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State Dept. Finances Privatization of US presence in Yeosu

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If you haven't read the State Dept.'s RFP for a contractor to create the US exhibition in the Yeosu Expo 2012 international pavilion, you should. There's an easy to read version on the America.gov website. What's distinctive about this RFP as compared with RFPs past -- aside from the fact that it probably won't be aborted and replaced with outsourcing, as the Shanghai Expo RFP was -- is that the State Dept. is setting itself up as an investment bank. It intends to solicit a new derivative -- pledges of investments in an Expo, in this case Yeosu -- and then hand these pledges over to the contractor selected for the project. The way the RFP is written, it sounds as if State has already done its horse-trading and the pledges are already in hand, even before the RFP application period closes.

This means that the contributors -- who no doubt are largely corporations with a stake in Korea, the oceans, or both -- have the ear of the State Dept. before the contractors even submit their bids. Thus, the contributors have an outsized role in setting the tone and messaging of the US exhibition. Plus, the State Dept. puts itself in the broker's position, always the strongest perch, when valuable commodities are up for auction -- in this case, (1) funding for the exhibition and (2) placement in the exhibition.

It's unprecedented, so far as I can tell, for a Federal agency to assume such power to itself -- i.e., to raise money for a project from private sources for a private recipient. That means there's less chance that the contractor will flub fundraising as it did in Shanghai but also zero oversight along the entire funding chain. There's no one who can raise money from multinationals like the Clintons -- often on terms we'll never know -- and one of them is now Secretary of State. (I'm consulting an attorney to find out how typical or egregious this act is and what can be done about it if necessary. So far, I've been told, a citizen has no standing to challenge an executive agency broadening its purview on its own.) Soon we'll see Interior selling shares in the private management of the National Parks. (Hypothetically speaking.) That's where this all leads.

I wrote about this threat in May 2010 in the Huffington Post (Google "stalking horse" and "huffington" for more). Let's hope this isn't the beginning of wholesale taking of the "public" out of "public diplomacy." Read the State Dept. cables released by WikiLeaks for a sense of the possible outcome.

Privatization is so antisocial, so anti-democratic. When it's applied to a practice as sensitive and important as public diplomacy, privatization threatens every tenet of self-rule. And it makes for crappy pavilions.

Huffington Post- \'Blackwatering\' Public Diplomacy: The US Pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo May 3, 2010.pdf

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Privitization of things like construction and 'operations' is one thing.

Privitization of policy-making is something else, and eyebrow-raising at the least. The end of civilization as we know it at the worst. The answer is probably somewhere in between. It's a bad idea to sell policy and decision making to the highest bidder, although an elected official perhaps should be willing to listen, but not be overly influenced. (that's where lobbyists come in).

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This turned up in a Google search:

Press Walk-out at Ministry of Foreign ... - U.S. Department of State

www.state.gov › ... › June - Cached You +1'd this publicly. Undo

Jun 10, 2011 – U.S. Department of State - Great Seal .... in the United States to make sure that America has an outstanding pavilion in next year's Yeosu Expo. ...


However, when I clicked on the URL, I got a weird page of press releases for various months ... none of which are accessible.

http://m.state.gov/ You're welcome to try to find something yourself.

Of course, what else is new? Have you tried to get a copy of Jose Villarreal's final report on the Shanghai Expo? It's been deleted from the State Department's Public Diplomacy pages. However, there is a Google-cached copy -- typographically, a mess -- here:


No surprises. Villarreal continues his cheerleading and revision of history to the end. What a blowhard. The US effort in Shanghai was as corrupt as anything the US Government has attempted, pending the next ones -- Yeosu and especially Milan -- being even more so,

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The USA Pavilion in Yeosu is indeed thick with corporate influence. I am fairly certain that we are the only nation present that sold corporate naming rights for the theatre within the pavilion! In fact it appears that we have cross sold advertising in our gift shop. This is a sign encouraging people passing through the USA gift shop to visit the Philippines Pavilion and buy a toy Jeep. Or, as in Shanghai, we may have outsourced the management of our gift shop to an international company that controls its operations.



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As a former State Dept employee I need to add my 2 cents.

The State Department can not use public money to sponsor pavilions at international expositions, but they are required to oversee any participation. Other US Government agencies can have limited sponsorship.


(a) Limitation.--Except as provided in subsection B/> and

notwithstanding any other provision of law, the Department of State may

not obligate or expend any funds appropriated to the Department of State

for a United States pavilion or other major exhibit at any international

exposition or world's fair registered by the Bureau of International Expositions

in excess of amounts expressly authorized and appropriated for such purpose.


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That's one of the major problems with US Pavilions. In the past few years I have spent a great deal of time researching this topic. And when you look at it, from 1958 to the fall of the Soviet Union US Pavilions were intended to be weapons of a cultural war wadged by the United States Information Agency. That's not a criticism. It's simply a statement of fact. When the Cold War ended everyone seemed to look around and wonder what to do next. The USIA was folded into the Department of State. And people started to question the need for the culture war weapon if the war had been won.

There is no law that bans the use of public money in the construction of a United States Pavilion. The law says that Congress must allocate money for that purpose. However, as of late, no Congress has. And the use of corporate money is not, in and of itself a bad thing. If you look closely at many of the pavilions you will find subtle references to corporate sponsors. However, a United States Pavilion needs to first and foremost put forth the message of the US, NOT the message of corporations.

I have spent time with Jose Virreal, the Commissioner General of the US Pavilion at EXPO 2010, and with former Department of State employees directly connected to this topic. And, unless things have dramatically changed since 2010 State Department oversight of pavilion design and operation is very minimal. I also spent time in the UK before EXPO 2010, visiting architects who had vied for their pavilion design, and employees of the UK Trade and Investment office. Theirs is a system where healthy competition between architects creates not only a pavilion design, but also a dialogue about how to represent their country. I think that kind of model would be a better approach for the US. Currently the US competiton is based on the ability of a pavilion corporation to raise money, because with no corporate money there is no pavilion.

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