Where is IBB/BBG's alpha wolf Richard Lobo?

This is a BBG Watch commentary.

Lobo means wolf (Canis lupus) in Spanish. Wolf (Lobo) is a noble name. It implies strength, intelligence, and action.

Richard Lobo is the Director of the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB). He was appointed to his current position by President Obama. Lobo’s wife helps to raise money for the Obama reelection campaign. Richard Lobo is being talked about as a possible replacement for the Boadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) Chairman Walter Isaacson who had announced his resignation on January 27. The BBG placed in Lobo’s hands as the IBB director the job of supervising and running the combined BBG and IBB operations. He can’t remember to honor an important anniversary that’s part of broadcasting history.

This brings us to our question: is Lobo really in charge of the agency? Or is it being run, or not run as the case may be, by one of the worst management teams in the federal government? Lobo kept it in place when he took over the IBB/BBG bureaucracy and even rewarded its executives with outstanding performance bonuses. He could become the CEO of the new restructured BBG proposed in the strategic plan developed by these same managers. Perhaps that’s the reason he kept them.

Isaacson’s resignation was announced on January 27. The official BBG website did not have anything about the resignation until February 2, not until after BBG Watch pointed it out as an example of total lack of engagement and interest on the part of IBB managers running this ostensibly journalistic organization.

Our advice to IBB Director Lobo

IBB Director Richard Lobo

IBB Director Richard Lobo

Your management team cannot function without an alpha wolf constantly checking on what they are doing or not doing. Since you have kept them, which raises serious questions about your leadership abilities, you have to be on top of them or they will continue to undermine U.S. international broadcasting and destroy whatever support it may still have in Congress.

Keep in mind that the same team advised the BBG to end Voice of America radio and TV broadcasts to China and received a resounding bipartisan rebuke from the legislators who approve BBG’s budgets. These managers proposed to silence VOA to China on the anniversary of the founding of the Chinese communist regime. They should go.

Voice of America’s 70th Anniversary

But it gets better than that. February 1, 2011 was the 70th anniversary of the Voice of America, the IBB/BBG’s biggest and the most important broadcasting entity. And, as you could have guessed, the Broadcasting Board of Governors official website had nothing about the VOA anniversary on February 1. Again, after BBG Watch wrote about it, an item on the BBG website appeared on February 2.

We think it’s becoming clear that Director Lobo is no alpha wolf even if he is a nice “old white guy,” a term used by another top level BBG executive who does not report directly to Lobo to describe some of his own subordinates and which illustrates the appalling state of management sensitivity at the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

We think that Lobo lets his pack of wolves do whatever they want or don’t want to do. What we do know from official government-wide employee opinion surveys is that what these managers do and fail to do has resulted in an agency with one of the lowest employee morale in the entire federal government. That’s why it was such a bad idea for Director Lobo to keep them and reward them. It’s even worse to let them work unsupervised.

Even if Lobo suddenly turns into an alpha wolf, we don’t think he has a chance to reform IBB/BBG and to improve employee morale until he does something about his management team. We think it’s rather obvious that what they care about is themselves, not some broadcasting organization called the Voice of America which happens to celebrate its 70th birthday. Changing the management team at IBB/BBG would do wonders for employee morale and success of U.S. international broadcasting. As with the manager who talks about “old white guys,” sooner or later they will say something, do something, or fail to do something that will harm and embarrass the BBG.

The fact that these managers ignored an important broadcasting anniversary also proves another key point. The part time BBG members themselves are no alpha wolves. They surrendered their responsibilities to Lobo and he surrendered his responsibilities to incompetent managers. The part time Board is not working. IBB/BBG is not working. BBG journalists are paying the price. And, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton observed, “we are losing the information war.”

The Voice of America director David Ensor did mark the 70th anniversary with a speech to employees. Some of the surrogate entities keep good employee morale. That does not include Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty were employee morale is low due to comments like “old white guys” and discrimination against foreign-born journalists which started long time ago and continues to this day.

Going back to Director Lobo, his management team, and members of the BBG. The BBG restructuring plan was prepared by the same management team that came up with the failed China plan and ignored the VOA anniversary. Whose interests do you think they had in mind in proposing to merge the surrogate broadcasters and to de-federalize the Voice of America and Radio and TV Marti? What do you think will happen to employee morale if these managers led by Director Lobo are put in charge of reorganized U.S. international broadcasting?

Can’t pay their employees on time

We offer this example. A manager’s first responsibility is to pay his employees on time. Some of the full time contract employees at the Voice of America and the International Broadcasting Bureau have had their salary payments delayed, sometimes for several months. This is happening on Director Lobo’s watch. What do you think will happen if the power and authority of the IBB/BBG management team are enhanced under the proposed reorganization plan?

There could be one good news, however, at least for IBB/BBG managers, something they want and plan for. If they manage to de-federalize VOA, Radio and TV Marti and IBB, they will no longer be evaluated in government employee opinion surveys. They will no longer be the worst managers in the federal government. They would no longer face public scrutiny and their restructuring plan is designed to accomplish just that.

Every alpha wolf has to constantly watch his back or his authority may be challenged and he may be replaced. Director Lobo never asserted his authority. He gave it away without a fight to some of the worst managers in the federal government. He joined their ranks. No wonder that these “leaders” of a journalistic organization did not bother for days to report the BBG Chairman’s resignation and failed to note Voice of America’s 70th anniversary.

Lobo should have told the BBG members to issue a special statement on February 1. He should have written one himself but didn’t and none of his managers reminded him that it needs to be done. The independent, nonprofit Committee for U.S. international Broadcasting (CUSIB) honored VOA employees on their birthday, the Broadcasting Board of Governors didn’t. What a shame.

Be an alpha wolf

It may already be too late, but if Richard Lobo cares about his legacy as the IBB Director he needs to become an alpha wolf and act like one. The job of an alpha wolf is to take care of the pack: the rank-and-file employees, journalists and those managers who try to do their jobs well despite all odds and lack of leadership at the top.

Director Lobo has a wife who is close to Michelle Obama. Perhaps he will understand this: what would she do to him if he forgot their wedding anniversary? What would Michelle do to Barack if he forgot theirs? We hope they would do something drastic, and so should Director Lobo.

Be an alpha wolf! U.S. international broadcasting is too important to function without one.

We would also advise BBG members not to relinquish their responsibilities. Tell Director Lobo to clean house, and if he won’t do it, do it yourselves.

Show Director Lobo and your employees that you can also be alpha wolves. But whatever you do, don’t let discredited managers be in charge of the pack. You will regret it if you do.

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