Bureaucratic Darwinism at Broadcasting Board of Governors – BBG
US Government International Media Information War Lost
By The Federalist
On Thursday, March 16, 2017 the White House released its proposed Fiscal Year 2018 budget. It is much as expected with substantial cuts to non-defense spending.
Leading the way in terms of depths of reduction is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with a proposed reduction of about 31 percent. Right behind it is the Department of State with a proposed reduction of around 29 percent. Within the State Department reductions is where US Government international media resides for budget purposes.
Talk around the Cohen Building is for a reduction in FY2018 of around 10 percent. Looking beyond to FY2019 larger cuts are lurking.
What now begins is what one might figuratively call “bureaucratic Darwinism:” in other words, who and what survives and those programs and departments which do not.
The bad news for US Government international media, particularly the Voice of America (VOA) is this:
You are weak and ineffective.
You are also:
- “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)
You have worked assiduously to make yourself so: an afterthought on the playing field of international media, overwhelmed by competitors and adversaries alike.
Now begins the attempt to survive. Survival is not synonymous with bounty or thriving. It’s a case of keeping afloat and not going permanently off the radar.
This agency is in what has become a permanent, perpetual state of disarray. The Congress has learned that this agency can barely function when money is (figuratively) being thrown at it. If the agency is inept and incompetent when there is money to be had, loss of funding becomes catastrophic. There’s no place to hide its failures and just as importantly those responsible.
This agency is top-heavy with incompetence and a self-serving agenda by its careerist bureaucracy. Their intent is to survive at all costs without regard to the mission of the agency or the staff doing the real work.
In our view, there is no one in senior positions, VOA in particular, who is capable of salvaging the agency.
How far the agency has fallen was put on display in its recent observance of the VOA 75th anniversary.
For an agency that has made grandiose, oversized claims of its technological prowess, it was observed that the presentation was below that of what the agency did in observance of decades older anniversaries. The Cohen Building auditorium appeared dark, dreary, and almost funereal. It was aptly described as “dismal,” appearing to be something slapped together at the last moment. But then again absent competent leadership the end result should come as no surprise.
It’s Crunch Time
And time is not on the agency’s side.
One can be certain that departments within the State Department have no intention of going under in order to maintain VOA or the other entities of US Government media still laboring under the outdated title “Broadcasting Board of Governors” (BBG). This will be a major battle in and of itself.
Then there is “the battle within the battle:” namely infighting among the entities within the BBG. Under the circumstances, there’s no love fest here. Every entity for itself.
Everyone involved knows that VOA thinks it is entitled to survive: its typical expression of “maximum hubris.”
There is much work left to be done as the budget will be debated and the subject of appropriation and authorization hearings in the Congress, reconciling differences between House and Senate versions of legislation and the final outcome of legislation itself.
But that is another problem for the agency.
Democrats and Republics alike appear to be disgusted with the agency: both with regard to its lack of mission effectiveness and also with the defiance the agency has demonstrated in public savaging of the new administration and engaging in hysterical wailing over what might come.
One thing would almost certainly end the commotion: eliminate the agency altogether. No more claims that it will be turned into a “propaganda ministry” for the Trump White House. Make it gone. Forever.
This is not likely to happen under the current budget proposal. But the wounding will be severe if not ultimately mortal.
There is neither the time nor the money to turn this agency around. It’s a debacle-in-progress. Keep in mind whoever is in the CEO position would be saddled with a bureaucracy that symbolically can’t manage the contents of a small brown paper bag, let alone the mission requirements of this agency and which still talks of remedial efforts using words like “baby steps” or “incremental:” which is agency-speak for “attempt no progress at reform at all.” At the pace these self-serving individuals propose we – and they – will be dead and dust before the agency could ever possibly be remotely relevant again.
In short, the CEO’s worst enemy is:
1. the bureaucracy which sees its role as self-preservation and is more than capable of intentionally undermining any attempt at anything that resembles constructive remedial action;
2. inexperience in international news management, intercultural communications on an international scale, other forms of public diplomacy, foreign policy, and inexperience in managing U.S. government operations.
The more we think about, the more disgusted we become.
What disgusts us the most is that the inhabitants of senior official office space on the Third Floor of the Cohen Building have brought this on the agency.
These officials have gone out of their way to populate senior positions with like-minded people: figuratively speaking, the bureaucracy’s version of in-breeding.
This agency has consistently been at or next to the bottom of Federal agencies in the annual Federal employee surveys: definitively one of the worst places to work in the Federal Government. To all outward appearances, agency officials must be proud of the distinction since they have clearly demonstrated no interest or ability to rehabilitate the agency choosing rather to engage in stupid “Funfest” displays that have no material impact on the work environment inside the Cohen Building or on the agency’s mission performance.
Employee confidence in senior leaders and employee engagement dropped even further in the 2016 OPM’s Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS).
Thus, the corrosion at the top of the agency has filtered into the employee ranks:
There is a hardcore anti-Trump faction among certain agency employees, particularly in the VOA newsroom, with crude and vulgar depictions of Mr. Trump and members of his family in the most recent “VOA Follies.”
Some employees seem to believe that social media is an appropriate outlet for aberrant behavior. In one recent example, a VOA journalist referred to the White House as a “public housing project.” This individual, as with others, forgets that this kind of conduct is a direct reflection on the agency. A paragon of journalistic virtue? Not hardly. More like the behavior of a curmudgeon whose salary is paid by the American taxpayer.
Cumulatively, from top to bottom, these self-destructive atmospherics have fueled momentum to rid the republic of this derelict agency and replace it with something new.
And good riddance.
Does that mean that the US Government will get out of the business of international media altogether? Most likely not. More than likely something will be molded – if not being molded right now – as a replacement in stages over time. But there is no question: things are changing.
The well known tactic of the agency’s bureaucrats to outlast the administration may be wishful thinking.