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Diplomacy in Action

Staff Report on the Office of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs

December 12, 2011


The position of the Office of the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, or “R,” was established in 1999 under the Clinton Administration to support the activities moved into the State Department with the abolishment of the United States Information Agency in 1999. This senior leadership position is equivalent to a four-star general and supports the Secretary of State, the President, and the whole-of-government on all issues related to the Government’s engagement of global audiences through a variety of means and methods. There was one Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs in the Clinton Administration, four in the Bush Administration, and, as of this writing, Tara Sonenshine awaits Senate confirmation as the Obama Administration’s second Under Secretary for R. Assistant Secretary Ann Stock is ably and effectively filling the role of the Under Secretary until a new Under Secretary is confirmed.

Since the first Under Secretary was sworn in, the position has been unencumbered more than 30% of the time for a total of 1,375 days, or 3.75 years. The Commission’s staff compared the stability of two other prominent Under Secretary of State positions involved with engaging global publics: the Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs, or “G,” and the Under Secretary for Political Affairs, or “P.” Neither positions were unfilled as often or for as long as R. The below chart displays the number of Under Secretaries that served in the respective positions and how long it took to replace the Under Secretary. The last column shows the percentage of time each position was unfilled across the same period, beginning in October 1999 when Evelyn Lieberman was sworn in as the first Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.

Under Secretary Office # Under Secretaries since 1999 Days not filled since 1999 Average Tenure (days)  % not filled since 1999
Public Diplomacy 6 1,375 512 30%
Global Affairs 3 300 1,498 7%
Political Affairs


 238 1,246 5%

Based in part on this information, Commission staff suggests the following questions to guide future research. The Commission welcomes input on these findings and questions.

1. What do the long vacancies between appointments for the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs indicate about the perceived role, importance, and required skills of the position, of public diplomacy, and of the State Department in leading and coordinating Government activities that intend to understand, inform, and influence foreign publics?

2. What is the impact on the perceived value and role of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs within the State Department, across the interagency, and in the Congress when this senior position remains unfilled so often and for long?

3. What role can the Under Secretary play in protecting and furthering the careers of public diplomacy officers considering leadership turnover and frequent and long periods when the position is unencumbered?


Incumbency Chart for the Office of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs

Under Secretary - R Dates Number of Days 
Evelyn Lieberman Oct 1, 1999 - Jan 20, 2001 477
Unfilled Jan 21, 2001 - Oct 2, 2001 254
Charlotte Beers Oct 2, 2001 - Mar 28, 2003 542
Unfilled Mar 29, 2003 - Dec 15, 2003 261
Margaret Tutwiler Dec 16, 2003 - Jun 30, 2004 197
Unfilled Jul 1, 2004 - Jul 29, 2005 393
Karen Hughes Jul 29, 2005 - Dec 14, 2007 868
Unfilled Dec 15, 2007 - Jun 4, 2008 172
James K. Glassman Jun 5, 2008 - Jan 16, 2009 225 
Unfilled Jan 17, 2009 - May 25, 2009 127
Judith McHale May 26, 2009 - Jun 30, 2011 765
Unfilled Jul 1, 2011 - present (Dec 16, 2011) 168+


Incumbency Chart for the Office of the Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs

Under Secretary - G Dates Number of Days 
Frank E. Loy Oct 26, 1998 - Jan 20, 2001 817
Unfilled Jan 21, 2001 - Apr 30, 2001 99
Paula Dobriansky May 1, 2011 - Jan 20, 2009 2,821
Unfilled Jan 21, 2009 - Aug 10, 2009 201
Maria Otero Aug 11, 2009 - present (Dec 16, 2011) 857+


Incumbency Chart for the Office of the Under Secretary for Political Affairs

Under Secretary Dates Number of Days
 Thomas Reeve Pickering  May 27, 1997 - Dec 21, 2000 1,304
 Unfilled  Dec 22, 2001 - Mar 25, 2001 93
 Marc Grossman  Mar 26, 2001 - Feb 25, 2005 1,432
 Unfilled  Feb 26, 2005 - Mar 17, 2005 19
 Nicholas Burns  Mar 18, 2005 - Feb 29, 2008 1,078
 Unfilled  Mar 1, 2008 - May 12, 2008  72
 William J. Burns  May 13, 2008 - Jul 27, 2011  1,170
 Unfilled  Jul 27, 2011 - Sep 20, 2011 54
 Wendy Ruth Sherman  Sep 21, 2011 - present (Dec 16, 2011)  86+


202-203-7463 (Office)
301 4th Street S.W., Room M-21, Washington, D.C. 20547

Matt Armstrong, Executive Director
Cliff Gilmore, LTCOL USMC, Senior Military Advisor to the Commission
Irina Karmanova, Research Intern
Brittaney Miller, Admin Intern

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