With the 1999 consolidation, the overseas USIS offices were renamed Public Affairs Sections (PAS). However, through all the organizational changes in Washington, the structure and functions of public diplomacy offices at embassies abroad have not changed appreciably over recent decades as they continue to promote objectives that are either informational or devoted to cultural and educational exchanges. To serve these ends, Public Afffairs Sections are typically divided into an Information Section and a Cultural Section.
The information section (known in the embassies of many countries simply as the press office) is the base of operations for the embassy’s press attaché (or mission spokesman/spokesperson). In carrying out its media relations functions a U.S. embassy’s information section is supported by press guidances, official texts and other materials provided by Washington. Up-to-date information on U.S. foreign policy positions is also readily accessible on http://www.america.gov/. Information sections maintain close contact with local media, provide information on current U.S. policies (and the background for such policies), and arrange interviews, briefings and press conferences for U.S., third-country and host-country journalists.
In addition to assisting resident or visiting U.S. correspondents of private print, broadcast and web-based media, information sections also support U.S. Government-sponsored broadcasting services such as the worldwide VOA, Radio Free Asia (RFA), Cuba-focused Radio and TV Marti, and the Arabic-language Radio SAWA and Alhurra TV.
In addition to assisting resident or visiting U.S. correspondents of private print, broadcast and web-based media, Information Sections also support U.S. Government-sponsored broadcasting services such as the worldwide VOA, Radio Free Asia (RFA), Cuba-focused Radio and TV Marti, and the Arabic-language Radio SAWA and Alhurra TV.
Educational and Cultural Programs
While countries of diverse size and character all tend to handle the information side of public diplomacy in similar fashion, their cultural activities (or “cultural diplomacy”) may vary considerably. For example, some seek to avoid any appearance that their cultural programs promote short-term political (or propagandistic) objectives. The United Kingdom’s British Council, France’s Alliance Francaise and Centres Culturels, and the German Goethe Institute function as such non-political institutions.
In contrast, U.S. libraries and similar institutions – whether called Cultural Centers, American Centers or (more recently) Information Resource Centers – have consistently identified themselves with the official American presence and have not shied away from fostering dialogue on sometimes contentious foreign policy issues as well as sponsoring “softer” cultural events. Although the United States established or strongly supported many jointly managed Binational Centers (BNCs) in the 1940s and 50s that were mainly engaged in apolitical English teaching activities, most of those institutions have since either closed their doors or now operate without official U.S. involvement..
A distinctive feature of U.S. educational and cultural exchange activity has been its emphasis on the American learning experience (i.e., exposing Americans to foreign countries) component of promoting mutual understanding. Since the 1930s this goal has been strongly supported by foundations and educational institutions, as well as key members of Congress. For this reason, a substantial proportion of the exchanges account is devoted to providing opportunities for U.S. citizens to travel abroad for study and other educational purposes, including establishing institutional linkages for ongoing interchange.
The cultural section of a U.S. embassy, headed by the mission’s cultural affairs officer (CAO), who also has the title of cultural attaché, fosters a vast range of cultural and educational exchanges, working in close cooperation with host country institutions as well as U.S. academic and other nongovernmental organizations committed to academic, cultural and citizen interchange.
The Cultural Section of a U.S. embassy, headed by the mission’s Cultural Affairs Officer (CAO), who also has the title of Cultural Attache, fosters a vast range of cultural and educational exchanges, working in close cooperation with host country institutions as well as U.S. academic and other non-governmental organizations committed to academic, cultural and citizen interchange.
Two exchange programs of particular note in the cultural diplomacy efforts of the United States are the International Visitors (IV) Program and the Fulbright Exchange Program, both of which come under the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
International Visitors Program
The IV Program, whose origins trace back to before World War II, annually brings about 5,000 current or potential leaders from other countries to the United States for periods ranging from a few days to weeks. The IVs meet with experts and counterparts in their own areas of specialization and explore areas of particular personal interest. In addition to regular IVs, individuals already planning to visit the United States under other auspices may be considered Voluntary Visitors (VVs) and given special treatment during days added to their original schedules. Many distinguished foreign nationals have participated in this program over the years, including more than 200 current and former chiefs of state. Nominations for this program are typically made by an embassy’s IV Committee, which is chaired by the deputy chief of mission (DCM). The program relies heavily on volunteers throughout the United States who are part of a remarkable network of some 95 Councils for International Visitors (CIVs).
The Fulbright Exchange Program, long considered the flagship international educational program of the U.S. Government, was started in 1946 as part of legislation introduced by Senator J. William Fulbright at the end of World War II, using funds generated by the sale of surplus war materials. Its purpose is to “increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.” Since the first grantees traveled in 1947, the Fulbright Program has assisted the exchange of some 250,000 students, scholars, researchers and other participants. About 6,000 grants are awarded annually. Management of the program in the field is typically handled by the cultural section at small embassies, or by a binational Fulbright Commission in countries with large programs. Most Fulbright programs receive some funding or in-kind contributions from the host country and local private citizens, as well as the monies appropriated by Congress.
Supporting all of the U.S. exchange operations is a vast network of cooperating private institutionsthat typically sponsor their own activities and also carry out programs funded by the U.S. Government. Some 73 such organizations are part of an umbrella lobbying and information-sharing body called the Alliance for International Educational and Cultural Exchange.