Some USAGM executives recruited by man later convicted of felony theft still in charge of government broadcaster

BBG – USAGM Watch Commentary

Current Voice of America (VOA) journalists are making comments suggesting that staff morale at the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) is sinking to new record low levels after the recent sentencing by the federal court in Alexandria, VA of Dr. Haroon Ullah, PhD, a former top aide of former USAGM CEO John F. Lansing.

Ullah has pled guilty to federal felony charges of stealing tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars by filing false travel vouchers and falsifying documents.

The felony crime was committed while Ullah had worked for John Lansing who reportedly had been completely unaware of the theft until the agency started to investigate Ullah’s travel and hotel vouchers in response to a complaint from an employee.

Current and former USAGM employees point out that Lansing failed to properly supervise his top advisor and his extensive travels but suffered no negative consequences.

Ullah was hired for his senior agency position by John Lansing and reported directly to him. Last year Ullah was put on an administrative leave and later fired.

After resigning from USAGM following the Ullah scandal, Lansing is now running the National Public Radio (NPR). At the time of his resignation, Lansing received high praise from the USAGM Board of Governors for his work at the agency.

Some USAGM employees told others they are upset that Lansing and other agency leaders were not held accountable for hiring Ullah and for failing to supervise him.

Some USAGM employees also complain in private that some of the government executives at USAGM who were recruited and brought on board by Haroon Ullah still occupy today some of the key agency positions. They say that this has a negative effect on the already dismally low employee morale at USAGM, including the federal staff and contractors working for the Voice of America.

One former and one current USAGM employee who knew Haroon Ullah said in private that senior USAGM leaders initially refused to believe that complaints about him were legitimate.

The agency’s current executives claim that they started an investigation as soon as they had heard allegations about the theft of government funds, but one employee told several colleagues that some of these executives, some of whom may have been brought on board by Ullah, at first had dismissed initial complaints about Ullah.

Ullah was former USAGM CEO John Lansing’s key advisor and was his and the agency’s chief strategist.

One former USAGM manager told several people in private that he had warned Lansing that Ullah was unreliable and unsuitable for his high-level U.S. government agency job, but according to this former manager, Lansing dismissed the warnings, although at that time they were not specifically about any criminal activities relating to Ullah.

Current employees with specific information about the scandal said that while working for John Lansing, Ullah recruited and brought on board a number of managers, rank-and-file employees and contractors. These employees point out that at least some of these high-level managers recruited by Haroon Ullah are believed to occupy today key executive positions at the U.S. Agency for Global Media.

Many former and current employees also question the accuracy of the agency’s audience research.

A former analyst for the USAGM, which oversees all taxpayer-funded broadcast and online media directed at overseas audiences, has publicly challenged the methods used by the agency in making audience size claims. One of the agency’s current top executives responded that their former highly respected and highly praised audience research analyst was mistaken.

Many current and former employees say in private and in some cases post online their opinions that with the exception of very few smaller countries, the Voice of America and some of the other USAGM media entities lack today any significant audience or a significant impact.

 

FOR BACKGROUND READ:

Counterterrorism expert goes from top government job to prison for faking expense reports. By Rachel Weiner, The Washington Post, December 3, 2019.

 

Comments by former and current Voice of America and USAGM (formerly Broadcasting Board of Governors — BBG) employees:

 

Only ignorant fat heads like Richard Holbrooke, Richard Stengel and John Lansing would hire this crook. It was obvious [to] anyone who worked with him that he was misogynist con man and a liar.

 

He threatened me and stalked me in public. Luckily there were witnesses, including his own staff… . It happened at least twice. Bad news. There’s lot more to this story. I look forward to hearing Ullah’s talks to SES folks about stealing from the government. … Arrogant.

 

This is yet another example of the agency hiring the wrong people and then letting incompetent or illegal activities go unchallenged until it cannot be ignored.

 

“Significant consequence”: 90 days in a minimum security facility on a three month diet and exercise program, followed by 30 hours to be spent pontificating at cozy C-Suite coffee clatches with bemused former SES colleagues. And 36 months of “supervision” by an overloaded federal probation officer.

 

Just 60 days? Seriously? That’s what you might get for unpaid speeding tickets, but surely not for a nine month-long coordinated scheme of deliberate fraud, forgery and theft. Alexandria’s federal court has a rep for being tough. Let’s hope it lives up to it with this case.

 

Another in a long line of VOA grifters, con men and horse thieves. Nothing but the best for this once venerated broadcaster.

 

…he did a lot of wrong things for sure.

 

Here is a lot of […] that goes on in the third-floor offices that doesn’t filter down to the studios.

 
 
 

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