- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 28, 2004

American public diplomacy abroad continues to be ineffective, mainly because its messages and programs lack coordination, and many diplomats evade the public spotlight out of fear “of making errors,” a Bush administration-appointed panel said yesterday.

The U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy also said in its annual report that “redundant security measures and excessive costs” of the application process for U.S. visas have created additional public-relations problems.

The report of the seven-member panel raised questions about the abilities and skills required of American ambassadors, as well as the way they are appointed and trained before they undertake a foreign assignment.

“As the senior ranking U.S. officials, ambassadors serve as the primary messengers for policy goals in their host country,” according to the report.

“Yet, many are still uncomfortable serving as advocates in the media and in front of mass audiences. New ambassadors receive two days of media-skills training, but this training is not required and not all attend,” according to the report.

The commission was created by Congress in 1948, and presidents appoint its members.

“Ambassadors are fearful of making errors or projecting a view inconsistent with State Department policy, and caution is rewarded more frequently than boldness,” according to the report.

The Washington Times came to a similar conclusion in an eight-part series on American diplomacy that was published in the spring. The Times interviewed more than 300 diplomats at 30 embassies.

Yesterday’s report also said: “Other embassy staff members are underutilized as representatives of the United States, partially as a result of increased embassy security.”

The commission noted that the Government Accountability Office found last year that “21 percent of the 332 Foreign Service officers filling ‘language-designated’ public-diplomacy positions overseas did not meet the foreign-language speaking requirements of their positions.”

“Public diplomacy today is more important than ever before” and is “a key national security issue,” Barbara Barrett, the panel’s chairwoman, told reporters at the State Department. “Much remains to be done for America to have the position in the world that it ought.”

The report also cited “mass confusion among international audiences and the media” about U.S. visa policy.

“Numerous new databases and security checks are in place to process visa applicants. Some of these systems will soon be redundant,” it said.

The new policy requires that each applicant whose name appears on any of those lists wait for clearance from Washington before a visa can be issued. That process sometimes takes months.

“Fees for visas have increased from $20 to $45 in 1998, from $45 to $65 in 2002, and from $65 to $100 in November 2002,” according to the report. “In addition, student-visa recipients soon will be required to pay an additional $100 to enroll in the database that tracks them.”

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