Bottom Feeders, Going Backward – Part Two
Broadcasting Board of Governors Information War: Lost
By The Federalist
We continue the discussion of the 2016 OPM’s Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) at the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).
Twelve years of surveys and basically the same result every year, with a notable decline in 2016 under the new “leadership” of BBG CEO and Director John Lansing in the all-important “Leader Lead” and “Employee Engagement” categories. To no surprise, the agency remains at the bottom of the list of the rankings among agencies of similar size.
That tells you everything you need to know about this agency and the people who run it: stagnation, failed mission.
Let’s start out with the principal characteristics of this agency. It is:
- “Regular Bottom Feeder” ; “Going Backward” Washington Post columnist Joe Davidson “Federal Insider,” The Washington Post, September 20, 2016.
- “Dysfunctional” (Heritage Foundation scholar Helle C. Dale)
- “Practically Defunct” (Hillary Clinton)
- “Broken” (US statesmen, diplomats, media experts and journalists interviewed by former BBG member S. Enders Wimbush and former Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty executive Elizabeth M. Portale)
- “Truly Rudderless” or Leaderless (Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ed Royce)
The end result still is:
- “This Broken Agency is Losing the Info War to ISIS & Putin,” House Committee on Foreign Affairs Blog, February 23, 2016.
These are the cornerstones of how this agency operates.
What this means is there is no investment in changing the paradigm which defines the failure of this agency. If this were the private sector, the people responsible for this debacle would be fired and the facility closed if it were past the point of salvaging. And that is precisely where these people have put the agency: right on the edge of extinction.
Instead, these individuals hide behind civil service regulations, remembering too that in essence they write their own evaluations filled with glowing accounts of what a great job they’re doing and give themselves annual outstanding performance bonuses. It is a grotesque, false narrative designed to protect them from the firing most of them richly deserve.
Organizationally, what this also says is that this agency does not have the requisite leadership in either appointed officials or career functionaries with the professional capacity to turn things around.
As we noted, John Lansing has been the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Director of the Broadcasting Board of Governors since September 2015, which covers the period of the 2016 FEVS survey.
Mr. Lansing’s credibility has become virtually non-existent.
In a memo issued on September 6, 2016 (“Message from CEO John Lansing Regarding 2016 FEVS Results”) he states,
“We are committed to making BBG a better place to work and will continue to do everything we can to make this a reality.”
The results show otherwise.
This leads to the question: who is “we?”
It certainly isn’t Lansing or the senior bureaucrats of the agency.
Lansing’s answer to the agency’s problems is the formation of committees. Who is on these committees? The basic answer is: the people responsible for the agency’s dismal reputation and performance!
Consider the agency’s staffing pattern which identifies every career employee in every position in the agency. Individuals in senior positions have been around for a long time. Being embedded in these positions for a long period of time has made the agency’s failings exponentially worse with each and every day they are on the Federal payroll. Many have been in these positions since the surveys began twelve years ago if not before. Mr. Lansing kept them as his chief advisors. Some of them have traveled with him on official trips abroad.
You don’t have to be a Rhodes Scholar to see where the problem is.
The results of the survey are an accurate reflection of the performance of senior agency functionaries. We already know what their primary objective is: to cover-up their failures, their ineptitude, their incompetence. As officials and administrators, they have failed. And every day they continue in these positions represents increasing the magnitude of the failure and the greater likelihood – not possibility – that the agency is irreparable and (a) needs to be replaced, (b) have its functions transferred elsewhere in the Federal government or (c) closed outright. Business as usual is not an option.
The only “we” committed to making the agency a better place to work and effective in its mission are its employees. The attempt is made in spite of and not because of agency management. They have been providing an important public service through each annual cycle of the FEVS survey: by giving a candid assessment of the hostile and counter-productive environment they are confronted with each day. That’s the reality, as opposed to the specious pronouncements from Lansing and others.
But decisions made by these senior officials have put the agency in the position where even the best of what the employees are capable of doing goes largely unnoticed and unremarked across all media platforms. It is readily apparent that global publics have moved on. There are alternatives to VOA.
In considering the latest FEVS results we would be remiss if we did not examine the performance of Amanda Bennett, the Voice of America (VOA) Director.
Right from the outset, Ms. Bennett proverbially put a foot in her mouth. In her first official statement, Ms. Bennett referred to the agency’s bureaucrats as a “fantastic leadership team.”
That statement was bogus when she made it and continues to be bogus now.
And every employee and contractor working inside the Cohen Building knows it.
If Ms. Bennett made the statement of her own volition, it demonstrates ignorance. If the statement was written for her and she approved it, she shows herself to be the fool for allowing someone to severely damage her credibility.
Worse, if Ms. Bennett genuinely believes that she has a “fantastic leadership team,” in effect that makes her an enabler and facilitator of the status quo and VOA’s pervasive dysfunction solidifying the agency’s bottom-feeder reputation in the survey.
We know the nature of this agency’s management. It is quite capable of putting a stain on the reputation of a neophyte VOA director or any other appointed official. It effectively neutralizes the individual as a potential threat to their endless, self-serving machinations and assures their self-preservation.
We are reminded of the late Evelyn Lieberman in her capacity as VOA director during the Bill Clinton administration. Most assuredly, Ms. Lieberman would not make this kind of ill-advised and unguarded statement: not only in her first day on the job but more than likely ever. She knew who and what she was dealing with. Apparently, Ms. Bennett does not.
What it also tells us is that Ms. Bennett does not have necessary management or personnel skills. Outside the environment of the Cohen Building, Ms. Bennett is recognized for capable and competent writing. Unfortunately, that ability does not necessarily translate into an effective skill set for dealing with a renegade bureaucracy in a rogue agency. She is out of her element and has demonstrated such by bringing back to the agency individuals who would be better off doing other things. Elsewhere.
Looking at the BBG Board and some of the leaders, we are reminded of United States Information Agency (USIA) director Edward R. Murrow during the Kennedy administration and Voice of America director John Chancellor during the Johnson administration. We urge you to read some of their old speeches and compare them to statements, press releases and memos issued by current executives in charge of the Broadcasting Board of Governors and the Voice of America.
Edward R. Murrow, John Chancellor, Evelyn Lieberman would have never traveled to Russia on a private business trip like Broadcasting Board of Governors Chairman Jeff Shell recently did in the company of Mr. Lansing and other BBG executives, and they would have never thought or said that until a few years ago Russia was almost a democracy. If any new or longtime agency bureaucrats gave these directors wrong advice and put them and the United States in an embarrassing position, our guess is that they would be quickly asked to resign. Now they get high-performance bonuses.
Knowing all of this is to know that there is no reasonable expectation that this fiasco can be repaired internally. Effective remedial action must be imposed on this defiant bureaucracy. That is the job of the Congress and quite possibly the next administration taking office in January.
Transition teams would be best served to start reading up on this roiling disaster in progress.