Ensuring that OSAC could grow and flourish required the creation of the International Security Foundation – an organization that could help fund Country Council activities and events.


Following a series of bombings, plane hijackings and other terrorist attacks, chief executive officers from a handful of prominent American businesses approached Secretary of State George Shultz in 1984 to suggest what, at the time, was a radical idea – that the private sector and the U.S. government join together to cooperatively confront common challenges encountered in operating overseas.

Acting urgently to answer the question posed by a blue ribbon panel chaired by Admiral Bobby Inman, regarding “What responsibility does the U.S. government have for the protection of American business people abroad?” Secretary Shultz, on February 4, 1985, announced “the formation of a new joint venture between the State Department and the private sector: the Overseas Security Advisory Council” (OSAC). As the Secretary explained, the goal of OSAC was to:

(Establish) a continuing liaison between officials in both the public and private sector in charge of security matters; to provide for regular exchanges of information on developments in the security fields; and to recommend plans for greater operational coordination between the government and the private sector overseas.

To create this public-private partnership, which was unprecedented in the U.S. government, Secretary Shultz invoked authority conferred upon him by the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). The FACA had been enacted by Congress to enable federal agencies to receive advice and guidance from the private sector. Because OSAC was envisioned to also entail a robust flow of information from the government to the private sector, the FACA wasn’t a perfect solution. But, it did provide a basic legal framework that would enable the public and private sectors, again in the words of Secretary Shultz, “to work together and apply ourselves to the task of ensuring a safer future.”

The first meeting of the OSAC convened on July 15, 1985, five months after Secretary Shultz’s announcement. Fifteen private sector and three governmental representatives met in Washington, D.C., to begin to define how they would realize his vision of “working together to enhance security… be more effective in saving lives and reducing the dangers of doing business abroad.”


Structural Challenges

It was recognized almost immediately that information sharing mechanisms complementary to the FACA chartered OSAC were necessary. As early as 1986, corporate representatives to the FACA chartered OSAC were recommending the establishment of so-called “mini-OSAC-councils” in selected foreign cities that would enable managers of U.S. private sector enterprises to “organize themselves to cope with security problems and threats.” These “mini-OSAC-councils” were the precursors to the more than 155 “OSAC” Country Councils that operate around the world today.

As the threats facing American organizations operating overseas increased, most notably following the attacks of 9/11 and the Arab Spring, other ad hoc OSAC affiliated entities were created, including four OSAC Regional Councils, and eight sector specific working groups.

OSAC Country Councils, OSAC Regional Councils and OSAC Sector Specific Working Groups (which are now collectively referred to as OSAC Constituent Councils) have become so indispensable and so engrained in the OSAC public private partnership that it is now a widely held misconception that they are elements of the FACA-OSAC. They are not.

In fact, the only entity recognized under OSAC’s FACA charter is the 34-member (up from the original 18 in 1985) Council. The OSAC charter makes no mention of OSAC Constituent Councils. The charter simply states that the members of the OSAC shall be drawn from “a diversified cross section of private sector organizations with international facilities or personnel, U.S. Public agencies involved in security and other groups with specific interest in and responsibility for worldwide security issues.”  The only other requirement is that it meet three times per year and that it will be chaired by the Director of the Diplomatic Security Service and co-chaired by a representative selected from the private sector.

Although State Department personnel may participate in their events, “OSAC” Constituent Councils have no status under the FACA or any other federal law. Consequently, the State Department is legally constrained from providing funding to support them, and they are completely reliant upon non-governmental resources to fund their activities, including basic meeting necessities, such as conference rooms, coffee service and other customary support and amenities.

The constraints on federal government funding meant that OSAC Constituent Councils were dependent on the private sector to pay for “OSAC” Constituent Council expenses, especially to cover the costs of local “OSAC” Country Council meetings.  In some locations, private sector organizations took on the responsibility of hosting “OSAC” Constituent Council meetings. But support was often dependent on local private sector security managers and could dissipate when personnel changes occurred.

In some instances, local “OSAC” Country Councils collected contributions from participants to pay the operating costs. But issues arose such as who would maintain the bank account? Who would manage the funds? Who would ensure that the contributions were accounted for and used appropriately?

Similar issues were encountered with efforts to organize OSAC regional meetings and security symposiums. Because “OSAC” Constituent Councils have no legal status, it isn’t possible for them to enter into contracts with hotels, conference centers or other facilities to host educational events and conferences. They also lacked legal authority to receive and disburse funds or even maintain bank accounts.

This predicament also made it necessary to first secure financial support from the private sector when organizing security seminars for the benefit of OSAC constituents. Regardless of how relevant and important the topic, anyone attempting to organize an OSAC meeting or symposium was compelled to first “get the tin cup out” and secure private sector sponsorship to ensure that all anticipated conference expenses were covered.

Through a very successful collaboration with the International Security Management Association (ISMA), OSAC was able to overcome some challenges. As an incorporated entity, ISMA could enter into contracts with hotels and pay other charges associated with OSAC/ISMA conferences. ISMA recouped its outlays by collecting conference fees from attendees.

While this proved to be a highly effective solution for “for profit” OSAC constituents (and ISMA continues to be one of OSAC’s most important partners), the fees which ISMA had to charge to simply break even on OSAC/ISMA conferences often precluded attendance by security professionals working for budget-constrained non-profits organizations. This meant that charities, faith-based organizations and educational institutions were, in effect, excluded from important OSAC security information exchange activities.

Approximately 25 years into Secretary Shultz’s bold experiment, it was becoming clear that structural changes would be necessary if OSAC was to reach its full potential.


The International Security Foundation – An Enduring Solution

Public-private sector collaborations involving other federal agencies more junior to OSAC overcame similar legal constraints to their operations through establishment of supportive tax-exempt non-profit organizations, including the FBI’s InfraGard (1996), the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s CDC Foundation (1995), and the U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Agency’s U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (2004).

In 2010, private sector members of OSAC’s Executive Working Group approved an initiative to create a similar non-profit to support OSAC. They also agreed to serve as non-paid members of its first Board of Directors. In April of 2011, the Texas Secretary of State approved the creation of the International Security Foundation (ISF) as a “non-profit corporation organized to provide private sector support of the mission of the Overseas Security Advisory Council of the United States Department of State.” On March 27, 2012, the Internal Revenue Service granted the ISF tax exempt status as a pubic charity under section 501(c)(3) of the Code so that contributions to it would be deductible from federal income taxes. On September 1, 2013, Peggy O’Neill began serving as the ISF’s first full time executive director.

Later in September, gunmen attacked the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, resulting in 67 fatalities and more than 175 wounded. Responding to the needs of OSAC constituents, the regional security officer (RSO) requested an analyst from OSAC’s Research and Information Support Center be authorized to travel to Kenya to participate in a briefing on the attack that she was organizing for the OSAC Nairobi Country Council.  When representatives of the ISF learned that funding for refreshments to be served at the meeting was not available, it was quickly agreed that this critical meeting of the Nairobi, Kenya, Country Council would be the first OSAC event to be sponsored by the ISF.

From this rather modest beginning, the ISF has begun to transform OSAC. With financial support provided by the ISF, the Africa and the Middle East North Africa OSAC Regional Councils were launched in 2014 as were several OSAC Country Councils, including Councils in Tunisia, Burma and Chile. ISF continues to actively support all the OSAC Regional Councils, including recent meetings of the Pan Asian and Latin American Councils as well as a regional OSAC conference in Johannesburg for the Africa Regional Council and one in Dubai for the Middle East North Africa Regional Council. The ISF has also sponsored several OSAC educational symposiums including “Mexico: Challenges Impacting Private Sector Operations” at the Baker Institute at Rice University, the “Foreign Corrupt Practices Act” at the State Department’s Marshall Center, and “Navigating the Future Threat Landscape in Afghanistan” at the Lockheed Martin Global Vision Center.

Because there is never a fee to attend an ISF sponsored event, there has been a noticeable uptick in attendance by representatives from NGOs in Country Councils, Regional Councils, sector specific working groups and educational symposiums. With a more diverse pool of participants, perspectives and areas of operation, the collective security of all OSAC constituents has been significantly enhanced.

OSAC, ISF and the Future

As they have done annually since 1986, more than 1,400 representatives from American businesses, faith-based organizations, institutions of higher learning, charities and other non-governmental organizations will, on November 18, journey to the State Department to share information and best practices that will help them deal with terrorism, crime and natural disasters as they cross the globe in search of new opportunities and to assist those in need.

Following the conclusion of the speeches and the presentations at the Dean Acheson Auditorium, OSAC constituents will gather with their public sector colleagues continuing an annual tradition begun in 2013 when the ISF hosted its first OSAC Awards and Recognition reception and dinner at the Willard InterContinental Hotel. Although the growing popularity of this event made it necessary to transition to the more spacious Georgetown Ritz Carlton Hotel, the objective of bringing the public and private sector together has not changed.

In what is sure to be a highlight of the evening, former Secretary of State George Shultz will talk about the issues that caused him to create the Overseas Security Advisory Council 30 years ago and how the OSAC of today compares with his original vision. Not to be outdone, however, Tom Ridge, the former governor of Pennsylvania and the first Secretary of Homeland Security, will deliver the evening’s keynote address in which he will discuss his views regarding the security challenges confronting OSAC constituents.

In addition, distinguished representatives from both the public and the private sector will recognize individuals who have demonstrated exemplary dedication to keeping others safe and will announce the recipients of the OSAC Distinguished Achievement Award, the OSAC Outstanding Constituent Council Award and the Outstanding Technical Advisor Award, all of which are sponsored by the ISF.

Proceeds from corporate sponsorships and tickets sales will be used by the ISF exclusively to support OSAC activities and ensure that all ISF sponsored OSAC events continue to be provided at no charge to OSAC constituents. So not only will the OSAC 30th Anniversary Awards and Appreciation Celebration improve collaboration between the public and private sectors, it will also advance one of the ISF’s key missions of ensuring that no OSAC constituent, including those associated with budget constrained non-profit organizations, is ever excluded from an OSAC event due to financial considerations.

For more information about the ISF or the OSAC 30th Anniversary Awards and Appreciation Celebration,
please visit ISF4OSAC.org or contact ISF’s Executive Director, Peggy O’Neill at peggyoneill@isf4osac.org or +1-832-543-1442, ext 101.


About the Author

James F. Snyder is the former Global Security Manager for ConocoPhillips and one of Security magazine’s 2012 Most Influential People in Security. He is also the Chairman for the OSAC Senior Advisory Committee and Vice-Chairman for the International Security Foundation.