Thursday, January 12, 2017

An urgent State Department makeover

America needs a retooled organization that gets results

Robert Charles,

image from article


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. ...
• 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. ...
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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