Those of you who follow me on Twitter know that I’m back in Washington this week to attend a global Chiefs of Mission conference called by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The key agenda items are advancing our comprehensive economic statecraft initiatives, expanding the scope and pace of diplomatic innovation under our 21st Century Statecraft program, and sharing best practices on a wide array of challenges faced in our Missions around the world.

The conference started yesterday evening with a welcome reception for the Ambassadors and senior Department officials in the historic Benjamin Franklin Room, hosted by Secretary Clinton. I thoroughly enjoyed chatting  with a few dozen of my colleagues about current events and new projects in our respective Embassies. I also had the opportunity to talk with the Secretary about developments in New Zealand and Samoa, including the status of reconstruction in Christchurch.

To launch the formal proceedings, this morning the Secretary delivered a forceful keynote address reporting on the status of restructuring and innovations under our first Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), and highlighting certain priority policy areas for the year ahead.

The priorities discussed by the Secretary include pursuing robust values-based diplomacy in Afghanistan and Iraq as our soldiers depart, expanding our already extensive engagement in and around the Pacific, assisting societies transitioning to democracy, positioning economic engagement at the top of our agenda, continuing to elevate Development as a critical partner of Diplomacy and Defense in America’s security strategy, and maintaining our focus on the status of women and girls.

Following the Secretary’s remarks, Deputy Secretaries William Burns and Thomas Nides drilled down into matters within their respective portfolios. We then spent a couple hours discussing economic statecraft policies and projects with a panel of experts, after which we adjourned to the Ben Franklin Room for lunch with a special guest, Senator John Kerry, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

The afternoon was devoted to a dozen small-group break-out sessions covering topics ranging from crisis management to cyber policy to human rights. At the end of the day we reconvened in the Acheson Auditorium, named in honor of august Secretary of State Dean Acheson, for a lengthy town hall session with Secretary Clinton. The Secretary’s leadership style is highly interactive and consultative, and she fielded dozens of questions, critiques, and suggestions from our assembled Ambassadors.

The Benjamin Franklin State Dining Room.

Stock photo of the Benjamin Franklin Room, with my personal American hero Ben Franklin looking on from the far wall. (There were, of course, no flowers at lunch.)

Tonight I’ll be attending separate receptions hosted by our Global Partnership Initiative and the Business Council for International Understanding. Led by my friend Kris Balderston, our Global Partnership Initiative forges strategic partnerships with private businesses, philanthropies, foundations, universities, faith communities, Diaspora groups, and individuals to pursue innovative projects to improve people’s lives around the world. The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves is just one example of the exciting and impactful work that Kris’ team is doing.

Wednesday and Thursday will be devoted to separate regional conferences. Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell will run a packed agenda for our Ambassadors from the Pacific and East Asia to discuss issues and projects of particular importance in our part of the world. Kurt has asked me to help lead two of the sessions. With my colleagues from Japan and Thailand, I’ll be talking about lessons learned in disaster response and crisis management over the past year. With colleagues from the Philippines and Indonesia, I’ll be talking about how to develop and implement innovative approaches to public diplomacy.

The formal agenda for the overall conference concludes Thursday evening. I plan to stay for an additional day so that I can devote Friday to a series of individual meetings at the White House, State Department, and other agencies, wrapping up the consultations that I started upon my arrival yesterday.

As usual, my time in DC is inspirational, invigorating, and highly productive. A couple of internal log-jams have already been cleared on projects of importance to Embassies Wellington and Apia. I’ve been proselytizing about Embassy Wellington’s youth, social media, and other idealab activities, some of which are being replicated elsewhere. And, although it’s only Tuesday, I’ve already filled a small notebook with new information and ideas gleaned from my colleagues. Thanks and kudos to the Secretary for convening the full team in such a smart, efficient, and powerful manner.

Last week Secretary Clinton convened our first-ever Global Chiefs of Mission Conference at the Department of State in Washington.  The Conference brought together in one place all of our U.S. Ambassadors from around the world in order to discuss current events, diplomatic best practices, and a variety of other topics.  Everyone traveled in, except for a couple of colleagues who were attending to kinetic situations at their posts.

As an appointee from outside the diplomatic corps, I had assumed that all the Ambassadors got together each year as a matter of course, just as my couple hundred partners always did in the large law firms at which I worked.  Thus, I was surprised to learn that there had never before been such a conclave … not in the 235 years since the Continental Congress dispatched the first American Ambassador, Benjamin Franklin, to Paris in 1776.

Our prime agenda item was discussing the recently completed Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR). Last year Secretary Clinton launched a sweeping analysis of how America engages in diplomacy and development work abroad. The result – the first-ever QDDR – is a blueprint for elevating, refining, and better leveraging what the Secretary calls American “civilian power” as a leading force for good in the world. The QDDR is all about being smarter, more effective, and more efficient in how we execute our duties.

The Secretary introduces the Vice President at our conference.

The Secretary introduces the Vice President at our conference.

At the core of the QDDR is a critical objective, with potentially powerful outcomes.  As the Secretary says, “Leading through civilian power means directing and coordinating the resources of all America’s civilian agencies to prevent and resolve conflicts; help countries lift themselves out of poverty into prosperous, stable, and democratic states; and build global collations to address global problems.”

The concept is patterned after the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) which is compiled and released every four years by the Department of Defense.  The QDR defines America’s strategic security interests and lays out a public blueprint for addressing them.

Secretary Clinton sees America’s overseas engagement as composed of three D’s – Defense, Diplomacy, and Development. The first-ever QDDR subjects Diplomacy and Development to a regular, strategic evaluation and planning process at State … similar and complementary to what the Pentagon does with Defense.

Chairman Mullen addresses our assembled Ambassadors in the ornate Benjamin Franklin Room at the State Department.

Chairman Mullen addresses our assembled Ambassadors.

Crafted by a team led by my good friend and fellow Princetonian Anne-Marie Slaughter, the QDDR starts by analyzing the changing nature of diplomatic engagement in today’s world. It then sets forth recommendations on a wide array of organizational, operational, and substantive issues. A brief summary cannot do the document justice, so I would suggest that you take a direct look at the executive summary and full text at state.gov.

In addition to discussing the QDDR, we Ambassadors held break-out sessions organized around topics such as public diplomacy, commercial diplomacy, public-private partnerships, social media engagement, civil society development, and regional challenges.

We met with officials and experts from a large number of other US Government departments and agencies, including Energy, Interior, Justice, Commerce, and FBI.  We also met among ourselves and shared information about projects developed in certain of our Embassies. There was significant interest, for example, in the youth outreach programs launched here at US Mission New Zealand.

U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Susan Rice talks about current challenges.

U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Susan Rice talks about current challenges.

Secretary Clinton spent a good bit of the week with us, including personally running a lengthy question-and-answer session at the end of the conference.  A variety of other senior officials came to the Department for discussions including Vice President Joe Biden, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen, and Permanent Representative to the UN Susan Rice.

Perhaps the highlight of the week was a reception hosted for the Ambassadors by President Barack Obama at the White House. It was a wonderful, and powerful, way to end the conference. I am always energized by the tangible change in atmosphere I feel when I step into a place of such historical significance as the White House.

And of course I very much enjoyed my brief personal chat with the President in the Blue Room, during which I had the opportunity to update him on a couple of matters and invite him to visit New Zealand. In my private capacity as citizen and taxpayer, I also took the liberty of thanking him for his effective work on a couple of civil liberties and science issues of great importance to me.

Checking in with my supervisor.

During the reception the assembled Ambassadors had the run of the State Floor and East Wing of the White House. Drinks were set up in the East Room and the State Dining Room, where I enjoyed conversations with many of my fellow Chiefs of Mission from posts around the world including Paris, Islamabad, Majuro, Nassau, Canberra, and Ulan Bator.

I took advantage of the opportunity to meditate quietly in a few favorite spots. I like visiting the portrait of Benjamin Franklin, one of my American heroes, in the Green Room. I also like paying my respects – and reflecting on the challenges of revolution and governance – in the East Room at the foot of the Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington that was spirited to safety by fearless First Lady Dolley Madison as the British sacked Washington and torched the White House during the War of 1812.

A snapshot with my Blackberry as I left the White House grounds.

A look back (captured with my Blackberry) as I walked out of the White House after the reception.

My time in Washington was one of the most productive weeks I’ve had as Ambassador. I took on board a large volume of useful information and new ideas. Just as important, though, I was reminded constantly of the value of what we do here at US Mission New Zealand.

There’s nothing like time with the President, Vice President, Secretary, and Chairman to remind you of how all the pieces fit together and why your own particular piece is of critical importance.