Employee morale commitment letter from BBG CEO

BBG Watch Commentary

As the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is distributing links for federal employees to participate in the 2016 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS), new Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) CEO John Lansing has issued on Monday, May 2, a “commitment letter,” in which he promises to improve internal communication and employee morale.

There has been some progress in governance since Lansing came on board in September 2015, for which some employees and outside observers give Lansing credit, but much of the old BBG executive team which has kept OPM employee morale ratings at the agency at record lows for many years remains in place. The CEO commitment letter is seen by employees as part of the management’s plan to help the agency improve its 2016 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey employee satisfaction results after years of embarrassingly low ratings. Some found the letter to be thoughtfully-written and welcomed its message but remain skeptical whether Lansing will be able to deliver on his promises.

BBG employees will receive an e-mail from OPM (EVLI@OPM.GOV) with the subject line, “2016 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.” “To ensure that your responses are ANONYMOUS and CONFIDENTIAL, the survey is sent from OPM, and all responses are gathered by OPM,” another e-mail from the management assured the agency’s employees. “No one at the BBG will see individual responses,” BBG employees were told. The survey takes approximately 20 minutes to complete. Supervisors and managers are to ensure that all employees have enough time to complete the survey.

Longtime observers of the agency noted that since Lansing is unable to hire, replace or reassign managers quickly in a federal government setting, he had to task some of the veteran BBG executives with improving internal communications. “Either he delivers the goods, or the bureaucracy will find a way to undermine him,” a former BBG employee observed. A former VOA foreign correspondent said: “too bad they had to lose so many talented people before getting someone who would make these pledges.”

It remains to be seen what kind of impact Lansing’s eight months at the helm of the BBG and his “commitment letter” will have on the 2016 FEVS results. “Honest responses from employees to the survey questions may help Lansing clean house and carry out more reforms more quickly,” a former VOA manager observed. BBG employees have been through a lot of abuse in the past and have seen many empty promises from their government executives. But compared to BBG management’s pre-FEVS messages of previous years, Lansing’s letter showed sincerity, dignity and class not seen at the BBG for ages.

Lansing’s decision to hire Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Amanda Bennett to be Voice of America director was well received because of her stellar journalistic credentials. In an e-mail to staff sent out Friday afternoon, April 29, Bennett announced that former Washington Post editor and foreign correspondent Sandy Sugawara will be the new VOA Deputy Director. According to Bennett’s e-mail, Sugawara served most recently for more than three years as managing editor for Trove, a digital news startup owned by The Washington Post and later by the Graham Holdings Company. Trove (also see Wikipedia article) was shut down in December 2015. Chairman and CEO of Graham Holdings Company (formerly The Washington Post Company) is Bennett’s husband, Donald E. Graham.

Previously, a number of VOA and BBG managers and editors came from CNN, a hiring pattern linked to some of their bosses who served on the BBG boards or at VOA and had worked earlier for CNN. Critics said that in some cases their credentials and particularly their later performance at the BBG and VOA left much to be desired. In 2013, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, herself a member of the BBG board, called the agency “practically defunct.” Late last year, BBG Chairman Jeff Shell and the current board placed Lansing, a single executive, in charge of a vast $750 million government agency managing and overseeing both federal and non-federal entities. The previous BBG CEO, Andy Lack, had resigned only after a few weeks on the job to take a much more rewarding and better paid position at NBC News.

One of BBG’s non-federal media entities, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), remains without permanent leadership for more then two years with reports of poor management and plummeting employee morale. Non-federal employees as well as contractors working as full time employees for BBG’s federal entities such as VOA are not polled by OPM for the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey. BBG contractors were advised in a recent BBG management e-mail “to submit feedback regarding their work experience via … the Office of Contracts.” The lawyers representing BBG contract employees in a recently filed $400 class action lawsuit wrote that “The contractors have been complaining to their C.O.’s [Contracting Officers] for years without getting any relief, because their plight was planned from the top of the organization. This class action is their only hope and we believe the court will agree.” If BBG contractors were included in OPM’s Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, its results would most likely be even more devastating for the agency.

In a $400 million class lawsuit against the agency, some of the BBG contract employees allege years of discrimination by federal managers, some of whom still occupy key positions. Lawyers for the agency and the U.S. Department of Justice filed their motion to dismiss the action.

Lansing wrote in his letter to employees: “We will comply with and enforce applicable personnel laws, rules, and regulations, and ensure that all employees are informed of their rights and responsibilities.” According to various investigations and reports by the Office of Inspector General (OIG), conducted and published before Lansing came on board, some of the current BBG executives have violated and abused government laws, rules, and regulations for many years without any accountability.

A few days before John Lansing published his “commitment letter,” an RFE/RL employee who wants to remain anonymous wrote to BBG Watch: “Indeed, when top managers at [RFE/RL] abuse their power and engage and the creation of the Potemkin villages, the response is diminished performance by ordinary journalists and editors.” RFE/RL employees are unable to form an effective labor union in the Czech Republic where RFE/RL has its headquarters. Foreign-born RFE/RL workers say that they are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse by the management without any effective legal recourse while programs they help to create expose human rights abuses abroad and call for workers’ rights to be universally respected.

John Lansing correctly observed that “as a longtime journalist I understand the importance of credibility and trust in winning over skeptical audiences.” “These concepts are more than just buzzwords – they are indispensable to what we do as journalists and public servants,” Lansing added. In light of his words and the bad publicity abroad over RFE/RL’s treatment of its journalists, it might be difficult for the BBG to continue to deny RFE/RL foreign-born employees their labor rights. An award-winning investigative reporter who was dismissed last year before John Lansing took over the CEO position wrote that she is happy not to be working for Radio Liberty’s Russian Service because she could not do her investigative reporting on corruption in Russia if she were still employed by RFE/RL.

Some congressional and other critics doubt that a single CEO, no matter how good or how experienced, can change the culture of the agency permanently. They foresee the bureaucracy returning with a vengeance to its past and current questionable management practices once Lansing is out of the picture. It seems that some BBG employees hope that he will succeed in carrying out at least a few his promises, but they seem to have little faith in many of their current executives and mid-level managers.

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BBG CEO John Lansing Commitment Letter

Broadcasting Board of Governors
United States of America

May 2, 2016

Dear Colleagues,

As a longtime journalist I understand the importance of credibility and trust in winning over skeptical audiences. These concepts are more than just buzzwords – they are indispensable to what we do as
journalists and public servants.

I have been encouraged by my conversations with many of you and assure you that I am more committed than ever to continue building a more collaborative, engaging and supportive workplace.

We are strengthening our internal communication across many levels, and will continue to refine and build on effective processes across all levels within the agency. Through this enhanced internal communication structure, we will step up our efforts to define the principal values of our work and clarify the procedures we use to reflect them.

I promise to create a BBG that we can all be proud of. and commit to each of you the following:

We will create a working environment that is free of personal favoritism, coercion,reprisal and retaliation and other prohibited personnel practices.

We will work to eliminate any behavior that compromises the BBG’s credibility or erodes the trust vital to our workplace.

We will ensure that BBG employees are held to the highest standards of honesty, integrity, conduct and concern for the public interest.

We will comply with and enforce applicable personnel laws, rules, and regulations, and ensure that all employees are informed of their rights and responsibilities.

Most importantly, we will invest in the tools, processes, and programs that will nurture and support our Agency’s most valuable resource, our employees.

With these commitments as my guide, I will work every day toward building a unified and forward-leaning agency where our team is as united in purpose as it is diverse.

I am proud to work with all of you in such an important agency at this critical time for global media and journalism, and believe together we can realize our vision of an employee-first workplace that supports our mission to inform, engage and connect citizens around the world in support of freedom and democracy.

Sincerely

John F. Lansing
Chief Executive Officer and Director

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From: IBB Notices Admin
Sent: Thursday, April 14, 2016 2:30 PM
To: IBB Notices Administration
Subject: Message from BBG CEO and Director John Lansing – Workplace Solutions Recommendations Update

Colleagues,

 

In an effort to keep everyone apprised of our progress, and keep an open line of communication, I plan to provide updates on the 2015-2016 Workplace Solutions Recommendations efforts as certain milestones are reached. I look forward to sharing the Workplace Solutions team’s progress with you all as we work together toward addressing the challenges laid out in the 2015-2016 FEVS.

 

First, let me start by thanking everyone who came out to support the Kick-Off on March 23, 2016.  We had a great turnout, resulting in 87 signups for Action Teams at the event.  As of today, we have 128 Action Team Members from across the agency.  It is wonderful to see such a strong response, and I thank all of our volunteers for offering their time to this important effort.

 

On March 31st, we held an orientation for the volunteers who signed up as Team Leads for the 13 Action Teams.  For teams with two or more Team Lead volunteers, the Leads or Co-Team Leads were selected by their peers.

 

Our 13 Action Team Leaders/Co-Team Leaders are as follows:

 

Recommendation
Action Team Leaders
Regularly schedule top management interactions and face-to-face communications with employees
Joan Mower – OSD
Ningrum Spicer – EAP
Revamp/rebrand IBB Notices – BBG Daily News Sheet
David Futrowsky – Central News
Implement regular Staff Meetings Agency Wide
Janice Swan-Davis – Creative Svs
Lisa Ponzio – Operations
Develop CEO commitment letter to BBG Employees
Brandon Gardner – VOA Dir Staff
Provide training and resources to Senior Leaders on how to motivate and engage workforce
Vivian Chakarian – Eurasia Div
Kevin Enochs – Central News
Create and Maintain a computer based Agency Org chart
Carol Guensburg – Central ews
Bob Morris – TV Enhancement
Implement cross-agency working level meetings between IBB, VOA and OCB
Diane Butts – Creative Services
Andy Cassells – Operations
Develop “One Mission: One Team” messaging campaign
Amy Katz – Central News
Provide recurring Management Training for dealing with poor performers and difficult people
Julie Parabaniuk – Eurasia Div
Implement 360 Feedback tools for SES, Senior Managers, Division Directors & Equivalents
Steve Redisch – VOA Dir Staff
Carolyn Presutti – Central News
Hold Manager/Employee Workshops on various formal and informal recognition tools
June Simms – LPD
Assess employee needs to ensure they have the tools and resources to do their jobs
Carol Prahl – LPD
Jodi Reed – LPD
Provide Leadership Training for Managers
Barbara Brady -TSI
Raymond Perez – TSI
Action Team Member orientation was held on April 7, 2016.  The Teams will now begin to meet to develop specific plans/ideas to implement their respective recommendation.  Each Team will provide a monthly progress update to my senior team and me, which in turn will be posted on SharePoint for all of our employees to view.
As one of the 23 recommendations that’s well into the implementation phase, “Dedicated tool for receiving and responding to employee feedback”, I encourage to you to send your questions and feedback to WorkplaceSolutions@bbg.gov.

 
 

John F. Lansing

 

Chief Executive Officer and Director
Broadcasting Board of Governors

 

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