The Foreign Service Journal, April 2024

42 APRIL 2024 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL and should be extended to other parts of the country. In 2012, for instance, the O ce of the Inspector General recommended ECA consider whether the New York program branch o ce could e ectively support other bureau o ces and programs (see Recommendation 27). is year, a former ECA principal deputy assistant secretary of State told me that if he had his druthers, he would have a half dozen of these ECA branch o ces, beginning with Los Angeles. The Case for “Diplomatic Engagement Centers” Unlike other federal departments and agencies domestically, the State Department does not maintain a standardized domestic organization framework or designated senior department o cial for the government’s 10 federal regions. Now that the administration (through dedicated O ce of Personnel Management [OPM] funding and positions) and Congress (through proposed legislation, the Federal Executive Boards Act of 2023) seek to improve the federal government’s domestic coordination through enhanced Federal Executive Boards, it begs the question whether the State Department should reconsider its own domestic organization and coordination. One idea to consider is the creation of domestic geographic districts aligned with the 10 federal regions. Could a “Diplomatic Engagement Center” in each district, or spanning multiple districts, bring together existing o ces and personnel to better implement exchange programs; coordinate public outreach and media engagement; create public-private partnerships; liaise with regionally based city, state, and federal o cials; and support foreign embassies and consulates? Los Angeles has been identi ed numerous times for enhanced public diplomacy representation. With the pivot to Asia and the Indo-Paci c, and a new era of geopolitical competition, the nation’s most populous state and largest economy is an ideal place to pilot such an initiative. Moreover, with the 2026 men’s soccer World Cup and the 2028 Summer Olympics on the horizon, now is the perfect time to invest in the nation’s domestic diplomatic capacity. What better place to begin than the nation’s second-largest city, Los Angeles—home to the country’s largest concentration of foreign diplomats and domestic personnel outside Washington and New York? Over the past two years, my colleagues and I have brought together State’s diplomatic personnel across o ces and positions in Southern California into an informal network to improve information sharing, visitor support, and public engagement and, in the process, build a stronger sense of community. However, this informal model has its limitations. For instance, when a local partner implementing exchange programs ceased operations, a new partner had to be found, resulting in a loss of institutional knowledge and expertise. In another case, the remit of the local implementing partner is limited to only one aspect of the department’s public diplomacy activities (international visitors)—and not another (sports diplomacy)—preventing further synergies. Further, while not an issue in Los Angeles, the department’s lack of a single geographic point of contact in other federal regions results in irregular and inconsistent participation in OPM’s Federal Executive Boards. Finally, there is no internal clearing house to coordinate domestic travel by department principals and engage department personnel assigned or working remotely in a geographic region to help tailor and amplify these engagements. State is already spending money to accomplish these functions; however, the funding is dispersed through grants and reimbursement to nonpro t organizations or across existing department full-time personnel. Might it be more e ective to consolidate that expenditure, use existing department-leased real estate from the General Services Administration for a mailing address, and expand State’s presence by using a combination of assigned and remote-work employees to coordinate operations and represent the department? In 1962, when State assessed the future of its reception centers, the United States happened to be hosting the World’s Fair in Seattle. Seattle’s Reception Center noted a vefold increase in workload (number of programs/persons/programming days). In advance of the global mega events descending on Los Angeles and the expected accompanying increases in o - cial visitor counts, press engagements, and public diplomacy opportunities, now is the time for State to plan for enhanced domestic engagement that builds on past successes. n Throughout the years, public diplomacy insiders and outsiders have asked whether the New York City model could and should be extended to other parts of the country.