State Department review promises transparency, civilian ‘face’

In a bid to streamline diplomacy and foreign aid, the State Department will "fundamentally change our management approach by turning to the expertise of other federal agencies where appropriate -- before engaging private contractors," according to the department's inaugural quadrennial review.

The central goals laid out in the review, titled "Leading Through Civilian Power," are accountability through transparency and the primacy of nonmilitary engagement in development and crisis resolution, officials said. "Civilian power has to be the first face of American power, supported by our military and in partnership with our military, but it's civilians who have to lead," review director Anne-Marie Slaughter told reporters during a Dec. 17 conference call.

Requested in July 2009 by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who said she had benefited greatly from the Defense Department's quadrennial reviews when she was on the Senate Armed Services Committee, the self-assessment reflects efforts by State and the U.S. Agency for International Development to "stay ahead" of the world's many changes while making the work of the many players "more unified, more focused and more efficient," Clinton wrote in an introduction. "We will work to break down walls between agencies. We will eliminate overlap, set priorities, and fund only the work that supports those priorities. We will empower our people to make decisions and hold them accountable for the results."

Specifically, the review calls for:

  • Establishing a Bureau for Energy Resources to unite diplomatic and programmatic efforts on oil, natural gas, coal, electricity, renewable energy, energy governance, strategic resources and energy poverty;
  • Elevating economic diplomacy by expanding State's role on geoeconomic issues, including appointing a chief economist;
  • Creating an undersecretary position for civilian security, democracy and human rights;
  • Expanding the capacity of the undersecretary for arms control and international security affairs by establishing a Bureau for Arms Control, Verification and Compliance;
  • Working with Congress to establish a Bureau for Counterterrorism;
  • Establishing a coordinator for cyber issues to lead State's efforts to protect the confidentiality of communications among governments;
  • Adopting, between State and USAID, a lead-agency approach with a clear division of leadership and responsibility; and
  • Making U.S. aid more transparent by creating a Web-based dashboard with data on State and USAID foreign assistance.
State and USAID also will establish multiyear strategic plans and multiyear budgets, according to the review.

"We are talking about our civilians across the federal government," Slaughter said. "We will be working with the Justice Department, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Homeland Security, the Treasury, the Department of Agriculture -- all the civilians across the government who increasingly run programs and build relationships with their counterparts abroad."

Cheryl Steele, a former Foreign Service officer now working on State Department issues at the consultancy Booz Allen Hamilton, said the quadrennial review marks "the first time we have it in the words of the secretary of State how diplomacy and development fit into the national security agenda."

With today's overseas issues likely to involve not just war and terrorism, but climate change or natural disasters, she added, the review also is an acknowledgment that "the best actor to address a crisis or a development may not be in State or USAID but in the Agriculture or Commerce departments," or in the private or nonprofit sectors.

The next step in the cross-government approach, she said, is to move the initiative down from the Cabinet and undersecretary levels to those of the office directors and desk officers "so they can know if they are right to engage their partners in other agencies in a dialogue."

Many in the development community were cautiously encouraged. The quadrennial review "represents an ambitious agenda filled with commitments to 'do better,'" wrote Connie Veillette, director of the Rethinking U.S. Foreign Assistance Program at the Center for Global Development, in a blog post. "Operationalizing those commitments, and changing the culture required to do so will be difficult. If State and USAID do not constructively engage with Congress, I can predict that many of the proposed changes will not see the light of day."

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