Understanding State's Budget Woes

Andrew Exum at CNAS blames - only somewhat tongue in cheek - the absence of federal money creating jobs in Congressional districts for the State Department's budget woes. His point, of course, is that Congress sees little direct benefit from State's activities. My friend draws additional insight from Gordon Adams and Cindy Williams and their highlight of an operational difference between State and the Defense Department:

The State Department's dominant culture -- the Foreign Service -- takes pride in [the department's] traditional role as the home of US diplomacy. Diplomats represent the United States overseas, negotiate with foreign countries, and report on events and developments. Diplomats, from this perspective, are not foreign assistance providers, program developers, or managers. As a result, State did not organize itself internally to plan, budget, manage, or implement the broader range of US global engagement ... State department culture focuses on diplomacy, not planning, program development and implementation.

This is evident across the board at State, including, but not limited to, inadequate budgeting processes and systems, rigid hierarchies, and cultural bias against outside advice.

Below is a quick list of some of the other substantive issues I've talked in various public and private forums:

Failure to engage Congress through formal channels. State's relationship with Congress that is, at best, tentative and at worse, adversarial. While State now has two offices on the Hill, one on the Senate side and the other on the House side, State's Bureau of Legislative Affairs, or "H", remains largely reactive by all accounts. The House office, to give a superficial example, is, especially compared to its hallway neighbors and erstwhile competitors - Army, Navy/Marines, Air Force, Veterans Affairs, etc - dark and uninviting. "H" must proactively engage, not just communicate with, Congress.

Failure to engage Congress through informal channels. Despite the efforts of Legislative Affairs at the Defense Department, Hill staffers frequently engage members of the Defense community (usually but not exclusively political appointees) in informal discussions. These relationships build a rapport and contribute to a shared understanding of the interests and requirements of the other. In other forums, it would be called public diplomacy (arguably, it is considering cultural and linguistic differences and visits that are very much like 'exchanges'). With regards to State, this informal engagement is nearly non-existent with detrimental results.

In other words, State fails to conduct diplomacy, private or public, with Congress.

Failure of Congress to engage State. Whereas the Defense department has come to realize the importance of Congress to its funding and authorities, the State Department apparently does not, except around budget time. Congress, for its part, fails to exercise its authority over the department to push for change. A simple example of this difference is an Armed Services Committee (ASC) can mobilize Defense through a committee report. As a ASC reports includes insightful and strong language and tasks that are responded to. On the contrary, the Committees on Foreign Affairs, in the House, and Foreign Relations, in the Senate, on the other hand, do not enjoy the same relationship, which is reflected in committee reports that do not include actionable language but at best encouragement because the oversight function is weak compared to the ASCs. Congress must begin to exercise its authority if for the only reason it will be required to reform State.

Silence from State's Congressional Committees. It's just not 'sexy' to talk about State's activities and requirements, but it should and could be considering the importance the President and the Secretaries of Defense and State (and to less visible extent of Agriculture, Commerce, and Homeland Security) have put on international engagement (which goes beyond public diplomacy and strategic communication). How many know the members of the House Foreign Affairs Committees or the Senate Foreign Relations Committees compared to the Armed Services Committees? What about the different Appropriations sub-committees that cover State and Defense (Foreign Operations and Defense, respectively)? The major, and at times seemingly only, champion for State's activities, notably but not exclusively in the area of public diplomacy, is Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN). Sen. Kaufman (D-DE) is a fast rising voice as well. On the Armed Services side, there are plenty of members who are frequently engaging the public on issues.

Lack of Inter-disciplinary knowledge in Congress. The recently created Strategic Communication and Public Diplomacy Caucus (and here) in the House of Representatives is a step forward, but it not enough. It is important to note that this caucus is chaired by two members of the House Armed Services Committee, not the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Further, there are no members in the House that are members of both the Foreign Affairs and Armed Services Committees. Coordination between these committees must be increased. In the Senate, things are bit better as there are three Senators on both the Foreign Relations Committee and the Armed Services Committee: Kaufman, Roger Wicker (R-MS), and Jim Webb (D-VA). There is no cross-pollination in the appropriations committees on either side of the Hill. Congressional stovepipes must be broken down.

Absence of Serious Outside Advisory Capacity. Whereas the Defense Department has the Defense Science Board, the State Department has the Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy. The reports by the DSB are relevant, read closely, and cited year after year (personally I have to reread them just to keep up with my own conversations on the Hill). The reports by the Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy are few - every two years to satisfy the minimum requirement established by Congress - and only once in the last decade or more relevant (and even that relevant report has largely been forgotten as the Commission failed to revisit, update, or advance it since its release two years ago). The utility of the Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy to State, the Congress, the White House, and even Defense and other departments, and to the public to provide informed and relevant insights and actionable recommendations cannot be understated. Consistent, focused, and deep analysis of the relevant issues is essential to raise the quality of the discourse, highlight the challenges and create the imperative for action. Weaved through this subset of issues is a theme of Andrew's post: State remains focused on overseas operations. However, State must pay attention to and engage Congress and stop shying away from "opening the kimono" to let Congress know what it does and doesn't do and why. If Congress is to fund (and stop defunding) State, it requires greater awareness of State's purpose, requirements, and limitations, especially those that must be overcome. State cannot continue to rely on the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and other members of the uniformed community to ask Congress for money and authorities to build capacity and capabilities to fulfill current and future requirements.

State has a role in making sure the discourse over its purpose and activities become more public, and thus a higher profile, and more informed. The President and the American people require it. Guns and bombs do not create or sustain peace.