Honesty can be dangerous for BBG employees, union warns

BBG Watch Commentary

A union representing federal employees working for the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) warned its members that the agency’s upper management is retaliating against its critics.

“Any AFGE Local 1812 member who may be thinking of expressing himself/herself freely in one of the Town Hall meetings or other forums has to think long and hard about what happens to people who do not agree with upper management and dare to express an opinion that deviates from the top management Party line,” the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1812 wrote in an article posted on its website.

AFGE Local 1812

THE VOICE OF … RETALIATION

by American Federation of Government Employees Local 1812

To paraphrase the first broadcasts from the Voice of America to Europe during WWII: The news may be good or it may be bad – we shall tell you the truth.” That is not the case within the Agency. One hesitates to tell VOA upper management the truth – especially if it may not be to their liking. Because if you do…there is always the fear that Agency officials will go after you.

Any AFGE Local 1812 member who may be thinking of expressing himself/herself freely in one of the Town Hall meetings or other forums has to think long and hard about what happens to people who do not agree with upper management and dare to express an opinion that deviates from the top management Party line.

There is the case of former VOA senior correspondent Gary Thomas, who showed courage reporting for the Agency in Iraq and Afghanistan. But as soon as he published a thoughtful article about the challenges faced by VOA in the Columbia Journalism Review, he was targeted.

According to BBG Watch, Mr. Thomas stated: “VOA, and specifically Kyle King, tried to get Columbia Journalism Review to quash my piece prior to publication by calling the magazine’s editors to trash me. According to one of the CJR editors, King told CJR that I was a ‘problematic employee’. As for the questions that I posed that management describes as ‘inflammatory and biased’, VOA management seems to forget that it is a journalist’s job to ask tough questions. That’s in a journalist’s DNA. Refusing to answer questions because you don’t like them is what politicians do. VOA management should know better.”

Rank and file employees are not the only ones who must be careful what they say and do. Take the case of former Governor Victor Ashe who found himself trashed in an official report. Commenting on an AFGE Local 1812 tribute to former BBG Governor Ashe posted on BBG Watch and addressing the contention that the Governor was the target of a State Department Inspector General report, someone with the pseudonym “Mongoose” wrote: “the Inspector General’s report was initiated because former Governor Ashe was a constant barrier to progress in BBG public meetings and worked against decisions made by the Board, including some he voted for.” We wonder: where did this person get what seems like insider information? As our members well know, Ambassador Ashe spent most of his term as Governor trying to improve the management at this Agency which has been consistently ranked as one of the worst in the federal government.

There is also the case of the illegally-RIFed employees of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB) who were fired in 2009 for, as many believe, speaking honestly to the GAO and the OIG. In 2011, Arbitrator Suzanne Butler found, based on the evidence, that the RIF was conducted unnecessarily and that, in fact, the management and the Agency had conducted the RIF for reasons of retaliation. Even though Arbitrator Butler ordered that the employees be rehired and that they be provided with back pay, they are still waiting in limbo, as the Agency refuses to comply with the Arbitrator’s ruling.

The Agency certainly does not seem to prefer employees with the creative spirit of a Steve Jobs whom former BBG Chairman and Jobs’ biographer, Walter Isaacson, described in a recent commencement speech: “What really matters is those who are creative, those who are imaginative, those like Steve Jobs, who can think different.”

So, if you think risking your life for the Agency on overseas assignments as a correspondent counts for something, if you think being honest and forthright is a quality the Agency prizes, think again. Sad to say, the Agency prefers its employees to be servile, which will suffice in protecting your job, at least for awhile. Unfortunately, thinking differently like Steve Jobs or other creative people, may trigger retaliation and put your livelihood at risk.

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