- - Wednesday, January 11, 2017


Donald Trump and prospective Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have their work cut out for them. Forget the diplomatic challenges from Russia, China, Europe, ISIS and others. Look beyond the confirmation hearings. Look internally — at the State Department itself. The Trump administration will have to both inspire and remake the department, helping it respond to evolving challenges, anticipate new ones and assure accountability.

With fullest respect for State’s Foreign Service Officers and civil servants, the bureaucracy is not yet organized and aligned to address many emerging diplomatic and geopolitical threats. Accountability, particularly of contractors, remains a recurring challenge. Once confirmed, how might a new secretary reconfigure the vital but unwieldy federal department? Here are five priorities:

• Public diplomacy: We need to get public diplomacy right. Recently we have spun our wheels. Lessons from postwar and peacetime periods, World War II through the Cold War, Bill Donovan and Bill Casey through John Kennedy, John Foster Dulles, Ronald Reagan, George Schultz and Colin Powell offer guidance. There is a need for fresh, creative, anticipatory, non-linear, over-the-horizon communication with nations of the world. We must go to them, helping them to understand America’s real heart, identity, ideals, priorities, sacrifices and vision for a stable, democratic, prosperous world. We need to create buy-in.

• Intelligence and security: We must pivot away from recycled intelligence and being casual with security. We must elevate both, reprioritizing internal security, cybersecurity and counter-intelligence. We need to leverage cutting-edge intelligence sources, insights and analytics. We need to use open-source data, coordinate field positions, and become systematic in identifying and defending American foreign policy. Without tangential details, department personal must be given more training, in lots of areas, particularly cybersecurity, security management and counter-intelligence. Technical vulnerabilities exist, but humans also stumble. To consolidate foreign policy gains, security must be a priority.

• Geographic bureaus: These bureaus should be reviewed, reorganized where necessary, for a fast-changing world. The new team must work to systematize, codify and track all aspects of multilateral and bilateral relationships. Once priority outcomes are set, bureau leaders should be empowered — with budgets reflecting mission completion. While relational in nature, geographic bureaus, too, should grow to become outcome-focused, with analytical tools to support the handshake. Careers should grow with outcomes, not independent of them. National interest must be the State Department’s touchstone; if a program does not advance that, it should be truncated and its resources reallocated.

• Functional bureaus: State has 400 airframes, police training programs and operations beyond diplomatic security. These programs must be effective and accountable, and outcomes central. Americans deserve a scoresheet of successes and failures, a full readout on overseas programs, timelines, aims and returns on investment. The world requires America’s engagement, aviation to diplomacy, stabilization to rule of law — but outcomes must follow budgets, and both flow from leadership.

• High Accountability: Metrics must link to real consequences. Call it performance measurement or a return on investment. Call it what you like, but diplomacy is overdue for accountability to the taxpayer. Good people need good leaders; then people need to be freed to lead. If foreign policy is hard to measure, it is not impossible. Tracking actions, trends and trajectories are vital. Contractors must be wedded to timeliness, cost-effectiveness and non-slip deliverables. Failure will not be excused. To help get there, we need up-to-date departmentwide financial management standards. We need an attitude that embraces interagency coordination, integration and tight focus on “the big thing,” not just National Security Council engagement. Concern over bureau status, competitive budgets, “lead agency” designation, interdepartmental conflict and private agendas must end. Contracting must be streamlined, not open-ended, and not insider-driven. Invoices must be detailed and checked systematically. Awards must be faster, but accountability higher.

The road ahead is tough and the slope steep. But America needs a retooled, reliable and effective, focused and cooperative, innately accountable State Department. In a dangerous world, the need is urgent, compelling. The secretary of State will be hard pressed to deliver, but must quickly get hands on deck, create buy-in, shift culture and a re-establish America’s credibility and global influence. Nothing is more important. Needed is leadership, and by all accounts Rex Tillerson is the man. America should be excited for what lies straight ahead.

• Robert Charles is a former assistant secretary of State in the George W. Bush administration.

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