Following is the transcript of a “town hall meeting” with Secretary Clinton held in the State Department February 4. Its focus is primarily on the process issues of managing the Department and Foreign Service and strengthening them to more effectively conduct international relations, not on policy issues. As the Secretary said, “…we can’t usher in a new era of diplomacy and development without adequate resources and support.” The transcript offers important insights on the Secretary’s plans and her leadership style as well as on the changes that can be anticipated in the coming years. – Ed.
UNDER SECRETARY FOR MANAGEMENT PATRICK KENNEDY: Good afternoon and welcome. It’s the responsibility of a management officer to be as efficient and as economical as possible, so just a few brief remarks. When asking a question, please identify yourself and your office for the benefit of others. In light of the limited time available we have today, please make your questions as concise as possible. And because, obviously, of the size limitations of this room and the nationwide and worldwide reach of the State Department, this program is being broadcast throughout this building and is being made available direct and via rebroadcast to our colleagues around the country and around the world. So in this case, please remember that, in effect, this is a public forum. (Laughter.) In order to open to the process as much as possible, we will also be taking questions via the internet from colleagues at State Department offices around the country and around the world.
And with those, it is now my distinct pleasure to present to you the Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton. Madame Secretary. (Applause.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. Well, it is a real delight to be here with you for this town hall, and I want to welcome everyone inside this room and throughout the building, our country, and indeed, the world, because, as Pat said, we have a number of people who are joining us from posts overseas via the internet.
This town hall will, I hope, be the beginning of an ongoing conversation and part of an engaged and energetic, collaborative effort to make this the best-run, most effective State Department possible.
Now, some of you may know that I like to conduct listening tours. It’s something I started back in the 1980s when I was First Lady of Arkansas. I continued it in New York and around the country. I found that meeting with people and listening to their concerns in small groups and large was very important to me and gave me a lot of excellent ideas and constructive criticism.
So I like to think that this town hall will launch the latest of my listening tours. I want and need to hear from you, and that is not an idle invitation but an urgent request. We want to continue the dialogue we’re beginning today, and in fact, we’re creating a space on the Intranet website for you to generate your own ideas and engage in conversations with the whole Department.
I take the responsibility of managing our Department and obtaining the resources necessary to fulfill our missions very seriously. It’s why I appointed a new second position of Deputy Secretary to oversee the resources and management, working with many of you. And I’m very encouraged that both of our Deputies, Jim Steinberg and Jack Lew, have actually been confirmed. I can’t say that about anybody else yet.
Because we know that we can’t usher in a new era of diplomacy and development without adequate resources and support. We can’t exercise smart power if we don’t have what we need to do our job at the highest level. We can’t continue to take on new responsibilities if we don’t have the resources to fulfill them.
I want to emphasize as emphatically as I can that each of us must do our part internally to assure that we are efficient, effective, and productive. Especially in this era of financial crisis and budget crunch, we have to demonstrate that we are not just eager for new resources, which we so richly deserve, but that we are equally determined to improve the way our Department is run.
So I ask you to apply the same robust diplomacy and engagement inside this building and at other posts across the world, a willingness to discuss and debate, to be open-minded, forward-thinking, to share better ideas, better methods, better ways of executing the very difficult tasks confronting us.
Starting this Friday, there will be on the website, on Department Intranet, a place where you can go to submit your concrete ideas for these kinds of reforms and improvements, publicly if you wish, anonymously if you prefer. And I encourage you to use this site. I want your best ideas, your best assessment of the impact of the suggestions you’re making, and your best sense of the potential implementation challenges. We will consider all of them carefully and report back to you regularly.
Now, I hope that we don’t have most of the suggestions related to the food in the cafeteria. (Laughter.) You know, since I’ve been here, about two weeks I guess, we’ve tried to deal with the appointment of a Special Envoy to the Middle East and a Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and get ready for the NATO summit and the Summit of the Americas and all the important work that is going on. But I went to the cafeteria – (laughter) – and I was more directly engaged on price, quality, and efficiency of the delivery of the food – (applause) – than of any of these crises that fill the headlines. (Laughter.) So we do welcome suggestions about that, but we’d like to expand the reach. (Laughter.)
I know you work very hard at your jobs. You spend long hours and you make great sacrifices. So we owe it to ourselves to set the bar very high as we take on the responsibilities of this Department and we take advantage of the extraordinary support and concern that President Obama has for the work that we do. When we talk about the three pillars of American foreign policy – defense, diplomacy, development – they’re not just words to the President and me. As some of you may recall from my confirmation hearing, his late mother was involved in development work, microfinance. In one of those strange coincidences of history, I was scheduled to appear with her on a panel in Beijing during the United Nations Women’s Conference in 1995, but she, at the time, was too sick to travel and died shortly afterwards.
As many of you know because you’ve been coming up to me in the hallways and talking to me in the larger meetings we’ve been having, you’ve seen me before because I would travel to somewhere you were posted, and you know how committed I am to the work that you do and how proud I am of those efforts.
So I am eager to hear your thoughts, and I hope you will join this conversation. I look forward to taking questions from those of you in this room and over the internet. We have microphones set up, one there and one there. And, Pat, we have somebody doing the internet microphone right there. So if you have questions, please line up. We’ll just call on you in the order in which you are lined up, and we’ll take as many questions as we possibly can during the time that we have together.
But again, let me thank you for what you are doing, thank you for what you will do, and pledge to you my very best efforts to do all that I can to create the circumstances that will enable you to represent our country, to do the work you do with the resources you deserve to have, and to fulfill the promise of President Obama in his inaugural address where we reach out to the world, where we find common ground, and we pursue common goals in pursuit of those values that we hold so dear. Thank you all very, very much. I’m proud to be your Secretary of State. (Applause.)
So we’re going to start with this microphone. And please identify yourself and maybe say a word or two about where you work.
QUESTION: Good afternoon, Madame Secretary. It’s an honor to be working under your leadership, and I look forward to the challenges that you present. My name is Stephanie Ortoleva. I work in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.
I basically wanted to ask you a question about what do you think can be the role that we can play, which you’ve illuminated – you’ve given us a little bit of illumination on that – but also what role can our colleagues who work in women’s rights organizations and disability rights organizations, what role can those colleagues play in supporting you in your efforts to advance the rights of women and the rights of people with disabilities as part of an integral part of United States foreign policy?
SECRETARY CLINTON: That’s a wonderful question. I thank you for it. You know, I think it was 1997, I came to this auditorium, the Dean Acheson Auditorium, with Madeleine Albright, who was Secretary of State, and addressed a large crowd like this about the commitment that the Clinton Administration had to including women as an integral part of foreign policy, not as an afterthought, not as an adjunct, but in recognition of the fact that we know from a myriad of studies and research that the role of women is directly related to democracy and human rights. And I feel similarly about people with disabilities.
It’s important to recognize that expanding the circle of opportunity and increasing the democratic potential of our own society, as well as those across the world, is a continuing process of inclusion. And I look forward to working on behalf of the rights of women and people with disabilities, and others as well, as we pursue our foreign policy. Because I think it sends a clear message about who we are as a people, the evolution that we have undergone.
I remember as First Lady traveling to many countries that had no recognition of the rights of people with disabilities. They were literally warehoused, often in the most horrific conditions. There were no laws. There were no requirements for education or access. And it struck me then and – we’ve made some progress, but insufficient. It certainly is part of my feeling now that we have to always be hoping and working toward greater inclusion as a key part of what our values are and what we believe democracy represents. So I’m going to look to working with those of you in the Department and at USAID and with our allies and friends outside who have carried on this work over the years. And you can count on my commitment to you on that.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, I’m Steve Kashkett, representing the American Foreign Service Association. As you know, over the past six years, thousands of our colleagues have volunteered to serve in the two war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan – Iraq in particular, where we’ve created the largest U.S. diplomatic mission in history. But the cost of doing this has been to take people away from all of our other diplomatic missions around the world, which have been left understaffed and with staffing gaps.
So my question to you is two parts. How do you assess the prospect of getting Congress to authorize the positions we need to fill all those staffing gaps around the world? And secondly, have you had any discussions yet about reducing the size of our diplomatic mission in Iraq down to that of a normal diplomatic mission?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Steve, I am fully in favor of increasing our diplomatic numbers, and we’re going to work very hard to achieve that. We are facing, unfortunately, some very difficult budgetary restraints. But I have made the enhancement of State operations, including Foreign Service and Civil Service positions, the highest priority. We cannot do the work we are expected to do in the absence of the people and the support systems that enable us to do the work. And I intend to make that argument every time I speak to anyone, and I have been making that argument. And it’s too early to tell exactly where we’re going to end up on the numbers and the dollars that we’re going to need. But it is an incredibly critical priority. I know that during his campaign, President Obama talked about this and I know how strongly supportive he is.
We are just beginning the discussions about Iraq. You know we have the Strategic Framework that was part of the agreements reached along with the Status of Forces Agreement that will, to some extent, guide us. We have elections in Iraq. We did the provincial, we’ll have national elections. Much of it’s going to depend, in terms of the numbers that we have remaining in Iraq on the civilian side, what the expectations of the Iraqi Government and the Iraqi people are. You know, they are a sovereign nation. We have certainly put forth in the Strategic Framework, and in the conversations that I’ve had with Iraqi leaders since arriving, a willingness to work on a range of issues on the civilian side. But we’re just at the very beginning of that process.
MODERATOR: Good afternoon, Secretary Clinton. My name is Brenda Greenberg, and I work for HR Public Affairs. We’ve already received 23 excellent questions and four comments on IRM’s Office of eDiplomacy blog. One of the first questions came from Mike Barela at the Engineering Services Center in Athens, Greece.
Secretary of Defense Gates has made several public statements indicating that the Department of State should undertake some significant functions previously performed by Defense abroad in relation to non-military activities. Do you support his position and, if so, are you willing to ask the Administration and Congress for the mandate and funding for State to assume these roles?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I absolutely do support the position. I think that it’s clear many of the functions that should properly be performed by the State Department and USAID have migrated over the last years to the Defense Department. And I’m heartened by Secretary Gates’ commitments, both publicly and privately to me, that he wants to work with us to rebuild State’s capacity. I see John Herbst sitting there – we’ve got to do more to make it possible for us to take back those authorities. And it then ties in with Steve’s question – we’ve got to have the resources and the people to be able to perform these responsibilities. So this is a – an ongoing challenge to us. But I am one hundred percent behind us assuming more responsibilities and doing so with the resources that will enable us to be successful.
You know, in my confirmation I pointed out – having served on the Senate Armed Services Committee for a number of years in the Senate – how the difference in discretion and funding is so dramatic. Under the Commander’s Emergency Response Program, young military officers are given cash to use for crises and for interventions, for infrastructure programs. And that is certainly a contrast with what State Department and USAID employees are able to do. I, you know, said that, you know, they could spend $50,000 building a school, and, you know, you’d have to spend days requisitioning $10 to plan to build a school. So the difference in authorities, resources is an unfortunate result, in large measure, of the last eight years of two wars and the challenges we confronted.
So we’re going to, you know, work to win back the resources, the authorities, and the confidence that we can fulfill these jobs. But that’s why in the very beginning I said we’ve got to demonstrate that we’re going to do so at the highest possible accountability and performance. So that’s why I’m soliciting your ideas about how best to accomplish that.
But there is not only the commitment from Secretary Gates to work with us, but also others in the Administration, including the White House. However, a lot of those speeches were given before the budget was in such bad shape. So I think we have to be realistic about the timing and sequencing of what we’re going to be able to take back and assume responsibility for, but it remains a very high priority for me.
QUESTION: Hi. I’m Cheryl Pellerin with the IIP Bureau, International Information Programs. I write for the America.gov website. And I’d like to know what you think about science as a tool for public diplomacy.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, I think that that’s a great question. I was deeply disturbed as a senator and certainly during my presidential campaign – you know I ran for President at some point – (laughter and applause). And so, you know – I sometimes totally forget that. You know, it’s like a blur, it went by so fast. (Laughter.)
But during the last eight years, I gave several speeches about the degradation of science, both our failure to fund science and the politicization of science. And it is a tremendously important issue to me, because it is a real advantage that the United States has. And we have been hamstringing our scientists, underfunding our scientific governmental research, imposing ideology in place of evidence about the uses of sciences and the role of scientists.
And I was thrilled when President Obama made it very clear that, you know, science is back, that we are going to look to evidence and facts. I used to say on the floor of the Senate, when I was particularly bewildered or frustrated by policies that I saw occurring, that there was an effort to turn Washington into an evidence-free zone. And we’re going to bring back, you know, the idea that there should be evidence-based decision making, accountable decision making, results-oriented decision making, because at the end of the day, we hold in trust from the American people the responsibility to do our very best to act on the basis of what the facts are. Now, we may not like them, we may wish that they were different, but we should be working to try to understand.
And I want to see science not only funded again, but to have our Department and USAID be in the forefront of, you know, enlisting scientists for all kinds of the problems that we face, working to encourage more scientific exchanges, you know, creating once again what was historically an American strength: our higher education system, our research institutions, the scientific history that we – is so rich. So yes, it’s a very big idea that I hope, if you have some thoughts, you’ll share with us on the intranet about we could play a more robust role in promoting science again here and around the world.
QUESTION: Thank you, Madame Secretary, and thank you for coming to address us today. My name is Ralan Hill. I’m a Foreign Service officer. I am here in Washington on TDY, going to Paraguay. I have a same-sex partner, who’s been recognized as a member of household by the Department of State. Because of that, the Department actively discriminates against me and my family in a number of areas by limiting our access to benefits routinely and customarily provided to other families here in the Department. As one example, if I were assigned overseas to a post that came under a mandatory evacuation order, I would be required to leave, although the Department is under no legal obligation to do anything to help my partner. He could be left literally to fend for himself in a war zone.
While I hope you find the current situation unacceptable, my question is what can you do to eliminate this discrimination, and what timeline do you see for making such changes? Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, thank you for raising that. (Applause.) You know, this is an issue of real concern to me. And even though, as you pointed out, all of our personnel share the same service requirements, the partners in same-sex relationships are not offered the same training, the same benefits, and the same protections that other family members receive when you serve abroad. So I view this as an issue of workplace fairness, employee retention, and the safety and effectiveness of our embassy communities worldwide.
So I have asked for a staff review of current policies, especially those that are set forth in State Department regulations, and recommendations and a strategy for making effective changes. This is on a – it’s on a fast timeline, but we’ve begun that process. We are reviewing what would need to be changed, what we can legally change. A lot of things we cannot legally change by a decision in the State Department. But let’s see what we can determine is within our realm of responsibility, and we are moving on that expeditiously.
MODERATOR: Okay. Our next question comes from Anjalina Sen, the Vice Consul in Guangzhou. She asks: How will the work of the special envoys be integrated into the work of the rest of the State Department?
SECRETARY CLINTON: That’s also a really good question. I want your ideas about how we can integrate all of our work better. It’s not just about integrating special envoys. It’s about having a more regional approach in many instances, about having more communication across the lines here in the Department.
One of the common concerns that’s been expressed to me for the last several months, ever since I was offered this position, is how we don’t do a good job communicating with one another even though we have all this electronic gadgetry that’s supposed to keep us in touch with each other. So I would like to know how we can do a better job.
I had, you know, a career Foreign Service officer ambassador tell me how frustrating it was to him that very often the lines of communication between him and his counterpart in a neighboring country had to come back through Washington, that it couldn’t be simultaneous. There is just a lot that we need to be thinking about. We have all these tools and we should be trying to figure out how to use the ones we have more effectively, as well as what additional tools we need. So that’s a general point.
On the specific point, the two that we’ve appointed, the Special Envoy to the Middle East, the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, are working closely with the respective bureaus in P in order to be staffed and prepared. They will have an ongoing consultative relationship with various parts of the Department beyond the bureaus, certainly the ambassadors in the countries that are affected by their scope of assignment.
And we’re going to do all we can, but I invite people to let us know what we can do to make it work better. Because the advantages of special envoys is you get off to a fast start, and part of that is you can – in this case, I made the recommendations to the President for these positions, he agreed, we appointed them, and they’re off and working. You know, Senator Mitchell just got back from his first visit to the Middle East and to the Gulf and to Europe. Ambassador Holbrooke leaves today.
Contrast that, to be very, you know, clear about this with all the people still waiting to be confirmed. I mean, it is a – you know, it’s an opportunity for the President and I to say, look, these are important. Because when you talk to foreign leaders, the idea that you get elected but you can’t staff your government doesn’t compute. So there is a certain benefit. But on the other side of it, we know that we need close coordination and constant communication. We do not want, you know, people who are not integrated into what our policy and our planning, our strategic objectives and our goals are. So we’re working to make that happen, and again, we welcome ideas.
Some of you are old hands about this. We know we’ve had this experience before. I looked at the list from the previous administration and there were 38 special envoys. And a lot of them were double-hatted or, you know, not really integrated so that it was more difficult for them to fulfill the missions they were given. So we want, when we use these special envoy positions, to make them effective. That’s the goal. That’s the reason we’re doing it. And so again, your experience and your expertise would be welcome.
QUESTION: Good afternoon and thank you for this opportunity, Madame Secretary. My name is Doris Haywood and I am in the Bureau of Economic, Energy and Business Affairs. I would like to hear your thoughts on the role of the new kid on the block, DHS, in international policy, particularly as they are expanding overseas, and also on the impact of many of our new security initiatives and programs as well as congressional mandates on foreign policy overall. Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much. You’re right. I mean, the Department of Homeland Security is the new kid on the block with the fastest growth curve of any kid I have ever seen. You know, if you were putting pencil marks on a wall, you would have run out of wall pretty soon. (Laughter.) And they have a very important role to play.
I mean, obviously, they have been entrusted with the responsibility of working to knit together the many different government agencies and functions that are focused on the safety and security of the United States. But they do have a broader reach, and in fact, I’ll be meeting with the new Secretary, Janet Napolitano, in the next week or two, to talk through how we will begin our coordination. Because we want to have, you know, better coordination within our department and across the government, insofar as possible.
You know, we all know that we have these huge agencies that have enormous responsibilities, but we’ve got to see where we can coordinate better. And it is true, too, that oftentimes our embassies serve as the hub for all the different governmental functions and personnel from many different agencies. And that is a big coordination job, and I don’t think that we have been given the support we need to perform that coordination job, and we don’t want to be reinventing the wheel. We want to be efficient, but we’re going to have to get more help because every time somebody else sort of joins the embassy roster, the administrative and management responsibilities grow on our shoulders. So we’ve got a lot of thinking to do about how to make this more effective and efficient.
On the security issue, in general, this remains an extremely high priority. Obviously, we all know that there are real threats and dangers that are present, aimed at the United States and our friends and allies around the world. And the State Department has an important role to play in that security framework, and we are going to, you know, do all that we can to be a good leader and a good partner with the rest of the government.
Again, I welcome any ideas those of you who have been working in this arena might offer, because it is a critical function that you’ve got to get right. There is no do-overs. As someone who was a senator at the time of 9/11 representing New York, I have a particular personal commitment to our security. I lived through it. I worked on behalf of victims and families and feel a great sense of responsibility. So I want to enlist the ideas that some of you may have about how State and USAID can play the roles that we must play.
Let’s see, where was I? Here? Yeah.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, my name is Jonita Whitaker. As the Director of the foreign policy advisor program, POLAD, I noted with great enthusiasm your recent testimony and remarks on the importance of smart power unifying the Department of State and the Department of Defense and the need for State and Defense to work together. What are your thoughts about the role of the foreign policy advisor program or the foreign policy advisors? And what are some other ways in which State and Defense can work together at a high level? Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I have a general thought that we want to forge closer working relationships and understand each other’s culture so that we can maximize our involvement and effectiveness. But I really invite you to give me your ideas about what else we can do and how to do it. Because I think it’s not just with Secretary Gates, but throughout the military, in my conversations with many of our combatant commanders, they recognize that most of the conflicts we are facing and will face rarely have a military solution. The military is a means to a political solution, and the political side of the equation, which includes our particular areas of expertise – diplomacy and development in particular, I guess – has been under-resourced and not recognized to the extent of the contribution that we make.
So this has to be an ongoing dialogue with our friends at DOD, and we have to listen to them as we want them to listen to us. You know, what have they seen and experienced that can give us guidance about how we can do what we do better? And how can we help them perform the functions they often perform in the very beginning, which are, you know, not just warfighting but stability and peacekeeping and interaction on a very personal political level with leaders in an area, better so that they can feel that they’re enhancing their skills?
So we need more cross-fertilization, more interchange, more of a common mission. You know, I’ve talked with Secretary Gates and General Jim Jones about how we need to look at our whole national security framework from a more holistic perspective. You know, if we are serious about diplomacy and development and culture and politics and anthropology and sociology and all the things that we can bring to the table, then we’ve got to be at that table from the very beginning as we plan for the national security strategy of the United States. So there’s a lot we’re working on and thinking through, and I hope you’ll give me some of your ideas about how we can perform better.
MODERATOR: Our third blog question is from FSI’s Intermediate Business Writing class. They say that –
SECRETARY CLINTON: I can’t hear you.
MODERATOR: I’m sorry. Our third question is a joint question from the Intermediate Business Writing class at the Foreign Service Institute. They say that former Secretary of State Colin Powell initiated a mandatory leadership training program for both Foreign and Civil Service. They want to know what is your vision and funding priority vis-à-vis professional development for all State Department employees.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I’ve talked with Colin Powell on a couple of occasions about the Diplomatic Readiness Initiative, the training, and other reforms that he was championing. And I believe strongly that, you know, one of our challenges is to increase our numbers and train, and it’s got to be both. You know, we have to increase our numbers, in part, so that we can have ongoing training. You know, right now, people are being given assignments and put into very challenging positions, which many of you have experienced, without the time on task to train for and be prepared.
So we have to get this right. We’re a long way from that right now. And much of it will depend upon how many new positions we can get, how many we get funded, how much more we can put into training, what other kinds of opportunities will be available for Foreign Service and Civil Service to obtain the additional skills and preparation that’s needed. But this is part of my priority list as well because I know how important it is, and we’re going to be working hard to, you know, figure out the strategy going forward. You know, Pat Kennedy, who did an excellent job briefing me during the transition, you know, brought that up time and time again, that we need to have a training agenda as well as a ramping up of numbers. It’s got to be both, not one or the other. And that’s my commitment.
QUESTION: Good afternoon, Madame Secretary. My name is Chris Dilworth. I’m an intern from Indiana University. I’m interning in the Bureau of Human Resources, Department of Resource Management and Organizational Analysis. My question is a quick one. Will you ban private military contracts?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we have, as you know, expressed a lot of concern about private security contracts. The Department ended the Blackwater contract in Iraq. But here’s the dilemma, and take Iraq as the example. We are going to be withdrawing our troops. Now, the President’s working right now on how to sequence the withdrawal and how to do so in as safe and effective manner as possible.
We believe there will be an important role for our civilian employees. How we provide security and safety for those performing civilian functions is a very difficult question. The military assets will be diminishing. The numbers of civilians in Iraq, to go back to Steve’s question, will also be decreasing. But there will be a corps of, you know, Foreign Service and Civil Service and foreign nationals who will be performing the work of the United States of America. And I, for one, as your Secretary, want to make sure that they have necessary security.
So we’re working that out. This is one of the issues on a long list of issues about Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places. I certainly am of the mind that we should, insofar as possible, diminish our reliance on private security contractors. Whether we can go all the way to banning, under current circumstances, seems unlikely, but we ought to be engaged in a very careful review of where they should and shouldn’t be used, and under what circumstances. And that’s what we’re doing right now.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, it is an honor to speak with you. I’m Caryl Traten Fisher. I’m with FARA, the Foreign Affairs Recreation Association, and I’m the founder and director of the State of the Arts Cultural Series here at the State Department. We have a lunchtime concert every other week, usually in this auditorium, and I’ve had everything from the Moscow Chamber Orchestra to competitors from the Van Cliburn Competition. I believe in what I’m doing. In fact, the piano behind the curtain is my piano. It’s a grand piano, and that’s available for anybody that wants to perform here.
We have even a talent show in September, which, by the way, I invite your husband anytime he wants to come and play his saxophone. (Applause.) We would love to have him, so pass that on to him. But I just wanted you to know that you’re welcome to come to our concerts anytime you’re able, and it was a pleasure to meet you. Thank you so much.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you for that very kind invitation, too. (Applause.) I was holding my breath when you were leading up to who you were going to invite to be in the talent show. (Laughter.) You invited the right member of my family. (Laughter.) Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you very much.
MODERATOR: Okay, our next question comes from Ed Gagliardi, the Information Management Officer at U.S. Embassy Mexico City. He says that Facebook, MySpace, and other web 2.0 social networking technologies will significantly enhance the Department’s diplomacy efforts and business goals. For example, an astute consular officer in Hermosillo recently used Facebook to determine a visa applicant’s ineligibility based on information contained on the applicant’s Facebook page – (applause) – proving its value as an anti-fraud tool. (Laughter.)
Do you intend to work with the Department’s security stakeholders in order to navigate or mitigate the vulnerabilities of these technologies so that we may leverage their business benefits?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes, absolutely. (Applause.) You know, during the transition you get these very informative papers and briefings, and I bet a lot of you worked on the papers, and I thank you for them. It did, you know, lose me a little more of my eyesight, but it was very, very helpful.
On the security issue and on outreach and public diplomacy, we must figure out a way consistent with security to use these new tools. There is no doubt in my mind that we have barely scratched the surface as to what we can use to communicate with people around the world, and in fact, to use them as tools, as this gentleman pointed out, to further our own work and to be smart about it.
There are legitimate concerns about security, but I believe we cannot just take that at face value and stop thinking about it. We’ve got to figure out how we’re going to be smarter about using technology. So I think that’s a great example, the Facebook example. And you know, we might want to follow up on that example, checking out Facebook. For everybody who is applying for a visa, you just should know that the State Department is on the watch here for Facebook.
But I think that this is a tremendous opportunity, and I know that it is not, you know, as easily done as said. I’m well aware of that. You’ve followed the concern of the President about having to give up his Blackberry. It is maddening, and we know that, but we have to figure out how consistent with what is the security that we need – not everything we want or everything that some people want for us, but what we actually need – we can use these. And again, I welcome your ideas. I said in the beginning it could be anonymous as well as public. If people have ideas about how better to use these tools, please let me know because we’re going to work very hard – we have some people already looking at this – to see what more we can do to stay in touch with the world, which is our job, after all, to try to do that. And especially given the extraordinary language skills that this Department and USAID have, it just is a tremendous opportunity.
And I have to say, other countries, other organizations, both, you know, those that are acting in good faith and wishing us – and those that are wishing us ill, are much further advanced in an organized way in using a lot of these tools. And the United States Government has been pretty slow in coming to grips with technology. And so I hope – I mean, Colin Powell was telling me how when he arrived, you know, eight years ago, we had Wang computers. And I remember when Bill and I arrived in the White House, we had rotary phones. I mean, and I’ll tell you what, they didn’t even still have rotary phones in Arkansas. We were way, way ahead of that. (Laughter.)
So the United States Government is behind nearly everybody, except in certain discrete areas, in terms of technology. And we are, in my view, wasting time, wasting money, wasting opportunities, because we are not prepared to communicate effectively with what is out there in the business world and the private world. So I care passionately about this, especially since I’ve been deprived of my Blackberry, so – at least during the day, anyway – so, I am, again, soliciting your advice.
QUESTION: Good afternoon, Secretary Clinton. Thank you so much for this opportunity. My name is Zahra Ayoubi, and I’m an intern – a student intern at HR. I’m originally from Afghanistan, so my question is kind of related to that. I understand that there is a great amount of financial support from the U.S. Government to Afghanistan. But due to lack of some honest leadership from Afghan administration, we don’t see as many developments as we could have. What are some of the measures that you want to take to ensure honest allocation of that money for the right purposes in Afghanistan?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, thank you for raising that, because, you know, Jack Lew and Rich Greene and Pat Kennedy and their teams are, as we speak, trying to figure out how much money and from what funding streams is going into Afghanistan. That’s one of the questions that Ambassador Holbrooke asked me after doing a quick review. He said, “There’s a lot of money going in, but where is it going and what are the accountability metrics?” And so, we’re trying to get a handle on that, number one.
Number two, it’s part of my hope that we will be much smarter and more accountable on how we use any money, and it’s especially important when there’s so much riding on how effective we are. So we’re trying to figure out what’s going in, where it’s going, what the positive results are. We’re going to contrast that with what NGOs have done, because a lot of NGOs have a commendable track record for being able to show results – not everybody, but a lot of them do. We’re working on governance issues and anticorruption issues, as you know so well, that are troublesome, not just in Afghanistan, but elsewhere as well.
So our goal is not to spend money for the sake of spending it, but to do so in order to produce a tangible result that will benefit the people of Afghanistan. I’ve been there three times. I’ve had a number of meetings, both there and here, with representatives of all kinds of groups in the government, outside the government. And it is a really big, personal concern of mine that we do a better job.
And I know – we had a meeting yesterday with a number of Afghanistan experts, people who have lived and worked in Afghanistan over numbers of years, and they all raise exactly the same question. We have to get a handle on what we’re spending, how we’re spending it, and what we’re getting for it. And that’s our intention to do that. Thank you.
UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: Madame Secretary, this will have to be the last question.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Okay. Yes, sir.
QUESTION: Honorable Secretary, my name is Mohammad Saifullah. I am with the IRM Bureau, working for the government for 20 years in the Foreign Service. I also work with the local South Asian community. And during the campaign we had a slogan, “Change.” And I used that slogan also in our community. And at the same time, I just recently visited Bangladesh and India, and I have observed increasingly human rights, women rights, and child labor violation. And what kind of policy you – and measurement you are taking to Bangladesh, India, Southeast Asian countries, to protect their rights and their local South Asian community member? If I can help you with my experience and anything I can do for protecting their rights. Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. Thank you for your service, and thank you for that offer. And I hope you will share any ideas you have.
You know, this is kind of coming full circle. Our first question was about women’s rights and disability rights, child labor rights, human rights, which are at the core of, you know, our mission and who we are as a people. We will be, you know, sending a very clear message that we are hoping to encourage changes in law and behavior. I feel very strongly, and said so at my hearing, that the abuses of human rights, particularly women and children, is a crime against all of us, and it is not cultural. You know, when a young girl on her way to school in Afghanistan is attacked by the Taliban and acid thrown in her face because she wants to learn to read and write, that is a crime. When a young child is deprived of the opportunity for an education and forced into labor, that is a crime. When women and children are trafficked into sex trade or other forced labor, that is a crime. There are so many reasons why it’s important for us to speak out against these crimes wherever they occur, and we intend to do so.
We also want solutions. You know, not everything is as, you know, clear as we would want it to be. You know, there is a great deal of concern on the part of some of our friends in South Asia and elsewhere that ending child labor drives families further into poverty. You know, these are the kinds of difficult questions we have to work in partnership with other countries, and recognize and respect the cultural norms, but not end there.
And I’ll just end with this one story because it made a big impression on me. You know, as First Lady, I went to Senegal. And there is an NGO in Senegal that has worked for years. This is not the kind of work that happens overnight. It doesn’t often correspond with our sense of time. And it is something that has to be consistent and continued over however long it takes. And because of the grassroots work supported by the United States Government with small grants, this NGO worked to influence village elders to end the practice of female cutting, convinced the elders that it was a health risk, that it was not religiously based – in one village – and then supported those elders who traveled from village to village to make the case. It wasn’t instantaneous, it wouldn’t fit into a headline, but eventually, it started to change attitudes and behaviors and even laws.
So we have to be creative in our diplomacy and our outreach, and we have to be respectful and humble about others’ life experiences and norms. But we can effectively, and I believe persuasively, make the case as to why we believe certain actions violate common universal human rights. And if we do that with the right attitude and with the patience that is called for, I think we can make more progress than just by issuing edicts, pointing fingers, and making demands.
So with that, thank you all for being part of the American foreign policy instrument. (Applause.)