According to the FY 2017 Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) budget request, the Obama Administration is seeking congressional approval to de-federalize the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB) which manages programs of Radio and TV Marti to Cuba.
According to BBG CEO John Lansing, the mission of OCB would not change, but instead of being administered as a federal entity like the Voice of America (VOA), OCB would be turned into a private grantee media organization similar to BBG’s existing grantees, such as Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia (RFA), and Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN). Currently, VOA and OCB are BBG’s only federal media entities.
VOA and OCB journalists are either federal government employees or priorly-paid contract employees without benefits or job protections. An audit by the Office of Inspector General found that, in addition to having regular federal employees, BBG’s International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) that has hired hundreds of these VOA and OCB contract employees in violation of federal rules. A $400 million class action federal lawsuit was filed last December against the BBG on behalf of the contract employees.
While the de-federalization of Radio and TV Marti proposed by the Obama Administration and the illegal hiring of contract employees by the BBG’s bureaucracy are not directly related, it would be one of many issues that needs to be resolved as part of the de-federalization plan. Another issue would be the future status of current federal employees of Radio and TV Marti. In 2009, the agency illegally fired a number of OCB employees. They sued the agency and and the courts ruled in their favor. They recently got their old jobs back with back pay and benefits.
De-federalization of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting will require congressional approval. Whether such approval will be granted remains to be seen. Some members of Congress may see this proposal as an attempt to weaken U.S. government-funded programs to Cuba, although U.S. grantee media entities historically have had much more hard-hitting programs than the federal Voice of America.
ALSO SEE: $777.8 million BBG FY2017 budget request with mixed evidence of impact, BBG Watch, February 9, 2016.