Washington Post expanded column offers new details on Voice of America contracting scandal

BBG Watch Commentary

Washington Post We alerted BBG Watch readers to Joe Davidson‘s column in The Washington Post about the Voice of America contracting scandal.

The author of the Federal Diary, a column about the federal workplace, mentioned BBG Watch reporting on VOA news and management failures.

SEE: Washington Post cites BBG Watch on poor news coverage and mismanagement at Voice of America, BBG Watch, November 23, 2014.

Today’s expanded print and online version of Joe Davidson’s column includes a statement from Letitia King, a BBG spokeswoman and other new information:

“We have to evaluate our programming relative to the human capital (employees and contractors) we can afford each year,” she said. “We remain committed to our goal of continuing to provide high-quality content to our audiences worldwide.”

The agency’s management wants to use outside staffing firms to provide contract employees instead of recruiting them directly. The agency did not and does not have legal authority to enter into hundreds of personal services contracts, but the Office of Inspector General found that BBG officials did it anyway in violation of U.S. law and regulations.

Critics say that even the current system does not provide for proper oversight of contract employees and their sensitive work. The current arrangement results in full time contract employees being underpaid and lacking any extra benefits or job protections. Critics point out that using outside staffing firms will leave less money for program production while keeping the overblown bureaucracy in place with even less work to do.

Dec. 9 memo to members of the board from Marie Lennon, chief of staff at the International Broadcasting Bureau, the BBG’s administrative arm, said using staffing agencies “would likely cost the Agency at least an additional 30 percent on average for each contractor due to overhead costs for the firm itself.”

READ: Agency few Americans use generates controversy, this time with contractors, Joe Davidson, The Washington Post, November 24.

Davidson reported that “more than 150 contractors sent a letter to BBG chairman Jeffrey Shell, with copies to 31 members of Congress, urging additional funding” for broadcasting and online reporting to strategically key countries, such as Russia, Iran, and China. According to one source, some full-time federal Voice of America employees also signed the letter to show solidarity with their colleagues who do the same broadcasting and journalistic jobs as contractors at much less pay and no benefits or employment protections.

BBG Watch will soon post the text of the VOA Contractors Letter online.

Contract employees at the Voice of America are worried that IBB and VOA bureaucrats will keep their positions while making savings at the expense of exploited and underpaid contractors. Almost all of 700 contractors are in fact full-time employees brought on board by the IBB and VOA management, in most cases in violation of U.S. law and regulations.

The use of contracting firms by the management is designed to solve the legal problem, but many fear that it will make the situation of contract employees even worse. According to critics, it will lead to a further meltdown of already weak management of news content as shown by numerous Voice of America news reporting failures. An unsupervised contractor was reportedly responsible for posting on the Voice of America website a map showing Russia-occupied Crimea to be part of the Russian Federation. The map stayed online for many hours before being removed.

The Washington Post provides links to U.S. Government’s Office of Inspector General document and an internal BBG memo to illustrate the story, as well as links to BBG Watch.

Just last week it [BBG] began compensating people who were improperly fired in 2009 from the anachronistic Office of Cuba Broadcasting. Its [Voice of America’s] election night coverage three weeks ago was the target of derisive comments on BBG Watch , an online publication by current and former employees. Year after year, including this one, the BBG is a loser on key employee survey questions.

OIG Audit of the Broadcasting Board of Governors Administration and Oversight of Acquisition Functions

Audit of the Broadcasting Board of Governors Administration and Oversight of Acquisition Functions

BBG Briefing Paper on Use of Contractors

BBG Briefing Paper on Use of Contractors

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