BBG Watch News Commentary
The proposed budget cut for the entire Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) in FY 2013 is expected to be 4.2 percent and that painful RIFs (Reductions-in-Force) are unavoidable and likely to be used against rank-and-file employees, BBG Watch sources report. They are afraid that critical broadcasting and other information programs to countries without free media will be cut to protect the jobs of the International Broadcasting Bureau managers.
Sources tell us that all BBG employees, including the Voice of America staff, should expect really bad news on Monday. Good news is that President Obama’s budget is dead on arrival in Congress, which is not likely to approve it and will pass continuing resolutions instead.
According to BBG Watch sources, Donna Grace will meet Monday with the unions to inform them about the budget cuts and expected RIFs. One source told us that it is insulting that a low level official communicates with the unions on cutbacks. The International Broadcasting Bureau Director Richard Lobo should do this himself, the source said.
Big cuts to Voice of America are expected, with VOA Director David Ensor fighting back. IBB/BBG executives and certain Board members do not like people who disagree with the party line. Our sources tell us that Ensor may not be successful and will pay a price for objecting to the cuts. The total budget cut for all of BBG is 4.2 percent.
Several sources within IBB/BBG as well as VOA employees have told BBG Watch that RIFs should be used on members of the failed management team who over the years eliminated many critical programs and programming positions while expanding their own numbers and giving themselves large outstanding performance bonuses.
One source told us, however, that this scenario is highly unlikely because the Board is too divided to order Director Lobo what specific positions should be RIFed. According to one source, on general issues dealing with mismanagement and employee morale, Republican Victor Ashe is sometimes supported by Democrats Michael Meehan, Susan McCue and Michael Lynton, the new interim presiding governor, but there is no majority support for drastic actions to replace top executives and to change management culture within the entire BBG structure.
BBG members could not even agree whether to remove Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty president Steven Korn who called some of the experienced RFE/RL managers “old white guys” and later joked in public about hiring “a cute high school intern.” Some RFE/RL staffers report to BBG Watch that under Korn’s leadership employee morale in Prague has plummeted.
The future doesn’t look much better for rank-and-file employees in Washington, DC. IBB Director Richard Lobo has been siding with IBB/BBG managers and defending their “average” bonuses despite their record low ratings for leadership and management knowledge in the entire federal government. The assumption is that these managers are pushing Lobo to cut programming positions while protecting theirs.
Many BBG employees have sent BBG Watch examples of favoritism, waste and abuse attributed to these key managers, whose poor leadership and management skills contribute to poor performance and bad employee morale. These employees suggest that management reforms could save the agency millions of dollars and would make most RIFs unnecessary.
This report for BBG Watch was filed by a current Voice of America journalist who prefers to remain anonymous because of a justifiable fear of retaliation.
Reports that many RIFs at VOA may soon be announced are circulating among journalists in the newsroom and English programs branch. We’d urge that the top-heavy ranks of VOA managers be trimmed, in particular the current (mis)managers of Programs and Central News, who just closed the VOA Jakarta bureau, to cut spending, even though it consisted of only one staff correspondent.
Isn’t reporting from the largest Muslim nation in the world a top spending priority?
Meanwhile, there is money to burn for boondoggles. Last fall, a top Central News manager directed that thousands be spent on an around-the-U.S. junket for a favored freelancer from the London bureau. The freelancer was to report Americana stories. She sometimes assigned herself and her videographer, reporting from areas where there already are VOA bureaus and repeating some stories already covered. The poor quality of some of the video and absence of content in some of the resulting stories was striking, for example, a drab monochrome story about a bakery in Yonkers, New York.
Apparently, it escaped the attention of the managers who arranged and signed off on this no-bid junket that there are already staff and freelance reporters in the U.S. who are better-positioned to report Americana stories — and without wasting thousands of additional taxpayer dollars.
Reports of burning money for boondoggles reaching BBG Watch are many, including this one from a well-placed source:
My question on VOA cuts is why a top IBB/BBG executive is permitted to rack up over $100,000 in travel costs in a single year and meet his family members in exotic locations? You might do a FOIA on this. Why send 12 people to a conference in Delhi last year for cost of $70,000?