- The Washington Times - Monday, October 23, 2000

Congress, racing to finish its business this year, deserves praise for its proposed level of funding for public diplomacy under the Commerce, Justice, and State Appropriations Bill. The House and Senate should also be commended for preserving the earmark that provides much-needed protection for public diplomacy activities.

What exactly is public diplomacy and why is it so important to protect in the appropriations process? Public diplomacy involves U.S. government activities intended to inform and influence foreign publics through international exchanges, international information programs, media research and polling, and support for nongovernmental organizations.

The Fulbright Program, for example, provides grants for graduate students, scholars, professionals and teachers to increase mutual understanding between Americans and people in other countries. According to the State Department's Bureau for Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) which oversees the bulk of the government's exchange programs, more than 230,000 participants 86,000 Americans and 144,000 from other countries have participated in the Fulbright Program since its inception more than 50 years ago, including Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winners, governors and senators, prime ministers, heads of state, scientists, artists, Supreme Court justices and CEOs.

Another program, the International Visitor Program, brings participants to the United States from all over the world each year for interaction with their professional counterparts and to experience America firsthand. More than 186 current and former heads of state, 1,500 cabinet-level ministers, and many of the world's leaders in the private sector have participated in the IV Program.

Public diplomacy is not just about exchanges. The State Department's Office of International Information Programs (IIP) designs and implements a variety of information and communications programs, including Internet and print publications, speaker programs and information resource services for foreign audiences in more than 140 countries around the world. Overseas, public diplomacy officers are the principal contacts for and liaison with foreign elites and publics-at-large.

Public diplomacy, in short, solidifies relations with America's allies, seeks to inculcate others with American values, and promotes mutual understanding between the United States and other societies. Done properly, it reduces the potential for conflict military, political and economic and dispels negative notions about the United States. Public diplomacy is an inexpensive yet highly effective way to promote American policy and interests overseas.

Funding for public diplomacy, previously done through the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) budget, now falls under the State Department's budget following the October 1999 consolidation of USIA into State. The public diplomacy portfolio accounts for less than 8 percent of State's total budget.

The latest version of the Commerce, Justice, and State Appropriations Bill being negotiated by Senate and House conferees includes funding for public diplomacy at more or less the levels requested by the administration roughly $246 million for nonexchange programs and another $225 million for exchanges. Just as important, these funding levels are ensured by hard earmarks, which the administration did not request but which Congress properly inserted.

For public diplomacy, the newest division in the State Department, an earmark is vital for the financial protection it affords against the possibility that the State Department, under financial pressure, would chip away at the public diplomacy account to fund other activities. Administration officials have complained, with considerable justification, that the State Department and foreign affairs in general have been inadequately funded over the years. Yet until State becomes more efficient, significantly more funding is unlikely to be forthcoming. State should not compensate for its overall shortfall by taking money from the public diplomacy account for non-public diplomacy activities, and the earmark ensures against this.

When USIA lost its independence last fall, many of the people who work in public diplomacy feared that, without a protective earmark, the resources needed for public diplomacy would slowly be absorbed by the much bigger, yet financially strapped, State bureaucracy. Their fear is reinforced by the contrast between public diplomacy, largely driven by the needs of posts overseas and revolving around programs such as exchanges, and the traditional State Department, an over-centralized and hierarchical institution driven by the needs of the secretary of state. State, as many people in the department acknowledge, does policy, not programs.

To be fair, the consolidation of USIA into State is barely a year old, and it will take several years for people from both organizations to fully learn about and adapt to each other. Until that time, however, Congress should support adequate and, equally important, protected funding for public diplomacy. Only after the consolidation of USIA into the State Department becomes a distant memory and public diplomacy evolves into an integral, accepted part of the department will public diplomacy no longer need special attention.

David J. Kramer is executive director of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy in Washington.

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