BBG Watch Commentary
The senior mangement of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) has at least two faces. It has, of course, its CEO and Director, John F. Lansing, and Voice of America (VOA) director, Amanda Bennett. There are also many deputies, VOA deputy director Sandy Sugawara and International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) deputy director Jeff Trimble, as well as countless other directors, deputy directors, senior advisors and other managers and supervisors at many levels of the BBG management.
The two faces of the BBG Management for the purposes of this comparison are declarations of intentions and actual actions of BBG and VOA leaders.
As federal employees of the ailing agency, known throughout the U.S. government for its low employee morale, began to fill out yet another Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS 2017), they were presented by the senior leaders with the BBG Management Accountability Charter.
They also had a chance to watch the senior BBG and VOA leadership in action.
Senior VOA leaders led by director Amanda Bennett, and including deputy director Sandy Sugawara, program director Kelu Chao, and East Asia division director Norm Goodman, made decisions regarding the VOA Mandarin Service interview with Chinese whistleblower Guo Wengui. After the live interview was shortened despite an earlier promise to the audience that it would run for three hours on TV and on social media, VOA suffered a catastrophic loss of reputation and credibility in China.
What happened next is quite interesting and very typical of longstanding management behavior. VOA Mandarin Service Chief Sasha Gong and four other Mandarin Service employees have been placed on administrative leave by VOA senior leaders pending a full investigation. VOA senior leaders involved in making decisions which led to the controversy were not placed on administrative leave. BBG CEO John Lansing said nothing. His silence indicates his approval.
He did, however, make an announcement about the 2017 Nathanson Public Diplomacy Scholarship Selections. What is striking about his announcement is how many times the word “Director,” “Manager,” “managing” or “Analyst” appear next to the names of individuals selected for the scholarship. As we said in our earlier commentary, the Broadcasting Board of Governors is an agency of directors, managers and the CEO. It is also an agency of two different faces. As seen from its official announcements reposted below, there is a big difference between the agency’s declarations to the employees and the actual actions of its senior leaders.
At this point, one of the few recourses the employees still have at the agency, which was described in 2013 by Hillary Clinton as “practically defunct,” is to fill out as honestly as they their confidential 2017 FEVS questionnaires. Perhaps your voices will be heard and considered as the new administration and Congress make decisions regarding the agency’s future.
What happened to the VOA Mandarin Five can happen to any BBG/VOA employee. This is your chance to show your support for these VOA journalists.
READ MORE: BBG — an agency of directors, managers and CEO, BBG Watch, May 10, 2017.
VOA STATEMENT ON GUO WENGUI INTERVIEW
From: IBB Notices Admin
Sent: Friday, May 5, 2017 11:42:47 AM
To: IBB Notices Administration
Subject: VOA Statement on Guo Wengui Interview
As you may be aware, there has been a lot of attention to a recent interview conducted by VOA Mandarin. In response to media inquiries on the matter, the following statement was issued and also shared at a VOA Mandarin town hall earlier this week.
VOA Statement on Guo Wengui Interview
VOA Mandarin Service Chief Sasha Gong and four other Mandarin Service employees have been placed on administrative leave pending a full investigation. Scott Stearns, managing editor in the VOA Africa division, will be the acting Mandarin Service chief until further notice. The decisions regarding the interview with Guo Wengui were made by a group of senior VOA leaders led by director Amanda Bennett and included deputy director Sandy Sugawara, program director Kelu Chao, and East Asia division director Norm Goodman. At no time during the decision-making process was there any management consideration of not doing the interview, nor of cutting short an ongoing interview for any reason. The decisions were based on the journalistic principles of verification, balance and fairness that are standard industry practice and apply universally to all VOA services. There are no special exemptions for individual services to follow different practices. There was no input whatsoever from the U.S. government, nor would the firewall permit any such input. Pressure from the Chinese government played no role in any decision-making. VOA and the BBG have decades’-long histories of producing full fair and balanced journalism in the face of even the most extreme pressures.
Amanda Bennett, Director
330 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20237
END OF VOA STATEMENT
MESSAGE TO EMPLOYEES FROM BBG CEO JOHN LANSING
From: IBB Notices Admin
Sent: Friday, May 5, 2017 3:14:44 PM
To: IBB Notices Administration
Subject: 2017 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey
The past twelve months have passed quickly, and we are less than a month from the launch of this year’s Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS). On May 9, FEVS will be available for a six-week period during which all federal employees will have the opportunity to give their thoughts on factors that drive engagement, satisfaction, and motivation in the workplace. I encourage every employee to complete this year’s survey. Participation is confidential. Results will be evaluated closely by my team and agency leadership, and will inform action plans and solutions. You can learn more about the FEVS here.
Two years ago, we created Workplace Solutions, a framework for cross-functional teams to address issues identified in our survey results. Many of the teams have completed their work, while others are still working on implementation plans. Some results of this effort include a dedicated internal communications team, a front entry monitor to promote activities, a revamped Mentoring Program, and a robust incentive awards program that included $1.1M in cash awards and 2,000 hours in time-off hours being awarded to employees in 2016. And recently, Workplace Solutions launched beta version of an interactive organization chart with links to our agency directory.
Workplace Solutions is an ongoing, agency-wide effort which welcomes the participation of any interested employee. If you would like to get involved or have a suggestion to improve the agency, send a note to WorkPlaceSolutions@bbg.gov.
In this vein, I would like to share additional updates on leadership development at BBG. Last spring, I issued my commitment letter to you. From that, we developed the BBG Management Accountability Charter as a standard for leaders at all levels to communicate effectively with employees, provide resources and opportunities, and create a safe, fair, and supportive workplace culture.
To accomplish the goals of the Management Accountability Charter, agency leaders at all levels need to continually bolster their own leadership development. In the coming weeks, Workplace Solutions will launch “Leadership 2020,” a comprehensive leadership development program to prepare management teams to improve communication, engagement, and performance management in a changing environment. Leadership 2020 will implement 360 degree feedback tools for managers, set learning requirements, and require development plans that ensure the goals of the Management Accountability Charter are met.
Additionally, in the coming days I will announce our candidates for the Nathanson Public Diplomacy Scholarship. Candidates will participate in the Aspen Institute Socrates Program in Aspen, Colorado from July 7 to July 10. It provides a forum for emerging leaders from various professions to explore contemporary issues through expert-moderated dialogue. It is a great opportunity that I fully support.
Lastly, I encourage you to participate in the FEVS and to engage with leadership in other ways. Let your voice be heard through VOA’s Ask Amanda, WorkPlaceSolutions@bbg.gov, InternalCommunications@bbg.gov, suggestion boxes in the Cohen building and the Talk to John section on the CEO intranet page. I want to hear from you about what we can do together to improve our workplace.
Thank you for all that you do in support of U.S. international media.
John F. Lansing
Chief Executive Officer and Director
Broadcasting Board of Governors
END OF MESSAGE TO EMPLOYEES FROM BBG CEO JOHN LANSING