By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 12, 2008
The Pentagon's inspector general said yesterday that the Defense Department's public affairs office may have "inappropriately" merged public affairs and propaganda operations in 2007 and 2008 when it contracted out $1 million in work for a strategic communications plan for use by the military in collaboration with the State Department.
"Without clearly defined strategic communications responsibilities, DoD may appear to merge inappropriately the public affairs and information operations functions," the inspector general said in a report released yesterday. Strategic communications programs, which have become a major part of the Pentagon's information operations carried out in the "war of ideas" in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East, should be under the oversight of the undersecretary of defense for policy, the report added.
The Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs "should only perform strategic communications responsibilities related to its public affairs mission," the report said. It called attention to a May 2005 Defense Department publication titled "Public Affairs," which stated that public affairs and information operations "differ with respect to the audience, scope and intent and must remain separate."
Robert T. Hastings, the acting assistant secretary for public affairs, has responded to the report by saying he agrees there should be an evaluation of the functions of the office with a new definition of its missions.
Last year the Senate Armed Services Committee eliminated $3 million requested for a Defense Department strategic communication program. The committee wrote that responsibility for "public diplomacy rests with the president and Secretary of State and any DoD efforts to formulate a message should be framed and informed by those efforts."
The inspector general also raised questions about the Office of Public Affairs' use of funds and personnel from the Armed Forces Information Service to carry out its functions without specific authority. AFIS, which was recently renamed Defense Media Activity, runs Pentagon internal communications including Stars and Stripes as well as the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service. With a budget of more than $160 million and about 1,200 staff members, it nonetheless comes under the authority, direction and control of the assistant secretary for public affairs, whose authorized staff is only 89, according to the report.