WASHINGTON: American public diplomacy efforts overseas continue to be plagued by mixed messages, poor coordination, and inadequately trained officials, according to the US Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy.
In its annual report, released last week, the commission pointed the finger at ambassadors and foreign service workers who lack either the training or the capacity to communicate America's message to foreign audiences.
"As the senior-ranking US officials, ambassadors serve as the primary messengers for policy goals in their host country," read the report. "Yet, many are 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."
Both ambassadors and embassy staff often lack minimum language skills, as well, the report continued.
"Twenty-one 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," according to the report, which cited a 2003 government study.
Not all of the commission's seven members were in agreement, however. Harold Pachios, a commission member and former president, said he believes ambassadors today do more for public diplomacy than their predecessors.
What concerns him, he told PRWeek, is the message the US sends foreign travelers and students when they are denied access to the US.
"Exchanges are a key historical component of public diplomacy," he said. "Now there is an endless number of Fulbright Scholarship [recipients] who can't arrive in time to take up their studies, and there are endless stories of important people visiting over here on some mission or another to learn about the US who can't get here.
"The message is: You're not wanted here," he added.
Pachios, a former White House aide to President Lyndon Johnson, said he understood the need to keep out terrorists, but asked, "Are we so incompetent that in order to keep them out we must keep everybody out?"
Last week also marked the departure of the commission's executive director, Matt Lauer. Lauer has joined Qorvis Communications, where he will assist with PR for the Saudi royal family, a flagship client for the upstart agency.
Lauer joined the commission just after September 11, 2001. He had previously served as senior media relations director for America's Promise, the national youth nonprofit founded by Secretary of State Colin Powell.