The federal agency responsible for administering civilian foreign aid is now hiring workers to combat negative news media and promote positive spin about its Afghanistan operations.
The U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, is enlisting private-sector assistance to “lead rapid response efforts to correct erroneous or misleading news accounts.”
The agency on Tuesday re-launched its recruitment of a senior press liaison, who among other tasks must embark upon “aggressive outreach efforts” and “forge productive relationships” with international as well as Afghan news organizations, according to a Personal Services Contract, or PSC, notice – Solicitation Number SOL-306-12-000025-01/OPPD – that WND located the via routine database research.
Just last year, U.S. foreign aid to Afghanistan was the subject of a damning comprehensive congressional report that found billions of dollars of American aid may have been used to fuel corruption and create programs that would collapse as soon as the U.S. exited the region, causing dependency and future economic troubles for the poverty-stricken country.
In 2010, a media report exposed a $60 million “mismanaged” USAID project that left Afghans “angered over project failures, secrecy and wasted funds.”
This latest contracting action is only one of many media-monitoring and news-manipulation endeavors that USAID and the U.S. Department of State recently have launched.
Among the numerous government media initiatives that WND has exposed is the Obama administration’s comprehensive plan to influence African and global media on how they portray U.S. involvement in Kenya.
USAID, in this most recent project, is aiming to hire a press liaison with an extensive background as a working journalist – someone possessing not just deep knowledge of what news organizations need, but, most importantly, an exhaustive understanding of how the U.S. government might enable those media to meet their editorial needs.
The liaison therefore must be “persistent, tactful and thorough in gathering and placing stories,” the PSC emphasized.
“The Embassy Public Affairs Office performs this function for the embassy, and the USAID senior press liaison would work closely with the embassy, coordinating efforts,” the document said.
The ability to perform under “changing and often-difficult conditions” – while simultaneously displaying “cultural awareness and sensitivity” – are among other contract requirements. Consequently, the agency prefers applicants with demonstrated leadership skills and Afghanistan-specific experience.
Daily communication with the Afghan and global media is another demand of this position, according to the PSC. Inviting journalists to the USAID Mission-Kabul for tours, providing informal interviews and holding “on-background” conversations with journalists likewise is expected.
Liaison visits to news operation facilities – where he or she will attempt to become “a familiar presence” while “working to earn trust” among journalists – is yet another critical element of the position. The selected candidate, serving as a member of the Mission Development Outreach and Communications Office, conversely will be tasked with arranging reporter tours of USAID-Afghanistan projects.
Getting agency-approved stories published in media, however, represents only part of this job, as the liaison also must “write senior-level speeches that tell the USAID story eloquently and catch the attention of reporters, editors and producers.”
Similarly, training USAID Mission-Kabul leaders and officers how to deal with difficult reporters is another key element of this outsourced post. The liaison not only will deliver lectures to mission staff, but also will conduct what are known as “murder boards” – which USAID described as “rigorous mock interviews designed to prepare subjects to deal with aggressive reporters.”
The liaison additionally will work with locally employed USAID personnel in scanning Afghan and international reporting on the agency.
To counteract what USAID deems to be “inaccurate or incomplete stories and editorials,” the liaison ultimately is responsible for producing “effective stories and hard-hitting commentary to fill gaps in news coverage.”
The Kabul-based position pays in the $84,697-$110,104 range, not including a 35 percent post differential allowance and 35 percent danger pay. Perks under the one-year contract include two rest-and-recuperation, or R&R, trips, three “regional rest breaks” and 20 days of administrative leave, in addition to 48 hours of travel time for each reprieve.