Call It Corrupt

OPINION

Bureaucracy Warning Sign

Call It Corrupt

By The Federalist

The US Agency for Global Media (USAGM) or U-SAG-M, as we like to call it, formerly known as the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), has long established itself as one of the worst agencies in the Federal government. Under the watch of CEO John Lansing and the Voice of America (VOA) director Amanda Bennett, it has established itself as one of the most corrupt agencies as well. Scandal upon scandal have piled up under these two Obama-era appointees and the senior managers they have brought on board, inherited and promoted. It has passed from the ridiculous to the outrageous to the unconscionable.

One of the most senior managers John Lansing had recruited was Haroon Ullah who last week pled guilty in federal court to defrauding the U.S. government. It is important to point out that Mr. Lansing did not inherit Dr. Ullah when Lansing was first put in charge of the agency back in 2015. Mr. Lansing himself brought Dr. Ullah to the agency in 2017 and put him in charge of strategy and planning, thus giving him one of the most important senior positions. Mr. Lansing also made Dr. Ullah his outside spokesperson, appeared with him at public events, was reportedly grooming him to be his chief deputy, ignored warnings that Dr. Ullah was bad news, approved his international and domestic travels, and did nothing for many months while Dr. Ullah was defrauding American taxpayers right under his nose.

Considering all that happened at USAGM and some of its key media entities, including the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), both Lansing and Bennett should immediately resign or be removed and the agency placed under responsible interim leadership culled from qualified people from outside the agency. If they don’t resign, the USAGM Advisory Board may still have the authority to remove Mr. Lansing until the new CEO is confirmed by the Senate.

The agency cannot under any circumstances be placed under anyone encumbering senior agency positions. The agency is thoroughly corrupted wholesale.

Former agency official Haroon Ullah who behaved as a de facto John Lansing’s deputy has pleaded guilty to bilking the American taxpayer of about $40,000 in falsified expenses, travel upgrades and even work done to his home. It was John Lansing who gave him his job at USAGM.

Persons who have dealt with the process of documenting travel vouchers, purchase orders and the like find it suspicious that Ullah’s activities sailed under the agency radar for either as much or as long as they did without detection or review, but it turns out that John Lansing was warned by at least one of his former managers that Dr. Ullah was a self-promoter and bad news all around.

According to this former agency manager, Lansing not only ignored his warning about the skirting of federal regulations but began to undermine the person who had warned him about Ullah to the point that the manager resigned in disgust. Mr. Lansing’s style seems to be insulting people who try to warn him that he might be doing something wrong, not doing something, or does not know something that he is doing or not doing. Lansing especially does not want to hear that there may be something wrong with the key people he has recruited or promoted.

Inside U-SAG-M there is a culture of not being the bearer of bad news. It sends ripples throughout the agency’s corrupt hierarchy. A thorough examination, indeed an independent criminal investigation, has the possibility of exposing a whole host of individuals reaching into the underlings right below Lansing.

Did Mr. Lansing sign off on all of Dr. Ullah’s questionable travel requests and travel vouchers? He certainly had to know about Dr. Ullah’s multiple and expensive international and domestic trips. Ullah was not some anonymous low-ranking agency employee who regularly travels on government business. He and Lansing have worked very closely together. Dr. Ullah was his right-hand man. He had to have noticed what Dr. Ullah was doing and yet it apparently did not raise any red flags for Mr. Lansing. What a remarkable lack of awareness and curiosity on the part of a high-level U.S. government official responsible for government operations believed to be highly critical for national security of the United States. Remember, it was Lansing who hired Ullah, had supreme confidence in him and ignored warnings about him from others.

The agency’s senior bureaucrats working for Lansing now claim that they had acted immediately when information about Dr. Ullah’s travel fraud was brought to their attention. Several lower-ranking agency employees dispute this claim. They have told sources that their initial warnings were dismissed by senior managers who seemed at first to take Dr. Ullah’s side in an apparent effort to please his and their boss. To make matters worse, lower-ranking employees said that they felt intimidated and threatened by senior staffers when they first brought evidence of Dr. Ullah’s fraud to their attention.

Ullah is to be sentenced in October. The question is how much did Ullah cooperate with investigators and what information he revealed, particularly in who he dealt with inside the agency and how he managed to amass the extent of his fraudulent, criminal activities. Was one of Lansing’s lower-level deputies given the authority to approve Dr. Ullah’s travel requests and/or travel vouchers in a possible violation of government regulations? Was that individual recently promoted with Lansing’s approval? How long was it before Lansing and his senior aides took any real action?

In short, we don’t believe there was “immediacy” in alerting the Office of Inspector General (OIG). In other words, the agency’s statement is too slick.

Way too slick.

Anyone familiar with this agency knows that it has no effective internal controls over ethics of senior officials. This case is a sterling example of the lack of such controls and John Lansing’s unsuitability to hold his government position.

If Ullah has produced additional information to investigators, a full-scale criminal investigation of this agency is in order. We may not know until we get close to his sentencing.

But the first order of business remains the same:

Lansing needs to go for all the damage he has done and the damage done by agency and entity executives he has recruited, including Haroon Ullah. Bennett also needs to go for all the scandals and the damage she has done to VOA.

The Federalist
July 2019

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