GAO Report on Public Diplomacy Creates Opportunity for Nonprofits to Show Benefits of International Programs

The General Accountability Office released U.S. Public Diplomacy: Key Issues for Congressional Oversight on May 27, 2009. It finds weaknesses in U.S. international communications efforts and notes that the President must issue a new comprehensive communications and public diplomacy strategy by December 2009. Recommendations call for a "clear definition of the problem, desired results, and a delineation of agency roles and responsibilities." Development of a new strategy creates an opportunity for the U.S. nonprofit sector to urge greater recognition of the role of philanthropy and aid and development programs in countering violent extremism, and development of policies that encourage and facilitate that work.

The report say that despite more than $10 billion spent on communications efforts, "foreign public opinion polling data shows that negative views towards the United States persists…" However, it says public diplomacy can play a "significant role…in promoting U.S. national security objectives, such as countering ideological support for violent extremism…"

The Obama administration will be issuing a new public diplomacy strategy by December 2009, as required by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009. GAO says the issues discussed in its report should be considered in developing the new plan. The Department of State Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs has primary the responsibility to lead these efforts. However, the report notes that there has not been effective coordination of public diplomacy efforts between State, USAID and the Department of Defense.

The report also notes lack of engagement with the U.S. private sector.  "In 2003 and 2005, we recommended the Secretary of State develop a strategy to engage with the private sector in pursuit of common public diplomacy objectives to help ensure private sector resources, talents and ideas are effectively utilized in support of U.S. strategic communications." [p.22] It continues that these efforts have "not yielded significant results" and then poses related oversight questions for Congress, including, "What are State's plans for future engagement with the private sector? When will State develop a strategy for engagement as recommended by GAO?"


back to Blog