Foreign Policy Blogs

US Public Diplomacy Operations deemed "Adequate" by OMB

A 2006 assessment of the State Department's Public Diplomacy (PD) program conducted by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB, a Cabinet-level office run out the White House) ranks the program's overall performance "adequate," (as opposed to "effective, moderately effective, or ineffective"). The more abbreviated "assessment summary" can be found here.


The State Department describes the key functions of Public Diplomacy and its foreign officers as "indispensable" to the conduct of foreign policy. Accordingly, PD's key activities, as outlined in the assessment's "program performance measures," amount to no small feat for PD officers.

According to the assessment, the program's main goal is generating an "audience with an improved or increased understanding of U.S. policies, society and values." Some of the "softer' goals listed in the assessment include reaching key foreign audiences through State Department-sponsored exchange programs and increasing the user satisfaction scores of the US Embassy Web sites.

The more public relations-type functions (to give a less cynical depiction) include generating "accurate/favorable portrayals" of U.S. policies in key foreign media outlets and engineering editorial and opinion commentary support by foreign audiences for U.S. policies and positions.

Then there's the granddaddy of them all: reducing the level of anti-American sentiment among key foreign audiences. This goal is commonly referred to as "winning hearts and minds," a campaign the US first launched during the Vietnam war, and now commonly refers to US efforts at improving relations with the "Muslim" world. Given the rise in anti-American sentiment across the Middle East and beyond, this particular performance measurement may drag down PD's overall ranking for a good time to come.

With such far-reaching and invasive goals set out, it is no wonder PD's lowest-scoring is the "Program Results" assessment section: "Has the program demonstrated adequate progress in achieving its long-term performance goals? Answer: No" (the assessment sites as evidence polling from Pew Global Attitudes Project, Pew's 2007 polling on global views of the US is shown below).


Relative to other US government programs assessed by OMB, PD's "adequate" ranking puts it on the lower end of the performance spectrum. The State Department as a whole performs about as well as other government agencies (27 "effective" programs, 12 "moderately effective," 13 "adequate," 0 "inadequate"), such as Defense, (19, 19, 10, 0), Homeland Security (9, 18, 6, 0). Based on OMB's most recent assessments, 22% of Federal programs are “not performing,” or are considered ineffective. To view an explanation of the ranking criteria, click here.

Though the site has been criticized for the "shallowness of its content," the 2006 assessment does a good job of conveying exactly what State's PD program attempts to achieve (or, as the case may be, not achieve).

Three cheers for transparency But by tasking this relatively small bureau with challenging goals such as "changing the hearts and minds" of vast, increasingly antagonistic foreign audiences‚ especially without necessarily pairing that goal with the implementation of effective and agreeable foreign policies‚ we will continue to "ExpectMore" out of State's PD program.



Melinda Brouwer

Melinda Brower holds a Masters degree in Global Politics from the London School of Economics and Political Science. She received her bachelor's degree in Political Science and Spanish at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She received a graduate diploma in International Relations from the University of Chile during her tenure as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar. She has worked on Capitol Hill, at the State Department, for Foreign Policy magazine and the American Academy of Diplomacy. She presently works for an internationally focused non-profit research organization in Washington, DC.