreaks of violence, upcoming elections, or ailing leadership. While the United States helps feed Africa, it is not focusing as it might on helping Africans feed themselves; even laudable HIV/AIDS programs spend more on medication than prevention.
  • A $2 billion peacekeeping program lacks the resources for adequate management controls.
  • The country desks are not staffed with enough officers possessing relevant overseas experience.
  • The U.S. Military is stepping into a void created by a lack of resources for traditional development and public diplomacy.

With respect to the military, the report suggests some of AFRICOM's challenges on the continent when it was stood up last year could have come from AF's dysfunction and problems with the then-leadership:

Unfortunately, the activation and role of the command was misunderstood at best, if not resented and challenged by AF. OIG inspected embassies that were bewildered at first, as AFRICOM representatives not familiar with the embassy environment tried to open shop in chanceries with little introduction from AF. AFRICOM officials themselves did not fully understand a chief of mission's responsibility to oversee U.S. Government activity in their countries of assignment. Direction from AF was slow to come owing to a lack of consensus on the design and objectives of the command, and missteps were made by visiting, can-do military missions. Nevertheless, by 2008 AFRICOM was a reality, and there is every indication that the new Assistant Secretary and the AFRICOM Commander are working cooperatively.

With regards to public diplomacy, this is the first report I've seen that highlights the general under-resourcing of public diplomacy in the field and the need for Military Information Support Teams (MIST):

AFRICOM also provided military information support teams (MIST) to engage the public. MIST teams have exponentially more money to spend in a country than do embassy public affairs offices. In Somalia, for example, the Embassy had $30,000 to spend on public diplomacy while the MIST team had $600,000. Given the urgency of combating terrorism in Somalia, money was needed and the reported successes of MIST programs elsewhere served as a recommendation. Under MIST, AFRICOM inherited an established military practice of working closely with embassy public affairs officers to develop and fund effective programs.

However, despite the doom and gloom, AF, notably AF/PDPA has had its successes, which the report does not count.

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