BBG Watch Commentary
In the end, the Obama White House pulled the plug on Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) chairman Jeff Shell and the BBG board by ignoring his objections and agreeing with the agency’s numerous congressional critics who had proposed to abolish the board through a legislative amendment expected to pass and be signed soon by President Obama. In 2013, Hillary Clinton, then Secretary of State and herself BBG board member, called the Broadcasting Board of Governors “practically defunct.”
However, even with the writing clearly on the wall this week, Hollywood movie executive Jeff Shell and his BBG CEO choice John Lansing, a former entertainment TV executive inexperienced in government operations and public diplomacy, heaped praise this week on the agency’s top managers, past and present.
Longtime and more recently hired executives of the agency, which Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Rep. Ed Royce had described as “crippled by an inefficient bureaucracy and incoherent leadership structure“ were called by Jeff Shell as “amazing.” “The place wouldn’t be what it is today without that group,” Jeff Shell said. He reserved especially effusive praise for BBG’s longtime executive Jeff Trimble.
Jeff Shell and John Lansing were joined in their congratulations by the Voice of America (VOA) director Amanda Bennett who critics say has allowed VOA to engage in partisan attacks on Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders and other Americans. Shell, Lansing, Bennett, as well as some of the BBG board members, all extolled the virtues of the agency’s top bureaucrats who in the words of a Washington Post columnist Joe Davidson have made the agency a “regular bottom-feeder…going backward“ (Sept. 20, 2016) in employee morale, employee engagement and senior leadership.
Both John Lansing and Amanda Bennett have praised their “excellent” and “exceptional” management team. Their assessment is widely disputed, as are Amanda Bennett’s claims, reportedly made at a closed BBG board meeting, that VOA’s coverage of the 2016 U.S. election campaign was exceptionally professional and balanced.
It is not not only the White House, Republicans and Democrats in Congress, and BBG employees who do not have a high opinion of the BBG Board and agency executives being praised by Jeff Shell, John Lansing, and Amanda Bennett. One former senior BBG official and critic of what the agency has become under the current board observed: “Yesterday’s BBG meeting was obscene self-congratulations and chest thumping. Really awful.”
Another former agency official, Joe Bruns, was among many welcoming the expected abolition of the BBG board. Bruns, former Acting Director of the Voice of America and Associate Director for Broadcasting of the United States Information Agency (USIA) and later former CEO of WETA, the public television and radio station In Washington, DC, commented online:
“It took far longer than I thought it would to dissolve under an impossible management structure. And the fault lies at the top. There have always been fine, dedicated journalists and others in the rank and and file of the various services. I hope they can be allowed to do their good work within a more effective organization.”