Sunday, March 26, 2017

Coordinator of the Bureau of International Information Programs: Who is Macon Phillips?

Macon Phillips image from article


Macon Phillips was hired by then-Secretary of State John Kerry on September 23, 2013, to serve as coordinator of the Bureau of International Information Programs. He held that post until January 20, 2017, when Donald Trump assumed the office of president. Located within the U.S. State Department, the bureau is the main propaganda arm of the U.S. government, responsible for producing and distributing information about the U.S. to an international audience. After leaving the State Department, Phillips was hired as chief digital officer for the anti-poverty group CARE. ...

In April 2008, Phillips was named deputy new media director of the Obama for America campaign organization, for which he oversaw email and social media outreach to help build on Obama’s swelling grassroots movement. “We're serving as a connector between the policymakers and the citizens that put them in office,” Phillips told The Chicago Tribune at the time. “There's a lot to learn. I don't have any experience in government other than being a taxpayer.” ...

Upon Obama’s win as president that November, Phillips was promoted to new media director of the Obama-Biden Transition Project, a three-month operation for which he designed the Office of New Media and a transition-team website, He also oversaw a revamped website that was activated at 12:01 pm on January 20, 2009—Inauguration Day. His work on that site was done in close coordination with the online activities of the Democratic National Committee, which administered the website.

With the rollout of the Obama administration in January 2009, Phillips was appointed special assistant to the president and director of the newly established Office of Digital Strategy (the renamed Office of New Media). Among Phillips’ accomplishments at the office was his development of “We the People,” the White House’s online petitioning system, which served as a platform for 400,000 citizen-petitions signed by more than 16 million users.

Phillips was embroiled in controversy in August 2009 when, in a blog posting on the site, he asked the public to alert the White House of any reports of disinformation being spread in the debate over Obama’s efforts for a new health care law (which would eventually become the Affordable Care Act). Phillips’ online invitation triggered privacy concerns among some, and drew a warning from Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) that the posting might be a harbinger of “a new White House program to monitor American citizens' speech opposing [Obama’s] health care policies…” In a letter to Obama, he said it seemed “inevitable that the names, email addresses, IP addresses, and private speech of U.S. citizens will be reported to the White House. You should not be surprised that these actions taken by your White House staff raise the specter of a data collection program.”

Obama responded: “What we’ve said is that...if you get an email from somebody that says for example, ‘ObamaCare is creating a death panel,’ forward us the email and we will answer the question that is being raised in the email. Suddenly, on some of these news outlets, this is being portrayed as Obama collecting an enemies list. Now, come on guys, here I am trying to be responsive to questions that are being raised out there.”

But on August 17, 2009, the White House shut down, the e-mail address it had set up to receive reports from the public. That day, Phillips posted a defense of his project that he said had invoked “a variety of sinister conspiracy theorists” and become “the target of fear-mongering.”

Four years later, as coordinator of the Bureau of International Information Programs, Phillips reported to Richard Stengel, then-under secretary for public diplomacy and public affairs. Phillips’ duties required extensive international travel as he advised foreign governments on advances in digital technology and communication. But Phillips found that much more awaited him as he began his new job. Only four months earlier, the State Department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released a scathing report (pdf) about the bureau, citing low morale, “reorganization fatigue,” and a “leadership [that] created an atmosphere of secrecy, suspicion and uncertainty.” Phillips’ predecessor, Dawn McCall, “believe[d] she [had been] hired with a mandate to ‘fix’ IIP,” according the report, so hopes were high for Phillips to help move the agency beyond the serious problems cited in the OIG report.

Phillips is the brother of Metropolitan Opera lyric soprano Susanna Phillips. “The amount of times I made her scream at me is responsible for her development as a vocalist,” he said about his kid sister to “She owes a lot in terms of her volume and range to my relentless teasing.” ...

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