Last week the White House announced the President’s “intent to nominate” two individuals to the US Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy: Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Sim Farar. These are the first nominations to the Commission by this White House, but certainly not the last. The Commission has seven members, no more than four of which may be from the President’s party. The Commission is charged with monitoring and improving how American interacts with people around the world. Some call this public diplomacy, others strategic communication, and others perhaps simply engagement. The Desert Sun, a Palm Springs newspaper, described the Commission as a “bipartisan panel evaluates and makes recommendations about the federal government's efforts to understand and influence attitudes abroad.”
Ambassador Crocker is Dean and Executive Professor at the George Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University. He replaces a Republican on the Commission, and as Republican cannot be the chairman, a seat held by the majority. Mr. Farar will replace a Democrat. That leaves two more Republicans and three more Democrats to be nominated. Currently serving commissioners may be nominated.
Initially the advisory committee for radio programming in 1946, a permanent body was included in the Bloom Bill, the legislation of the 79th Congress on which the Smith-Mundt Bill, later Act, of the 80th Congress was based. In 1947, Congressman Karl Mundt (R-SD) agreed a council of “hard-headed” representatives from “information media” was necessary to work with the State Department. The advisory committee became the Advisory Commission on Information when President Truman signed the Smith-Mundt Act in January 1948. It is now known as the Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy.
The cost-effectiveness of information and other “soft” activities over “hard” is not a new observation. Mundt described information activities as the “cheapest weapons” and the chairman of General Electric, testifying before Congress in support of legislation that would eventually become the Smith-Mundt Act, said telling the truth about the US “will do more to reduce the risk of war, and thus to reduce the need for a multibillion dollar military force, than any other single factor.”
It is essential the Advisory Commission become more active and engaged on behalf of the Congress, to which the Commission is charged with submitting public reports, the White House, and the American taxpayer. This is a role that cannot be fulfilled by the Congressional Research Service, the Government Accountability Office, think tanks, or academia who, while often providing valuable insights and recommendations, are transients to the subject matter, dropping in on some request. The White House, the Congress, and the American taxpayer today as much as ever.