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Public–Private Partnership Case Study: OSAC

Nearly three decades ago, the U.S. government grew increasingly concerned of the potential negative impacts of rising globalization and terrorism on U.S. corporations with international operations. Much of this concern resulted from increased requests for assistance and information to U.S. embassies, the global points of contact for U.S. business operating internationally. In 1985 the U.S. State Department created a formal public–private partnership (PPP) under the management of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security—the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC)—to respond to these needs.

Since its founding, more than 5,500 businesses, faith-based organizations, and international non-governmental organizations have joined OSAC. The partnership focuses on sharing non-classified information on security-related events ranging from property crimes to natural disasters through an encrypted website. Partners also engage in security-related consultations and reviews and have worked with the State Department to establish OSAC chapters at all U.S. embassies worldwide.

In 2000, OSAC members became eligible to enroll in the Department of State’s Security Overseas Seminar at the National Foreign Affairs Training Center, a security-training program similar to that provided to U.S. government employees who are embarking on overseas assignments. OSAC also maintains strategic alliances with organizations such as ASIS International and American Chambers of Commerce, providing forums to discuss security-related solutions.

The partnership has had practical implications for organizations operating internationally. For example, the relationship between the U.S. Embassy and OSAC Country Council in Egypt is credited with facilitating the safe evacuation of more than 8,000 diplomats and families over the course of just three days following the unanticipated Arab Spring civil uprisings in 2010. The OSAC chapter swiftly coordinated logistics and avoided duplicating efforts, resource competition, and information silos across multiple organizations and the host government.

According to a former senior-level official, OSAC illustrates several key characteristics necessary for successful PPPs. First, the State Department invested heavily in OSAC’s success. Investment was not only monetary. Critical to the investment was the appointment of high-level senior officials in the headquarters to oversee and iterate the partnership framework to ensure that it represented a value proposition for all involved—making it crystal clear that both sides of the partnership gained something valuable from their participation.

OSAC’s success in demonstrating its value is evidenced by the founding of the International Security Foundation, through which private-sector partners now contribute their own resources to support OSAC activities.

A third important success factor is clarity regarding partnership expectations, such as engagement in regular meetings, level of information sharing, and assurances that—although professional networking is a natural artifact of any meeting—the primary goal is the safety and security of the partners and surrounding communities, not personal advancement.

Adaptability and allowing the partnership to develop over time are essential. This flexibility is important to avoid a cookie-cutter approach that is unresponsive to partners’ specific goals and needs in particular areas or sectors, and it supports the development of the most crucial aspect of any partnership—strong relationships.

 

Read more about public–private partnerships in Leaning into Public–Private Partnerships to Create Cultures of Safety, available online and in the March/April 2021 issue of Security Management

 

Diana M. Concannon is associate provost for strategic initiatives and partnerships at Alliant International University, where she also serves as dean of the California School of Forensic Studies. She is a forensic psychologist and maintains a threat assessment and management consultancy. She is author of Kidnapping: An Investigator’s Guide and Neurocriminology: Forensic and Legal Applications, Public Policy Implications. Concannon is the co-vice chair of the ASIS International Extremism and Political Instability Community.

Michael Center is the United Nations security adviser to Belgium, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Malta, Monaco, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. His experience is focused on security risk management in high-risk, complex humanitarian and conflict environments. As the UNDSS Head of Office, Center serves as liaison between the United Nations and Host Governments and Diplomatic Community to strengthen analysis and crisis management preparedness for United Nations programmes. Center is the chair of the ASIS International Extremism and Political Instability Community.

The views expressed in this article are the authors’ own and are not reflective of their organizations.

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