Improving the United States Image Abroad

Video Message: Jacquelyn L. Williams-Bridgers

Jacquelyn L. Williams-Bridgers

Managing Director, International Affairs and Trade

(202) 512-3101

In today's highly volatile global environment, it is more critical than ever that the United States effectively coordinate, manage, and implement its public diplomacy and strategic communications activities to affect foreign public opinion. Led by the State Department, U.S. public diplomacy efforts seek to offer a positive vision of hope and opportunity, nurture common interests and values, and marginalize violent extremists. A number of agencies manage activities and programs aimed to influence foreign publics, promote a shared sense of democratic values and principles, and mitigate the threat to our national security posed by the spread and intensification of anti-American sentiments abroad. For example:

  • In fiscal year 2006, Congress provided almost $1.5 billion to fund public diplomacy efforts undertaken by the State Department and Broadcasting Board of Governors.

  • Other agencies, including the Department of Defense, USAID, and the intelligence community, also seek to influence foreign public opinion through their strategic communication and emergency relief efforts.

Beginning in 2003 we recommended that the U.S. Government needed to develop an interagency public diplomacy strategy. In June 2007, the President issued a U.S. National Strategy For Public Diplomacy And Strategic Communication.  Our work shows that the implementation of the strategy must be guided by strong interagency mechanisms that promote information sharing and better coordination of efforts. In addition, content should be based on sound research of the intended audiences, with messages consistent with U.S. foreign policy interests.  Gaps in research data, foreign language capability, staffing, and resources hinder the United States’ ability to best target and communicate with key foreign audiences.

^ Back to topWhat Needs to Be Done

To improve the U.S. image abroad, it is critical that U.S. policy makers

  • improve their strategic planning, coordination, and performance measurement efforts;
  • enhance the substance and sharing of government audience research efforts; and
  • address a range of human capital challenges that include developing an overseas workforce with requisite language capabilities.

    Highlights of GAO-07-904 (PDF), Highlights of GAO-06-904 (PDF), and Highlights of GAO-06-535 (PDF)

^ Back to topKey Reports

U.S. Public Diplomacy: Strategic Planning Efforts Have Improved, but Agencies Face Significant Implementation Challenges
GAO-07-795T, April 26, 2007
State Department: Staffing and Foreign Language Shortfalls Persist Despite Initiatives to Address Gaps
GAO-07-1154T, August 1, 2007
Department of State: Staffing and Foreign Language Shortfalls Persist Despite Initiatives to Address Gaps
GAO-06-894, August 4, 2006
U.S. International Broadcasting: Management of Middle East Broadcasting Services Could Be Improved
GAO-06-762, August 4, 2006
U.S. Public Diplomacy: Actions Needed to Improve Strategic Use and Coordination of Research
GAO-07-904, July 18, 2007
Foreign Assistance: Actions Needed to Better Assess the Impact of Agencies' Marking and Publicizing Efforts
GAO-07-277, March 12, 2007
U.S. Public Diplomacy: State Department Efforts Lack Certain Communication Elements and Face Persistent Challenges
GAO-06-707T, May 3, 2006
U.S. Public Diplomacy: State Department Efforts to Engage Muslim Audiences Lack Certain Communication Elements and Face Significant Challenges
GAO-06-535, May 3, 2006
Department of State: Human Capital Strategy Does Not Recognize Foreign Assistance Responsibilities
GAO-07-1153, September 28, 2007