In the first quarter of this year, the executive branch released two reports required by Congress on strategic communication and public diplomacy.  Both documents are known as Section 1055 Reports, named after the section in the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2009 that makes them mandatory.

The Defense Department’s report described “the direction and priorities for strategic communication activities” within DoD, while the White House report intended to be “comprehensive interagency strategy for public diplomacy and strategic communication of the Federal Government.” The White House report, interestingly, stated the National Security Council is “responsible for guiding and coordinating interagency deliberate communication and engagement efforts.” Also in this report are recommendations on “re-balancing” public diplomacy and strategic communication programs, including “revitalizing and strengthening civilian department and agency capabilities, both qualitatively and quantitatively, to enable them to effectively execute these programs and activities.” Not required by Congress but during this same period, the State Department released a “strategic framework” intended to ensure the State Department’s public diplomacy activities are in “alignment with foreign policy objectives.”

In Congress, a new non-partisan group in the House of Representatives formed to “create more informed legislators” that will hopefully lead to “more informed legislation.” The Strategic Communication and Public Diplomacy Caucus is co-chaired by Representatives Mac Thornberry (R-TX) and Adam Smith (D-WA). Thornberry and Smith said the group is necessary, in part, because “U.S. strategic communication and public diplomacy lacks a clear strategy, as well as the tools and resources to achieve results.” Despite being written before the release of the 1055 reports, this arguably remains true. Thornberry also submitted H.R. 489, a bill intended “to improve the conduct of strategic communication” across the government.

There is another new caucus, this one focused on empowering institutions like the United Nations. Co-chaired by Reps. Russ Carnahan (D-MO) and Anh “Joseph” Cao (R-LA), this group is based on the principle that “America always reserves the right to act in service of its national interests, but prefers and prioritizes international cooperation to address common concerns and shared objectives.”

With few exceptions, Congressional interest in empowering civilian public diplomacy comes, not from the House Foreign Affairs or Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but from members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees. For example, both Congressmen Thornberry and Smith are on the Armed Services Committee and neither are on the Foreign Affairs Committee. Carnahan is on the International Organizations subcommittee of the Foreign Affairs Committee. A notable exception is Senator Richard Lugar (D-IN), who is an active proponent of public diplomacy but not on an Armed Services Committee. Senator Ted Kaufman (D-DE), increasingly active in public diplomacy, sits on both the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Armed Services Committee. Senators Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Jim Webb (D-VA) are the only other members, House or Senate, to sit on both committees.

The institutions and practices of America’s engagement are changing. Perhaps this change would come faster if the State Department and its relevant Congressional Committees pushed as hard as the military.

Matt Armstrong writes the influential blog Mountaintainrunner (www.MountainRunner.us).   He consults and lectures on policies and institutions of public diplomacy and strategic communication. He advises Congress, the Departments of State and Defense, and other organizations.  Matt is a graduate of the Masters of Public Diplomacy program at USC.