BBG – USAGM Watch Commentary
Haroon Ullah, who was brought on board at the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) by CEO John F. Lansing and served as his right-hand man for strategic planning until agency employees exposed Ullah’s fraudulent activities to which he pled guilty last week in federal court, has himself brought on board with Lansing’s apparent approval a number of highly-paid contractors, some of them believed to be his friends or former associates, sources within the agency told BBG-USAGM Watch.
Employees say that at least some of Ullah’s contractor-hires are likely to stay at the agency for many years since they subsequently managed to get permanent Civil Service positions with his support and with Lansing’s overall approval. Some may have already served out their probationary period.
Some of the contractors hired by Ullah were reportedly paid approximately $60 per hour when they were still working under federal contracts, employees told BBG-USAGM Watch. At least one of Ullah’s hires managed later to secure a permanent supervisory federal government position on Lansing’s senior staff, agency employees point out. A few others, according to sources, secured other well-paid federal government positions at USAGM.
According to USAGM employees, some of Ullah’s contractors were just as fond of frequent international travel at taxpayers’ expense as he was during his tenure at the agency as Lansing’s Chief Strategy Officer.
Responding Friday to a question on Ullah’s plea deal, an agency spokesperson, who reflects what Lansing’s senior management team wants the public to know, made the following comment:
“Consistent with best practices and Agency policy, Agency leadership immediately referred this matter to the Office of the Inspector General, once information about irregularities was made know. The Agency’s own internal oversight and audit processes for travel related expenditures alerted Agency officials to potential fraud. Mr. Ullah’s employment was terminated a number of months ago, as a result of the Agency’s own internal investigation. For further information please contact the U.S. Attorney’s office.”
Former and current USAGM employees who want to remain anonymous paint a totally different picture of how some of John Lansing’s senior executives, among whom Haroon Ullah held a key position right below Lansing and often appeared with him at public events, responded to initial complaints from employees and less senior managers.
These former and current employees said they were the first ones to raise concerns about Ullah to senior executives reporting to Lansing. Some said that they also raised more general concerns about Ullah directly with Lansing and some of the members of the Broadcasting Board of Government (BBG). These former and current employees say that the senior management initially dismissed their concerns and the information they provided.
Some employees also said they had experienced intimidation from senior managers for trying to warn them about travel and contracting irregularities. They also stressed that they—not the senior executives under Lansing—were the first ones to contact the OIG on this issue using confidential channels.
It is not yet clear who among USAGM senior staff approved Ullah’s questionable travel requests and his fraudulent travel vouchers. It should have been Lansing or his immediate deputy, but according to sources Lansing may have delegated travel approval for Ullah to a senior staffer who may not have had full legal authority to approve travel for senior staffers reporting directly to Lansing.
Some sources reported independently of each another that Lansing not only brought Haroon Ullah to the agency but was grooming him to be his chief deputy only to have his plan derailed when the scandal became public. They also pointed out that the agency has never seen so many major scandals at any comparable time in its history as it has under Lansing’s watch. Some of the scandals were reported at USAGM media entities, the Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) under the watch of executives also selected by Lansing. He has been in his position since 2015 and brought Haroon Ullah to USAGM in 2017 when the agency was still called the Broadcasting Board of Governors.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, June 27, 2019