Defense Department to consolidate all media activities

by William H. McMichael, Army Times

The Defense Department, recently criticized by a government watchdog group for belaboring federal base closures and consolidations mandated in 2005, began the New Year by fulfilling one of those mandates: consolidation of all Defense Department media activities.

Beginning Oct. 1, the new Defense Media Activity will oversee all the department’s public information activities such as the Stars and Stripes newspaper, the American Forces Radio and Television Service and the Hometown News Program.

The new organization, to be based at Fort Meade, Md., just down the road from the Defense Information School, will be directed by a Senior Executive Service careerist or flag or general officer to be named.

The consolidation requirement was part of the 2005 Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission’s final report, which called for the creation of an entity to oversee the individual services’ media products, such as the Army’s Soldiers magazine.

It also said the American Forces Information Service, which oversees Defense Department-level media activities, should “co-locate” with the new DMA.

Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England took the recommendation one step further in a Jan. 1 directive by combining all those organizations under one umbrella.

“The idea is to achieve some synergy from consolidating like functions in an environment where you can create a center of excellence, basically, for these types of activities,” said Bryan Whitman, deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs. “There’s also the opportunity to reduce some of the redundancy that’s not required, perhaps, in terms of management and overhead, things like that.”

Development of the group and its first-year budget has been given to Whitman, since the job of his supervisor — the political appointee charged with that responsibility in England’s directive — is vacant.

If that position isn’t filled during the Bush administration’s final year, Whitman also could end up chairing the Defense Media Oversight Board, a group of senior public affairs and information officers established by England’s directive that will provide advice on “policies, priorities and programs.”

The DMA will manage all information products aimed at the Defense Department and external audiences. These will range from radio and TV news and entertainment for overseas and shipboard personnel to the communication of senior leader messages. The activity also will provide all joint education and training for military and civilian personnel in the public affairs, broadcasting and visual information career fields.

“Information products,” however, will not include the America Supports You public relations program. That program falls under Whitman but is managed day-to-day by the deputy assistant secretary of defense for internal communications and public liaison, Allison Barber, who currently is responsible for the programs that will be managed by the DMA director.

America Supports You (http://www.americasupportsyou.mil/americasupportsyou/index.aspx), supported by taxpayer funds, was established in 2004 to boost citizen support for U.S. troops.

America Supports You and AFIS are being investigated by the Pentagon Inspector General — at the request of defense officials — after questions were raised in May in a New York Times report following criticism about the relationship between America Supports You and Stars and Stripes, the military’s independent daily newspaper.

Stars and Stripes has reported that America Supports You used the newspaper at least twice as a conduit for funding. One such transfer, to an outside public relations firm, totaled $499,000, the newspaper said.

Whitman said formation of the DMA is “completely unrelated” to the investigation, noting that the BRAC conclusions predate the administrative inquiry. He said the America Supports You program wasn’t placed under the DMA because it is not of the same “nature” as other external information programs.

Whitman reiterated that he knows of no improprieties related to the program and doesn’t anticipate any changes to it.

Whitman also said he expects Barber to continue in her current position. While it is unclear how the future responsibilities of her office might change, Whitman said the office of the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs — which both he and she fall under — “will still provide policy oversight for activities and operations of the DMA.”

Only about one-fourth of the new organization will be physically located at Fort Meade. Construction of the new DMA facility there will not begin until 2009 and will be done in 2011.

The DMA will have about 2,400 employees and an annual budget of about $200 million, according to defense officials.

article originally published at http://www.armytimes.com/news/2008/01/military_defensemediaactivity_080103w/.

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey