International Broadcasting Bureau – The Standard for Dysfunctional and Defunct in the Federal Government – Memo To The Board #3: The Ice Age
by The Federalist
“So going from low, down in the ratings to low but a little bit better in the ratings is nothing to crow about and we’re not happy at all about where we are. And we have a lot of work to do, as Jeff [Trimble] said, but at least we’re moving a little bit in the right direction. So, my commendations to everybody who’s worked hard to start to turn this battleship around a little bit. There is nothing more important to this organization than making it a good place to work for our dedicated people.”
- BBG Chairman Jeff Shell
The results of the 2013 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey are out. And yet again, the agency finds itself at/or near the bottom of Federal agencies, coming in at position 21 out of 23 among mid-size Executive Branch entities.
We are not surprised because the underlying problems remain and are going to remain so long as the bureaucracy of the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) remains in place and has control over the operations of US Government international broadcasting.
[It was announced at the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) open meeting on December 18, 2013 that “Jeff Trimble, IBB Deputy Director, will transition to a new role to be announced separately. Shell thanked Trimble for taking the helm of the IBB management team after IBB Director Dick Lobo’s retirement.” It was further announced that “The Board agreed to divide the responsibilities of the recently retired IBB Director among three members of the senior management team in order to help pave the way for a future Chief Executive Officer.”]
It remains to be seen where these changes and future reforms may lead. But as long as you still have senior management officials in positions of power — officials who require anger management classes, who threaten and bully employees, who engage in acts of gross insubordination in failing to take direction from the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) and who engage in character assassination of BBG members and independent journalists, you’ve earned the title of rogue bureaucracy along with other characterizations that set this agency apart from the rest of the Federal executive branch.
Chairman Shell has it right: these latest results are “nothing to crow about.” However, you can be sure that is exactly what the agency’s top bureaucrats would have liked to have done. Unfortunately for them, Mr. Shell rained on what would have been an ignominious spectacle.
Some Things To Consider
Let’s remember that they have held senior IBB positions for much of the time the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has conducted this survey process. The agency has consistently ranked at/or near the bottom. They have presided over what is clearly the most jaded era of the agency’s history – and that is putting it mildly.
This doesn’t happen by accident.
When you have an established pattern of results as this agency has, coupled with the characterizations noted above, it speaks to a pervasive system of senior management conduct, intentionally and deliberately set upon.
Without a doubt, it is from these senior ranks that the earlier term “baby steps” originated, used to characterize “progress,” making the Board look supremely ridiculous when you know the history of the agency and these surveys.
You have to know these IBB and senior Voice of America (VOA) officials very, very well. You have to know their games, their history, and their modus operandi. They do not inspire trust or confidence. They are treacherous and vindictive.
We understand that these same senior officials have referred to the agency’s step off the bottom as a “modest” improvement. It is not. It is minimal improvement – and made even more suspect by the effort these managers made to cajole and/or otherwise pressure and intimidate employees to respond to the survey, including pizza parties and offers of a couple hours of time off. Face it: with the usual suspects still in charge, after those two hours of time off are used up, you’re walking into the same agency, the same problems. We don’t care where they get shuffled off to: they are still in the Cohen Building where they can continue to wreak havoc. The name of the game with this clique is to burrow in and burrow deep into the agency in order to perpetuate an agenda other than what may be the one laid out by the BBG. It is an agenda that has nothing to do with the VOA Charter and the agency’s mission.
The very presence of these people, even when no longer in managerial roles, is a constant reminder that they are still around and quite possibly plotting their revenge against those seen as knocking them off their thrones.
To paraphrase what one of our primary institutional sources reminds us, the attitude is: “BBG members come. BBG members go. We (the IBB) stay.”
Think of the George R.R. Martin series, “A Game of Thrones.” The difference is this isn’t medieval fiction. It’s right here, right now. And every employee in the agency is a pawn in the game played on the Third Floor of Cohen Building. Pawns are expendable, collateral damage in their schemes, including the notorious “strategic plan.”
The Office of Personnel Management worked with the Partnership for Public Service (PPS) on its 2013 survey. PPS has also been inside the Cohen Building trying to build a mechanism for improving the agency’s usually bleak outcome. They announce the “Best Places to Work in the Federal Government” (of which the Cohen Building is not).
We also note that the consultant firm Deloitte was involved in the OPM survey process.
You remember Deloitte. Not too many years ago, Deloitte was hired by the agency to review its “strategic plan.” In so many words, Deloitte gave its blessing to the plan. As part of its blessing, it took note that the plan would be disruptive and that personnel dissatisfaction could be expected. It came across as a kind of “no big deal” moment, the kind the IBB rogue bureaucracy relishes.
A lot has transpired since then, including former Secretary of State Clinton’s labeling of the agency “defunct,” IBB attacks on former BBG member Ambassador Victor Ashe and reported threats to sue current BBG members.
Last but not least, the plan that Deloitte blessed has now been labeled neither “strategic” nor a “plan.” BBG Chairman Jeff Shell and other reform-minded BBG members were not fooled.
Perhaps, if Deloitte were to revisit its recommendations, with the benefit of hindsight, it might consider it an “Ooops!” moment. One wonders how the recommendations in the Deloitte report may have contributed to IBB behavior and the destruction that followed (including that wholesale firing of the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Russian Service staff in Russia). Thanks to outside protests — while IBB executives did nothing — BBG members intervened and reformed RFE/RL’s top management. Some of the fired Russian journalists were rehired and RFE/RL has new CEO Kevin Klose, a respected media executive and journalist.
The IBB Agenda Regarding the Survey
The IBB agenda has much more to do than merely this employee survey alone. The big picture is this:
Accountability delayed is accountability denied.
These IBB operatives look at improvement in the results of the survey as giving ground. The record makes clear that they intend to do so grudgingly. It’s like watching the receding glaciers from the last Ice Age.
They would be more than happy to see every employee and board member die, retire or their appointments expire because it affords them the opportunity to continue business as usual. Why? The answer:
Improvement in the survey or changes to the so-called “strategic plan” essentially repudiates their decisions and more importantly their actions to hang onto their positions, control the narratives presented to the White House, the Congress, etc.
The longer they can hang on, the more they can control the agency’s institutional memory, along with its present and future.
Remember: the agency’s mission and/or mission effectiveness are not a primary consideration of the IBB. That distinction is reserved for their self-interest shaped as it has been with large annual bonuses.
The survey action item for the BBG is to analyze the results of the survey – get their own take on the results and not go through the IBB filters (remember, “baby steps”).
It won’t take long to discover where the weaknesses are.
And right at the top of that list is going to be –
Or, more appropriately the lack of leadership. Requisite leadership acumen is not important to the IBB. It’s power. That’s what they are all about: power over the agency, its mission and its employees – in ways large, petty and vindictive. That describes our IBB boys and girls rather well.
The Board gets a rather significant plus for bringing in successful business executives, including Reed Hastings of Netflix, to talk about the position of Chief Executive Officer (a position which we have been skeptical of because of potential IBB treachery). If the Board follows through, this is the basis for setting the tone for what constitutes a successful organizational model.
The next action item for the BBG is a similar approach to discuss leadership, what distinguishes successful organizations that have solid leadership, integrates the workforce as critical to successful goal accomplishments and treats them well accordingly.
There are many things that the future of the agency is contingent upon. This is one of them. Without the right people in place (and they are not right now in senior agency positions) anything else the agency hopes to achieve is seriously compromised.