Statement of Ambassador John O’Keefe Executive Director Open World Leadership Center Before the Subcommittee on Legislative Branch Committee on Appropriations United States Senate

April 30, 2008

Statement of Ambassador John O’Keefe Executive Director Open World Leadership Center Before the Subcommittee on Legislative Branch Committee on Appropriations United States Senate

Madam Chairwoman, Senator Alexander, and other members of the
Subcommittee, I appreciate the opportunity to submit testimony on the Open World
Leadership Center's budget request for fiscal year 2009. The Open World Leadership
Center, of which I am the Executive Director, conducts the only exchange program in the
U.S. legislative branch and has hosted more than 13,000 emerging leaders from Russia,
Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Georgia, Moldova, Lithuania, Uzbekistan,
and Kazakhstan, our newest country. All of us at Open World are very grateful for the
continued support in the legislative branch and for congressional participation in the
program and on our governing board. We look forward to working with you on the
future of Open World.

Over the past eight years, Open World delegates have had the opportunity to
meaningfully engage and interact with an estimated 120,000 Americans throughout the
United States in professional, theme-focused programming that increasingly emphasizes
continuing projects and partnerships. More than 6,000 American families and individuals
in all 50 states have hosted the visiting participants. And in 2007 alone, the home hosting
of Open World participants by dedicated Americans in 187 different congressional
districts saved the Center an estimated $1.8 million in per diem accommodation and meal
costs. Over the life of the program, Open World has awarded more than $32 million in
grants to hosting organizations located in every region of the country.

Open World's impact on program participants is captured in the following
statement by a Russian alumna from Orenburg who studied issues related to HIV/AIDS
during her visit to Des Moines, Iowa, in 2006: “Upon return to Russia, I implemented
several HIV preventive and treatment approaches. I was aware of these approaches prior
to the Open World trip but it was only after seeing these efficiencies demonstrated in
practice in the U.S. that I was able to actually implement them at home. To sum it up, the
Open World trip to the U.S. confirmed for me the realistic possibility of implementing
these very important measures in Russia.” The alumna, who is a doctor specializing in
infectious diseases, met with various professional counterparts in Iowa, including an
HIV/AIDS outreach specialist at the Polk County Health Department and the executive
director of the AIDS Project of Central Iowa.

Open World has a track record of identifying tomorrow's leaders today. For
example, Open World alumni make up 10 percent of the newly elected Russian State
Duma. I believe part of Open World's secret for identifying leaders on the rise is its
strategy of targeting all regions in Open World countries, not just the major cities. In
Russia, the country with the largest and oldest Open World program, 80 percent of Open
World alumni live outside Moscow and Saint Petersburg. We also select relatively young
delegates—their average age is 38.

Program participants come to discuss topical issues of mutual interest and benefit,
such as ways of treating post-traumatic stress disorder among war veterans, preventing
the spread of avian flu, furthering the rights of women and children, and protecting the
environment. Mayors and city council members see firsthand how our elected officials
respond to constituents. All our delegates work with American hosts and peers who
share their interests and are often eager to partner with them on collaborative projects.
For example, when Open World first partnered with Rotary International in 1999, there
were 33 Rotary clubs in Russia. Today there are 87 clubs and 21 Rotaracts.

Since August 2007, when we began a concerted effort to track post-visit
successes, Open World has identified approximately 100 collaborative projects,
partnerships, and other concrete post-visit results each month. Some illustrative
examples.

Calendar Year 2007 Highlights

Russia

Open World hosted 1,165 Russian participants in calendar year 2007. Delegates
came from 77 of Russia's then 85 regions and represented a wide range of ethnic groups.
Women accounted for 57 percent of the delegates. These participants were hosted in 45
U.S. states and the District of Columbia. Open World's civic hosting themes were
accountable governance, rule of law, and social issues.

Many exchanges focused on issues of importance to both countries. For example:

A group of 16 nonproliferation experts visited the U.S. Department of
Energy national laboratories in Tennessee and Washington state. As a
result of the visit, an American Material Protection, Control, and
Accounting (MPC&A) contract with a Russian entity that was due to
expire in 2007 was renewed for 2008, thereby enhancing control of
nuclear materials, including weapons-grade uranium and plutonium.
Another delegate who is a senior instructor in the International Relations
Department at St. Petersburg State University has been selected by the
university to teach a course on nonproliferation policy, which would be
the first-ever such course in a Russian university.

In March 2007, Open World hosted Russian epidemiologists and
community health planning leaders who worked with their counterparts in
North Carolina on the preparation of a template to assist small to medium
size communities around the developed world in planning for, and
responding to, outbreaks of catastrophic disease.

A delegate active in anti–human trafficking efforts was offered a $48,000
grant by her U.S. hosting organization at the completion of her 2007 Open
World exchange to Arlington, Virginia. The September 2008–September
2009 grant, which is likely to be renewed annually, will support the new
Center for the Study of Organized Crime and Corruption in Stavropol and
its research on border security issues and irregular migration patterns that
promote terrorism, human trafficking, and labor exploitation. The
associate director of trafficking victims' assistance programs at the U.S.
Conference of Catholic Bishops, along with two Montgomery County,
Maryland detectives who met with this delegate while she was in the
United States, visited Russia in April. The delegate helped arrange for the
Americans to speak at numerous events, including a gathering of topranking
police officers from Russia's Southern Federal District, and a
colloquy of students and faculty from the Stravropol University of the
Russian Ministry of Interior.

Another delegate visited United Cerebral Palsy of Pittsburgh,
Pennsylvania, and was inspired to organize a daycare program for children
with cerebral palsy in Volgograd, Russia. She subsequently received the
Russian Presidential Award and a grant of $35,000 for establishing the
program.

Four Russian mental health experts who counseled children and families
affected by the 2004 Beslan school attack spent the evening of
December 20, 2007, sharing experiences and strategies for healing in a
Lancaster County, Pennsylvania home with members of the Amish
community who had suffered from the Nickel Mines school shootings in
October 2006. Grandparents of one of the victims were among those who
took part in the profoundly moving session. Post-traumatic stress disorder
(PTSD) was the focus of a second Russian team hosted at the same time
by the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester,
Massachusetts. Three of the Worcester delegates had assisted Beslan
survivors and continue to specialize in crisis counseling; the fourth treats
military veterans of the conflict in Chechnya. During their Massachusetts
visit, the delegates worked with some of America's leading academic and
clinical experts in PTSD—including several Veterans Administration
specialists—and shared their own professional experiences in the North
Caucasus. Potential results of these visits include journal articles,
reciprocal visits by U.S. mental health experts, and curriculum sharing
between U.S. and Russian institutions.

The past year also saw impressive achievements produced by participants in
earlier Open World exchanges. Below are just a few examples:

Thanks to two Open World alumnae, the City of Ulan-Ude declared 2007 “The
Year of Civic Initiatives” and allocated 2.8 million rubles (approximately
$106,000) to 32 local NGOs to organize 100 different activities and programs
throughout the year. One of the alumnae, an Ulan-Ude city administrator, was
inspired to launch this campaign by learning about the work of Louisiana Eastern
European Adoptive Families and other Louisiana nongovernmental community
organizations during a 2005 Open World exchange. She involved a second
alumna, the first deputy chairperson of her department, to help get the campaign
off the ground. As part of the initiative, the Ulan-Ude city administration
established an association called Family whose goal is to develop a foster-homes
program to help orphans integrate into society.

This winter, cultural program alumnus Arkadiy Babchenko's award-winning book
A Soldier's War in Chechnya, an account of his experience as a young soldier in
Russia's Chechen wars, was published in translation in the United States. Critics
have compared the book to All Quiet on the Western Front and Michael Herr's
Dispatches.

Another Russian alumna-author, Kseniya Golubovich, was one of 30-plus foreign
writers to take part in the 2007 Fall Residency of the University of Iowa's
renowned International Writing Program (IWP), thanks to a coveted fellowship
she won while on a 2006 Open World cultural exchange hosted by IWP.
Golubovich writes essays on life in modern Russia for several newspapers and
journals, and publishes in a variety of genres. During her fellowship she finished
her second novel; met with a high school creative-writing class; gave readings and
talks at the University of Iowa, Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, and
Harvard University; was invited to serve as a presenter for an IWP-sponsored film
series; and worked with university students and faculty.

More and more Open World hosts are organizing visits to build ongoing ties with
their Open World counterparts and other contacts. In 2007, 71 American judges and
legal professionals visited Open World alumni in Ukraine and Russia. In another
example, the Los Alamos (New Mexico)–Sarov Sister Cities Initiative, a regular Open
World host organization, coordinated the reciprocal visit in June 2007 of four Los
Alamos firefighters and police officials to Sarov, a city closed to most foreigners and
Russians. There the Americans consulted with counterparts on specialized procedures for
fighting forest fires in a nuclear city.

Ukraine

The new government seeks closer ties to Europe and the United States and, with a
substantial grant from the Millennium Challenge Corporation, has begun a program to
reduce corruption in the justice system and reform education. Ukraine is a pivotal state in
the region, faced with pressures from east and west. Open World's program supplements
Ukraine's efforts to move toward more accountability and transparency at all levels of
government.

Open World welcomed 255 current and future Ukrainian leaders in calendar year
2007, accomplishing wide geographic representation (25 of 27 Ukrainian regions),
hosting delegations across the United States (24 states and the District of Columbia), and
enrolling a high percentage of women delegates (49 percent). The Open World hosting
themes for Ukraine in 2007 were accountable governance, NGO development, rule of
law, and elementary and secondary education. Twenty-four Ukrainian Open World
alumni took part in a major international forum entitled “Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic
Future,” held in Kyiv June 11–13. Forum sponsors included the Center for US-Ukrainian
Relations, the Democratic Initiatives Foundation, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, and
the NATO Information Center/Ukraine. The alumni were invited to share the impact of
their U.S. visits during forum sessions. Open World alumni in attendance included
government officials, judges, journalists, human rights and democracy advocates, and
NGO leaders. A conference organizer said that the Open World alumni “were the most
articulate and best organized group at our ... event.”

Expansion Countries

Open World hosted 130 emerging leaders from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Moldova,
Georgia, and Azerbaijan in 2007. Participants included parliamentarians, environmental
leaders, health specialists dealing with HIV/AIDS, judges, and prosecutors. One group of
Tajik leaders involved with ecotourism visited Nevada to see how state and local officials
and private individuals promote both ecotourism and cultural tourism to the state's
historic mining towns. During their exchange, they met with Thomas Tait, a former
executive director of the Nevada Commission on Tourism. As a result of this meeting,
the U.S. State Department has invited Mr. Tait to Dushanbe in 2008 to discuss
ecotourism matters further with Open World alumni and other Tajik leaders.

A Kyrgyz rule of law delegation hosted in Utah had the privilege of taking part in
a mock session of the Utah Senate with the participation of state Senate President John
Valentine. The following is an excerpt from a blog post by Senator Valentine dated
September 13, 2007:

Yesterday, we had the extraordinary honor of hosting fifteen people from
Kyrgyzstan here at the Utah State Senate.

The Kyrgyz delegation is in Utah for a week to study America's political
processes and the Rule of Law. Senators McCoy, Bramble, Dmitrich and
I, along with Rusty Butler of UVSC [Utah Valley State College],
Representative Chris Herrod (who speaks Russian), and a few gifted staff
replicated a legislative session and the Kyrgyz leaders played the part of
Utah State Senators.

They debated a mock bill, followed parliamentary procedure, tried to
amend the bill twice, and ultimately killed it. When it was time to adjourn,
they voted NOT to adjourn. Apparently we were doing something right
and they wanted to stay.

We had a great three hours. It was wonderful to spend time with good
people from a part of the world beginning to find its way toward a stable
democracy and self rule.

Senator Valentine subsequently visited Kyrgyzstan with the majority leader of the
Montana State Senate, Senator Carol Williams, in part to be reunited with Open World
alumni. In 1999, before her election to the Montana Senate, Senator Williams personally
hosted Open World delegations through Peace Links, an Open World grantee. She had
this to say upon her return from the State Department–sponsored trip to the capital city of
Bishkek: “More than ever, it is important for America to maintain and grow our
relationships in Central Asia.” In order to encourage the ties that are developing between
the U.S. mountain states and Central Asia, Senator Valentine hosted Open World's
inaugural parliamentary delegation from Tajikistan in 2007 and plans to visit Dushanbe
in 2008.

The mayor of the Azerbaijani village of Jil visited Texas in 2007. He noticed
during visits to Bellaire and West University Place that “suggestion boxes” were
prominently placed to gather feedback from citizens on how to improve city services. He
also learned that city administrators make their city's budget publicly available and
publish a special bulletin for citizens with news on the city's progress. Upon his return to
Jil, he immediately instituted all three of these ideas in order to increase transparency and
accessibility of information to citizens. What is particularly notable is that Jil is only a
35-minute drive from the border of Iran, where there are more Azeri-language speakers
than in Azerbaijan itself.

The U.S. State Department Resident Legal Advisor based in Tajikistan, who
confessed to harboring “skepticism regarding U.S. taxpayer-funded visits of foreigners to
the United States,” had this to say after debriefing two defense attorneys who had
traveled to Gainesville, Florida, in June 2007 on an Open World rule of law exchange:

I personally knew two of [the] defense attorneys before they left for the
U.S., and “debriefed” them upon their return to Tajikistan. I was anxious
to determine if their experience went beyond subsidized tourism. To my
great pleasure I found that [it] had. For several hours they asked me
about, and we discussed, critical aspects of criminal justice and Rule of
Law that were prompted directly and exclusively by their “comparative
law” experience in the United States. Their questions and expressions
clearly indicated to me that they had done far more than merely take a
tourist's look around. In addition to experiencing the general goodness of
America, they obviously saw and absorbed what I would have wanted of
them in satisfaction of my strict, developmental approach. This
educational opportunity will only enhance their professional status in
influencing change in Tajikistan. Moreover, it is something I could vouch
for in good faith to the U.S. citizens who paid for it. I look forward to my
continued involvement with Open World, confident that the foregoing
experience can be replicated as to diverse individuals and fields of
endeavor.

Representative Larry Brown of the North Carolina General Assembly arranged
for a delegation of newly elected Moldovan mayors to meet with the North Carolina
Wine and Grape Council in Raleigh during a December 2007 exchange. The U.S. hosts
and delegates agreed that many of North Carolina's smaller wineries would benefit from
Moldovan expertise in wine making. As a result of the meeting, the Continuing
Education Division of Forsyth Tech Community College, the Moldovans' host
organization, plans to launch a distance-learning course for small North Carolina vintners
taught by Moldovan wine experts. As Suzanne Stafford of Forsyth Tech observed, “The
Moldovans get recognized and reimbursed for their expertise and the North Carolina
winemakers improve their vintage. Everybody wins.”

Program Administration

In September 2007, the Center's first full audit, for the 2006 fiscal year, was
completed. The independent auditor concluded that “the accompanying financial
statements ... present fairly, in all material respects, the financial position of the Center as
of September 30, 2006, and its net costs, changes in net position, budgetary resources,
and financing of operations for the year then ended, in conformity with accounting
principles generally accepted in the United States of America.” The report also stated
that the auditor's “consideration of internal control over financial reporting disclosed no
material weaknesses.”

Goals

In August 2006, the Open World Leadership Center Board of Trustees approved a
strategic plan for fiscal years 2007–2011. The Strategic Plan was developed using the
principles of the Government Performance and Results Act. It incorporates a five-year
outlook for the program and includes the following goals:
Expanding the geographic scope of the Program to include Eurasia1 and
the Baltic States

More than 43 million Muslims reside in countries where Open World is now
active, and planned expansion into another predominantly Muslim country,
Turkmenistan, in 2008 would increase this figure to 47.9 million. As stated earlier, in
2007 Open World hosted 130 leaders from five expansion countries: Georgia and
Azerbaijan in the strategically important Caucasus region; Moldova in Eastern Europe;
and Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia. Open World hosted its inaugural
exchange from Kazakhstan in April 2008. Rule of law was the focus for all 12 delegates,
including the members of an intellectual property rights delegation that met with a staff
member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual
Property in Washington, D.C., and then with the Motion Picture Association of America
at the hosting site of Los Angeles. The Strategic Plan calls for Open World eventually to
expand into all of Eurasia and the Baltic States.
Enhancing productivity and improving efficiencies

To offset increasing airfare costs, Open World has distributed delegate travel
more evenly throughout the year in order to take advantage of lower fares during off-peak
travel seasons. Distributing travel over time in this manner has the added advantage of
providing staff more time to organize higher-quality programs. Center staff
comprehensively reviewed all contracts and identified and implemented additional cost
efficiencies. These cost savings will help the Center maintain hosting at planned fiscal
year 2008 levels.
Continuing to enhance the quality of U.S. programming

Open World has streamlined the process for reviewing delegate program agendas
and coordinating with U.S. hosting entities. The monitoring of hosting programs, regular
communication with hosts, evaluative site visits, and post-visit evaluations contribute to
annual reviews and evaluations of all program elements.

Last year, the Center launched its new results-tracking mechanism, called the
Client Management System (CMS), which systematically gathers quantitative results to
measure the Open World Program's progress in meeting its goals.
Establishing a mechanism that facilitates the emergence of a network of leaders in the United States and Open World countries who have participated in the Program

The new Client Management System not only tracks results but automatically
notifies Americans who have hosted Open World participants about results related to
these individuals. Through its privately funded alumni program, Open World works
closely with Americans visiting Russia and other Open World countries to facilitate
meetings and partnerships.

Open World's multilingual website, which includes a digital directory for direct,
translated communications between American professionals and hosts and Open World
delegates, fosters interactive communication and facilitates ongoing projects. Open
World also operates online forums and multiple list serves for Russian alumni, one with
news of grants, competitions, and other sources of financial support, the other with
updates on Open World news and announcements and opportunities for cooperation and
partnership with fellow alumni.
Establishing diversified funding sources

Open World is formulating a comprehensive development strategy and
identifying potential funding and cost-share partners within the international organization
community and the executive branch. The Board of Trustees voted in January 2008 to
establish a binational business advisory board for the Russia program. Membership will
consist of business leaders from both the United States and Russia who will advise the
Center on sources of material support. The Center plans to partner with Russia's Federal
Culture and Cinematography Agency to cost-share the travel to the United States of up to
200 Russian cultural leaders in 2008. Open World will also work to raise private funds to
pay for 100 American cultural leaders to make reciprocal visits to Russia, with hosting
costs to be provided by the same Russian agency.

Open World 2008

In response to congressional recommendations and directives from the Board of
Trustees, Open World is maintaining a strong program for Russia and continuing its
successful Ukraine program and expansion programs in Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan,
Moldova, and Tajikistan, while launching a program for Kazakhstan. We will add
Turkmenistan in fall 2008 if funding is available. Below are just a few highlights of this
year's activities:

Building on the successes and results generated by past Open World programs on
human-trafficking prevention, Open World plans to host a number of anti–human
trafficking delegations this fall. Many of the delegates will come from the Far East and
southern regions of Russia, where human trafficking is a serious problem. Open World
will target law enforcement officials, prosecutors, judges, legislators, NGO officials, and
legal advocates for participation. By meeting with their U.S. counterparts, these
delegates will learn about U.S. prevention initiatives and have opportunities to discuss
how Russian laws against human trafficking might be strengthened.

The Center plans to partner with the House Democracy Assistance Commission to
provide Open World programming to 25 Ukrainian and Georgian parliamentarians and
parliamentary staff in 2008. We also plan to extend our acclaimed judge-to-judge rule of
law program to our exchanges for expansion countries.

Overseas, the Russian government is considering establishing a mirror program to
Open World. If begun, the program would be housed in the Russian legislative branch
and would bring American political and civic leaders to Russia. And in May of this year,
Open World will be holding an alumni conference in Ulyanovsk, Russia, for regional
judges who have participated in Open World's rule of law program. The conference will
include sessions on the adversarial principle in the litigation process, judicial ethics, and
norms of international law, and on how programs such as Open World can help develop
professional contacts and sister-court partnerships.

Measures of Success

The Open World Leadership Center tracks the results of the Open World Program
using eight categories, including projects, benefits to Americans, reciprocal visits, and
partnerships. Since launching the results database in August 2007, Open World has
identified more than 800 such results (see attached chart).

Fiscal Year 2009 Budget Request

The Center's budget request of $13.9 million for fiscal year 2009 is a 3.5 percent
decrease from the original fiscal year 2008 request ($14.4 million), but a slight increase
over fiscal year 2007 funding ($13.86 million). The funding request will enable the
Center to restore its programming to pre–fiscal year 2008 levels and fully restore its
proven mission of hosting young political, civic, and cultural leaders from Russia;
maintain its important program for Ukraine; and continue smaller programs with select
countries as approved by the Board of Trustees, in consultation with the Subcommittee.
The Board of Trustees believes that maintaining a robust grassroots-based Open World
presence in Russia is necessary and important for future U.S.-Russia relations as Russia
changes presidential administrations. Programs in expansion countries will account for a
larger percentage of hosting than in the past, reflecting the growing geopolitical
importance of Central Asia and the Caucasus. Program hosting capacity in fiscal year
2009 at the requested level remains far below the limit of 3,000 set in the Center's
authorizing legislation.

The budget request maintains hosting and other programmatic activities at a level
of approximately 1,400 total participants. Actual allocations of participant slots to
individual countries will be based on Board of Trustees recommendations and
consultations with the Committee and U.S. Embassies. The requested funding support is
also needed to meet mandatory salary and benefit increases in fiscal year 2009 and
increased program costs due mainly to higher airfares and less favorable exchange rates.

Major categories of requested funding are:

Personnel Compensation and Benefits ($1.367 mil)

Contracts ($7.691 mil – awarded to U.S.-based entities) that include:

Coordinating the delegate nomination and vetting process

Obtaining visas and other travel documents

Arranging and paying for air travel

Coordinating with grantees and placing delegates

Providing temporary health insurance for participants

 

Grants ($4.7 mil – awarded to U.S. host organizations) that include the
cost of providing:

Professional programming for delegates

Meals outside of those provided by home hosts

Cultural activities

Local transportation

Professional interpretation

Administrative support

 

 

On March 31, 2008, as required by Public Law 110-161, the Consolidated
Appropriations Act, 2008, the Open World Board of Trustees submitted a report entitled
“Potential Options for the Structure and Funding of the Open World Leadership Center”
to the Chairmen of the Senate and House Appropriations Committees. We look forward
to discussing with you and the congressional leadership the report recommendations and
the next steps to assure the Center's future.

Conclusion

Funding the 2009 Open World Program will allow more than 15,000 Americans
to meet and work with legislators, mayors, government administrators, judges,
environmentalists, experts in human-trafficking prevention, and other leaders from across
Eurasia. Many of our participants will engage in collaborative projects and ongoing
partnerships with their new American contacts. Program participants will come from
countries that share more than 1,145 miles of borders with Afghanistan and Iran.
Americans will, once again, open their doors to leaders from Open World countries and
give generously by contributing an estimated $1.8 million in donated accommodations
and meals—freeing up appropriated funding that is applied to more grants to U.S.
organizations to host delegates.

While these results are measurable and visible, there are innumerable “soft”
benefits that merit mention. In his “2007 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary,”
Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., of the United States Supreme Court discusses a recent
Open World–hosted visit to the United States by Russian Supreme Court Justice Yuri
Sidorenko, who chairs the Council of Judges of the Russian Federation. Chief Justice
Roberts writes that Justice Sidorenko, while visiting the grave of Chief Justice William
H. Rehnquist at Arlington National Cemetery, met with a group of American
schoolchildren and recounted his friendship with the late Chief Justice, initiated during an
earlier Open World visit, and their shared interest in the rule of law. These powerful
“defining moments” occur regularly.

The fiscal year 2009 budget request will enable the Open World Leadership
Center to fully continue making major contributions to an understanding of democracy,
civil society, and free enterprise in a region of vital importance to the Congress and the
nation. The Subcommittee's interest and support have been essential ingredients in Open
World's success.

1Eurasia here means Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan.