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

May 7, 2013

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

Chairwoman Shaheen, Senator Hoeven, distinguished Members of the Subcommittee:  I appreciate the opportunity to present testimony on the Open World Leadership Center’s budget request for fiscal year 2014. The Center conducts the only foreign visitor exchange program for both chambers of the Legislative Branch. Congressional participation in our programs and on our governing board has made Open World a uniquely effective instrument for Members and their constituents in communities all across America. All of us at Open World are deeply grateful for your support.


Since its inception in 1999, the Open World Leadership Center has focused on responding to the priorities of Congress and producing an exchange program that establishes lasting relationships between the emerging leaders of Open World countries and engaged Americans committed to sharing American values and practices that lead to stable countries accountable to their citizens. The Center strives to assist Congress in its oversight responsibilities, and aids Congress in inter-parliamentary and legislative activities, while supporting international projects and partnerships of American citizens throughout the United States. 

The Open World program was originally designed to bring emerging federal and local Russian political leaders to the United States to meet their American counterparts and gain firsthand knowledge of how American civil society works. Program participants experienced American political life and saw democracy in action, from debates in local city councils to the workings of the Congress. 

Today, the Center operates in thirteen countries and, by the end of 2013, will have brought nearly 20,000 rising leaders to engage with Congress, other governmental officials, and their American counterparts in professional exchanges in more than 2,100 American communities in all fifty states. The countries participating in the Open World program are strategically important to the interests of the United States government, and many are growing economies where opportunities for foreign investment and trade increase yearly. The expanding Open World leadership network, in which young foreign leaders continue their relationships both with each other and with their American counterparts, gives the Open World program impact far beyond the ten-day program in the United States. With the continued support of Congress, Open World host families will once again open their homes to help sustain this highly successful congressional program.

Open World Program:

The Open World Leadership Center is a resource for Congress, directly connecting Members to rising foreign leaders and to the American constituents who host these Open World delegates. Open World is also an asset for Congress, using its extensive leadership networks abroad and hosting network in the United States to quickly respond to Congressional interests in new countries. By creating and supporting lasting partnerships between young political, civic and community leaders from here and abroad, Open World is an investment in America’s future security.

With the power of the over 2,100 communities throughout America that have participated over the life of the program, the Center provides opportunities to enhance professional relationships and understanding between rising leaders of participating countries and their counterparts in the United States. It is designed to enable emerging young leaders to:

  • engage with government, business, volunteer, and community leaders carrying out their daily responsibilities; 
  • experience how the separation of powers, checks and balances, freedom of the press, and other key elements of America’s democratic system make the government more accountable and transparent;
  • develop an understanding of the American market-based economy;
  • learn how American citizens organize and take initiative to address social and civic needs;
  • participate in American family and community activities; and
  • establish lasting professional and personal ties with their American hosts and counterparts.

Because Open World provides such high-caliber programs, participants return to their countries with a tangible appreciation of America’s democracy and market economy. To that end, Open World refines and focuses on themes central to democracy-building to improve the quality of the program. The impact of the 10-day stay in the United States is multiplied by continued post-visit communication between participants and their American hosts, their fellow Open World alumni, and alumni of other United States Government-sponsored exchange programs.

Open World Successes

Open World sets strategic goals that reflect the interests of Congress and our American hosts and meets these goals:

  • Reaching a new generation of leaders - Beginning in 2012, and in consultation with the Center’s Board of Trustees, Open World began to focus on the younger generation in the post-Soviet countries - a generation that is increasingly linked to the rest of the world through new technologies, and searches for new ideas for economic development and entrepreneurship, and ways to overcome the endemic corruption and poor governance in their countries. 

Open World set goals to have 30 percent of its delegates in 2012 be under age 30 and to place many of these young leaders together in delegations focused on legislative issues, innovation, entrepreneurship, and rule of law. The Center assembled an American advisory committee consisting of under-30 year old professionals with extensive experience in Open World countries to consult on program agendas, alumni engagement, and administer post-program surveys.

For 2012, Open World reached its goal with 30 per cent of delegates under age 30. Thirty-four specialized young professional delegations from Russia and Ukraine were hosted in themes such as city administration, anti-corruption, emergency services, and media by their American counterparts in cities throughout the United States.

These young Eurasian leaders now maintain contact with each other and their American counterparts through social media groups set up by Open World.

This innovative program has elicited enthusiastic responses from both hosts and delegates. A host in Syracuse, NY told us:

I commend Open World for its new approach of bringing younger visitors, making it possible to introduce them to our country while they are beginning their careers and enthusiastic about their work. Hopefully, other young delegates will be as open-minded and interested. Their infectious enthusiasm really sparked an extra enthusiasm from the professional hosts and on the part of their home-stay hosts.        

  • One young professional employed by a civic initiatives NGO who was hosted in Minot, ND was mostly interested in local community activities in small cities and villages. According to her, in Russia there is community activism in cities, but the inhabitants of small towns and villages tend not to be involved in civic activities. In North Dakota, she familiarized herself with community involvement in resolving social issues in small towns and she observed an emphasis on volunteerism, and citizen education and training.

Her American experience was used in a project to encourage volunteerism back home in rural Russia. She wrote a manual on how to develop a community project and a volunteer brochure, and created a directory of organizations needing volunteers, with descriptions of their projects.

Two other Open World delegates hosted in Minot are now involved in a training and exchange program sponsored by the US-Russia Civil Society Partnership Program that promotes civic engagement through local leadership development in rural communities in both Russia and the United States. 

  • Another young Russian webmaster for a local radio station, who was hosted in Louisville, KY, was inspired by seeing how American law enforcement, social services and volunteers identify and respond to incidents of domestic violence. He believes that the impact of domestic violence is still dramatically unappreciated in Russia, so he produced radio programs on domestic violence issues and initiated a meeting with the regional Children’s Rights Ombudsmen. His radio station also began hosting a series of the debates among school children on crucial civic topics. “Resolve problems in debates, not in fights” became the motto of the debates.

The Center responds to Congressional interests and Member requests to begin exchange programs for leaders in countries new for Open World:

  • Turkey - Ahmed Hamsici, the Vice President of the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors of Turkey, and Executive Director O'Keefe signed a Memorandum of Understanding on April 10 in which the High Council will cover the costs of airfare, hotels and some meals in Washington and Open World will defray other costs for a program that will bring over 100 judges to the United States over the next year.  The Turkish portion, based on the historic costs of our programs, will amount to over 60 percent of total costs. The Turkish High Council will provide nominations to the embassy which will chose the finalists. Such arrangements also reflect how Open World creates partnerships and identifies cost shares.
  • Mongolia – At the same meeting, the Center’s Board also approved an expansion program with Mongolia based on a request from the Co-Chairs of the House Mongolian Caucus. The Center will host two delegations of judges in the fall of 2013.
  • Kosovo – The Board approved a request from the Co-Chairs of the House Albanian Issues Caucus to initiate Open World hosting for Kosovo National Assembly Members and staff as part of an effort to promote the integration of the western Balkans with the European Union and NATO.

Open World also responds to congressional requests to host specific delegations from current Open World countries:

  • At the request of Sen. Lamar Alexander, Open World hosted 25 physicians in support of a new health care partnership between Tennessee and Kirov Region, Russia, spearheaded by former Open World trustee Sen. Bill Frist. Half of the Kirov delegates visited research hospitals in Memphis, while the other half visited medical teaching facilities in Knoxville. The delegates have a wide variety of new practices and plans under way as a result of their Open World experiences. Efforts initiated in individual hospitals include allowing parents to visit ill children, improving a patient referral system, and initiating an electronic medical records system. A medical school administrator is now encouraging medical students to volunteer in understaffed hospitals.
  • In March 2012, Montgomery, AL hosted its second Open World delegation of Kazakhstanis involved in youth legislatures, including the national Youth Parliament. This ex­change, like one conducted in 2011, resulted from an earlier meeting between Representative Robert Aderholt and a Kazakhstani parliamen­tarian visiting Washington, DC, through Open World. The central focus of the visit was participation in the Alabama YMCA Collegiate Legislature sessions.

Open World links Members of Congress to rising Eurasian leaders and their American hosts:

  • In 2012, there were 173 meetings between Members of Congress or their staff and Open World delegations. Eighty-three percent of 2012 Open World delegations took part in these meetings, many of which were arranged and attended by our active constituent hosts. Last month, Chairwoman Shaheen and Senator Rob Portman met separately on Capitol Hill with Open World delegations of Serbian Members of Parliament before the Serbians left for intensive programs on the role of legislatures in a democracy in Manchester, NH and Columbus, OH. Senator Portman stated that he “enjoyed the opportunity to discuss the importance of democracy for a strong and free society and the many challenges both of our countries face in an ever changing world.”

Since its inception, Open World has supported hundreds of partnerships and long-term projects between constituents and Open World delegates and was instrumental in the establishment of several others:

  • Over 90 states/communities in the United States have developed or furthered partnerships and joint activities with regions/communities in Open World countries, including some 20 court-to-court partnerships. Local chapters of Rotary International, Friendship Force, U.S.-Ukraine Foundation and other Open World grantees have partnerships in several Open World countries. In 2012, Open World hosted delegations linked to 54 partnerships with American organizations.

Examples of recent partnership activities through Open World are:

  • A dynamic partnership between Maryland and the Leningrad Region of Russia has grown from a judge-to-judge partnership to include legislative and other governmental leaders.  Maryland state officials and representatives of the business community have traveled to Leningrad on their own to further these ongoing, constructive ties. The success of this partnership led U.S. District Judge Richard Bennett to reinvigorate the sister-city relationship between Baltimore and the port city of Odessa, Ukraine. A 2011 Open World delegation visit led to high-level reciprocal visit by members of the Maryland judiciary, including Maryland’s First Lady, Judge Katie O’Malley, in May 2012.

For 2013, five delegations will visit Maryland, including one connected to the Russian partnership and two to the Baltimore-Odessa partnership; the other delegations are from Moldova and Tajikistan.

  • Since hosting a Ukraine higher education delegation, Umpqua Community College in rural Roseburg, OR has been actively involved in a three-institution partnership agreement with Uzhhgorod National University and Kremenchuk National University. Since then, Umpqua has hosted two more delegations from both Ukrainian universities. Two delegations from Umpqua have travelled to Ukraine, one including an administrator, a faculty member and eleven jazz vocal students in March 2012 and another including a college vice president, a dean and two faculty members who just returned to Oregon after renewing the partnership agreement. Possible future activities include distance learning, student exchanges, faculty exchanges, a summer institute on peace and justice, an on-line English club for students, and co-teaching of an international business course.

Open World host, Peter Bober, Director of the Small Business Development Center and Workforce Training at Umpqua, says that “the Open World Program is a fantastic opportunity for community colleges who are interested in internationalizing their institution while at the same time providing delegates from former Soviet republics the opportunity to experience a uniquely American educational structure. The economic assistance from Open World allows community colleges the opportunity to bring a wide diversity of international visitors to their local campus and community.”

  • The Atlanta, Georgia-Tbilisi, Georgia sister-city program was dormant until a delegation of leading lawyers from the country of Georgia traveled to Atlanta on Open World. This visit resulted in a flood of privately-generated follow-up activity between Atlanta and Tbilisi, including exchanges of university and law school faculty and students, and increased medical exchanges. One Atlanta law firm, whose principal partner is associated with an Open World grantee, has opened offices in Tbilisi. That grantee, the Georgia to Georgia Foundation, has done extensive work with the Atlanta-Tbilisi Sister City Committee to help foster exchange and discourses between the two cities.
  • Santa Clara County, California and Moscow, Russia have a sister county partnership that was greatly enhanced by the visit of an Open World Russian delegation studying best practices in child welfare and foster care services. Continued contact with one of the Russian delegates resulted in the launch of a mutually beneficial training program to provide Moscow with the tools to transform the Moscow orphanage care system into a foster care system, and to provide Santa Clara social services agencies with cultural competency training to enhance their work with Russian children and families in the community. In May 2012, a working group from Santa Clara traveled to Moscow to develop a training curriculum for Moscow social services professionals and to consult with their Russian counterparts on the training for enhancing cultural competency in Santa Clara County. Another Open World delegation hosted through this partnership focused on accountable governance for local government officials, including an introduction to laws on public contracting, public records, and open meetings for local legislative bodies.

The Open World alumnus most involved with the child welfare partnership is overseeing the opening of 32 centers in Moscow to aid foster care youth transition to adulthood.  These centers are based on one she saw in Santa Clara County. 

There are plans to continue the partnership this fall with the visit of another Russian youth services delegation to Santa Clara County.  

Dave Cortese, a member of the County of Santa Clara Board of Supervisors told Open World that “Santa Clara County has found the collaboration in child protection issues with Moscow, its Sister County region, to be particularly gratifying not only because we have been able to share best practices in child protection between the regions but also because we have been able to establish ongoing partnerships.”

Most importantly, Open World Alumni return home and initiate projects that contribute to democratization efforts in their countries:

  • Volunteerism – Open World has consistently selected young leaders who are active in their communities. The Washington Post recently featured the work being done to organize volunteers by one of our Russian alumni from our 1999 pilot program (In Russia, volunteers step up, 2/2/13). Despite pending legislation to limit volunteer activity and a population generally suspicious of volunteers, Yevgeny Grekov has started a group called Volunteers on Wheels, which uses Facebook to connect house-bound people with needs to drivers that can help deliver goods or services.
  • Youth Volunteerism The Moldovan administrator of the “Always Together” NGO that focuses on cultivating democratic values and gender equality among local youth reports that her Open World experience in Manchester, NH, this past September built her confidence as a leader and inspired her to redouble her efforts to recruit young volunteers. She recently received a grant to implement her project entitled “Inspiring Youth: Learning Community Involvement through Action.” 

She reports that “[t]he idea for this project came during my Open World visit. I was impressed by how actively engaged American youth are, how eager they are to become volunteers and how creative they are to raise funds for various social causes. I wanted to inspire Moldovan youth to be as active and responsible, to collaborate with local public administration and involve entire communities in fund raising activities.” The project aims to instruct local volunteers who will then create and run the “Volunteer Corner” in a local high school, involving many more volunteers in various community development projects.

  • Training Other Young Leaders Two Open World alumni from Ukraine, one hosted in Iowa and the other in Utah, joined together to prepare young Ukrainian political leaders and support staff for the 2012 election campaigns by organizing the “Summer Academy of Political Leadership in Crimea” last July. The Academy was supported by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation in Ukraine. During the event, one of the alumni made a presentation on his Open World experience, focusing on how local American communities are organized and the involvement of citizens through public hearings and council meetings. Two other Open World alumni, one hosted in Kentucky and another in West Virginia, have participated in other seminars with these Open World colleagues.
  • Rule of LawThe Open World Leadership Center is proud of its role in introducing Georgian jurists and legal professionals to the American jury system. Georgia began implementing jury trials in 2011 and Open World celebrated this achievement by sponsoring, through our privately-funded alumni program, a roundtable at the Georgian Supreme Court in March 2012. The main speakers were three Open World alumni who were central to the implementation of Georgia’s initial jury trials: a lawyer on the defense team for the first such trial, hosted in Atlanta, GA; a woman judge hosted in Central Islip, NY, who oversaw jury selection and was responsible for media relations; and the assistant to the presiding judge and a coordinator for juries, hosted in Norfolk, VA. Georgia’s smooth transition to a jury trial system is due in no small part to the practical guidance given by American host judges, both during Open World exchanges and in independently-funded reciprocal visits to Georgia.

Plans for 2013 and 2014 -

In addition to the 2013 Open World plans previously described, the Center plans to host parliamentary delegations from Ukraine and Georgia, and parliamentary staff delegations from Georgia and Kyrgyzstan.

Open World also continues to host several delegations of regional and local legislators. In February, local lawmakers from Ukraine hosted in Little Rock, AR, reviewed voting procedures at the Pulaski County Election Commission and discussed city infrastructure issues with Little Rock Public Works Department staff. Meetings with state legislators focused on the legislative process and economic development. A session with the newly elected North Little Rock mayor covered topics ranging from municipal bidding procedures to citizen outreach.  An aide to Senator Boozman discussed constituent relations and several state issues with the Ukrainians. 

A facilitator accompanying the delegation told Open World that “all of the delegates had a positive experience in the United States. Oftentimes they would speak with admiration of the transparency and accountability of the United States government agencies, as well as local community involvement in the decision process.”

The Center signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Supreme Court of Estonia and the Office of the Prosecutor of Estonia to cost-share the expenses associated with the April 2013 travel of a delegation of three judges and one prosecutor from Estonia to Las Vegas, NV. They were hosted by U.S. Senior District Judge Lloyd George for a week-long program focusing on court activities related to the adversarial system, including jury-trial process, plea-bargaining, alternative dispute resolution, and the role of private law firms. Judge George took part in the Washington, DC orientation of his Estonian guests and was honored by the Open World Leadership Center for his extraordinary service to the rule of law program in a ceremony attended by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who recognized the importance of exchange programs in his remarks.

For 2014, Open World will continue the initiatives described above, both in terms of responsiveness to Congressional requests and in focusing on the younger generation of leaders in Open World countries. We will strive to find partnerships and other cost-sharing arrangements to maximize our effectiveness.

Budget Overview

Open World offers Congress an extraordinary “bang for the buck,” serving as a model of efficiency, cost-effectiveness and value. The Center boasts an overhead rate of 7 per cent with 93 per cent of its annual expenditures going directly to program costs. The Center investigates every opportunity for savings and diligently manages its fiscal operations with a view to reducing costs while maintaining program quality.  

The Center employs best practices to develop the most cost-efficient and effective means to accomplish its mission. The Center has developed internal controls to ensure program quality, including pre- and post-program report follow-up, weekly teleconferencing with its logistical contractor, and regular contact with grantees and local hosts. The Center uses a zero-based budget approach to every contract, every grant budget, as well as its annual operating budget. The Center actively seeks cost-sharing partnerships with other government initiatives whose missions complement ours. The U.S. Agency for International Development, the Department of Energy and the embassies in Armenia, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan have all joined with the Open World Leadership Center in directly funding a number of delegations. 

Open World strongly encourages grantees to cost-share, making it part of the annual competitive proposal process. For example, in 2012, Rotary International hosted 20 Open World delegations (6 participants each) in 19 communities in 15 states through their local Rotary clubs. These local clubs, through volunteers, home stays, and other in-kind contributions contributed an estimated 45 per cent of the total local cost of these delegations. The search for cost-sharing partners with common or overlapping goals creates an environment beneficial to all participants and allows Open World grant funds to go farther. Indeed, the per-person-cost to bring a delegate to the United States has steadily declined over the past few years as Open World increases its cost-sharing efforts, despite rising transportation and other costs.

Open World grantee, Supporters of Civil Society in Russia (SCSR), along with partner Moscow School of Political Studies, is another excellent example of a cost-share that helps defray the overall cost of the Open World program. The Moscow School of Political Studies provides the nominations of candidates for the program, many of whom are under the age of 30, to be hosted by SCSR in St. Louis, MO and Chicago, IL. SCSR then contributes over 50 per cent of the program costs at the local level.  

Budget Request

In this lean fiscal environment, the Center is committed to keeping costs down while maintaining program quality. When constructing the budget, however, one must consider the fact that in reducing the number of participants hosted, there comes a tipping point in terms of efficiency. Certain base costs remain whether bringing 500 participants or 2,000. Using economy of scale, it is the Center’s experience that bringing 1,200 participants a year is that tipping point. Below that number, the program becomes less cost effective and the per person cost rises. To that end, our budget request of $10,061,200 is based on bringing 1,200 participants in 2014.

Open World spends its appropriation in two categories:  Direct Program Costs and Administration Costs. Direct Program Costs includes: grants to host delegations in the United States; a contracted logistical coordinator; and the direct program portion of salary and benefits of D.C. and Moscow staff.

Administration Costs includes administrative staff salaries and benefits, an interagency agreement with the Library of Congress for infrastructure services, small contracts for professional services, postage, telephone, cell phones, and office supplies and materials. The Center benefits from lower administrative costs due to its physical location in the Library of Congress.

Despite rising base costs of transportation and contracts, the Center has not requested any increase in funding for FY 2014. There are several reasons for this. First and foremost, cost-shares from Open World home hosts throughout America have risen steadily. The Center has also found partners willing to assume some international transportation costs, and it is expected that private donations will help sustain our work. In all, 25 per cent of our resources will come from outside our legislative branch appropriation. It is this broad support, both materially and in spirit, that makes this program incredibly strong while allowing us to keep this request modest.

The Center’s fiscal year 2014 budget request breaks down as follows:

A.  Direct Program     —        $ 9,690,200    

1.         Logistical Contract                    5,720,000

2.         Grants/Other Hosting Costs      3,285,000

3.         Salary/Benefits                 685,200

B. Administration       —        $ 773,400

1.         Salary/Benefits              408,250

2.         Services of Other Agencies       182,000

3.         Professional Services                146,650

4.         Miscellaneous Office                   36,500

TOTAL BUDGET:                            $10,463,600[1]


Open World has served the Congress well, earning strong bipartisan and bicameral support. This modest budget request, representing a restoration of the 2012 level, will enable the Open World Leadership Center to continue to make major contributions to an understanding of democracy, civil society, and market economies in regions of vital importance to the Congress and the nation. This powerful global network continues to make a significant and positive mark on long term developments in strategically important countries. This Subcommittee’s interest and support have been essential ingredients in Open World’s success. 


[1] The amount over $10,061,200 shown here will be covered by donations and other offsets.