BBG Watch Commentary

Courage And Risk

International Broadcasting Bureau – We Like Being Dysfunctional and Defunct! – Information War Lost: A Dose of Reality in Response to Desperation

By The Federalist

Our editors have posted an anonymous letter from an employee of the agency. We read over the letter and have some comments:

The writer referred to statements concerning Voice of America (VOA) chief of staff Barbara Brady in which she remarked that it would take three to five years to institute measures relating to the agency’s horrid record as one of the worst places to work in the Federal Government.

As we noted in detail, this is another example of the agency’s lack of commitment to substantive and immediate remedial actions. We also cited the Deloitte report which supported the agency’s “strategic plan” which has been debunked by at least some BBG members as “neither strategic nor a plan.” The agency continues to move on that “strategic plan” and the Deloitte report recommendation to essentially ignore employee dissatisfaction in order to accomplish the goals set out by the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB).

They have their own agenda.

We also suggested that some executives could well be engaged in agency double-talk. We suggested that what some are really talking about is full implementation of the “strategic plan” following the Deloitte recommendations in which the agency would bear little resemblance to what it used to be.

We also refer back to the recent staff meeting presided over by Andres Mendes of the “interim management team” in which he stated the agency needs to operate differently and be as lean as possible.

And please note: nothing in Mendes’ remarks suggested yet any specific actions to seriously address management reforms. The new team still have to prove its commitment to reforms with concrete actions such as, for example, a drastic reduction of SES and GM-15 positions and transfer of resources from the bureaucracy to programs and those who produce them.

So far, however, these are all signs that the way the agency intends to deal with its morale problem is to substantially reduce the agency’s workforce. In other words: no employees, no morale problem! We would like to be proven wrong.

And keep in mind that one senior VOA official stated that morale is an employee’s responsibility and not that of the agency’s senior managers.

We understand that like many employees, the writer is desperate for change and reform. Some of the recommendations, however, are beyond reality in the Federal sector, as they would be inconsistent with existing civil service rules and regulations.

“Immediately reappoint all existing supervisors, managers and leaders to an ‘acting’ capacity and remove all hire/fire authority as well as all authority to make substantive programming and personnel decisions.”

“Require that they reapply for their jobs.”

“…retain or transfer them…”

“…removal from their positions at any time during the probationary period…”

“If they are removed from their position during the probationary period, they will be ineligible for reassignment to a supervisory position for five years from date of removal.”

“There will be a job posting for the position within 30 days of removal of the incumbent.”

This is simply not possible, and therefore other solutions must be found.

In effect, the writer is suggesting a substantial adverse action effecting dozens of management and supervisory personnel. Every manager reading this letter knows it. They also know their protections under law. If need be, they would seek out legal counsel to avail them of their rights and protections. If they know the rules and regulations governing adverse actions, they know that what the writer proposes is a dream scenario and not a serious threat to their “business as usual.”

Line employees themselves are also entitled to similar protections, under the Federal Labor Relations Statute, union collective bargaining agreements and other government-wide rules and regulations.

We repeat, however, that we also understand that employees are desperate for change and reform. They feel threatened. The author is trying to start a debate about all that is currently wrong with this agency.

We do note that the agency often employs tactics which target employees and have them marched out of the building on unsubstantiated allegations. Add to this the agency’s known tactic of dragging out proceedings in order to inflict economic harm on the employee while his/her case is being dealt with through the administrative law process.

We also note of the agency’s existing budget and proposed FY2015 budget. The agency’s budget has been flat or drifting downward. In part, this reflects the Congress’ exasperation and frustration with an agency that has “gone rogue,” as we like to phrase it. In short, the agency is on life support that is being parsed out in lesser amounts annually.

The absolute TOP PRIORITY for senior agency officials is to make sure they hang onto their positions, while the agency’s core operations are successively cut.

And that is the way it will be until something drastic is done or the agency ceases to exist. Even if Congress continues to reduce the agency and its operations, the management structure will be left in place to oversee the process.

The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) has been involved in a search for a Chief Executive Officer (CEO). We haven’t heard much on that front in a while. That does not mean a selection could be imminent. However, if it isn’t, it could suggest some difficulty in finding the right external candidate to fill the post.

Any prospective candidate who is already a CEO or high level manager with serious professional expertise would want to know “the lay of the land” as far as the condition of the agency and the overarching issues effecting its operations. One of the things that CEO would want to know is what measure of authority he/she would have to do the kinds of things suggested by the writer of the anonymous letter.

That is where the rubber meets the road. When the candidate finds out what the limitations are, most sensible people would politely decline the offer to take on the CEO post knowing that he/she would be saddled with an unworkable operations model that rewards those responsible for making the agency dysfunctional and defunct.

At this juncture, we don’t know if the BBG is working from its “A” or “B” list of potential CEO prospects.

And if the BBG should abandon its search of external candidates and is going internal, forget it. As we see it, that is going to the list titled “The Usual Suspects.” We don’t believe, however, that the doomsday scenario is likely under the current board.

The best thing employees can do is to speak out on the toxic environment created by the IBB and VOA senior management: concrete examples of how the agency’s mission effectiveness has been seriously compromised by these individuals. The author of the letter has done this.

Employees continue to be a critically important resource for BBG Watch and congressional staff concerning the agency’s lack of performance under the prevailing management structure. Being supportive of the efforts of the AFGE union on behalf of employees is also important.

Like the author of the letter, we also do not want to leave agency employees with the impression that all is lost.

The situation isn’t good, to be sure. However, there are mechanisms available to the BBG to execute change in the spirit of what the writer suggests:

The principal mechanism deals with “assignment of work.” In other words, senior officials found to have an adverse effect on the agency’s operations can be placed on a “detail.” The official in question would retain pay and grade but would find themselves “rationalized” as a “senior advisor.” It’s been done before and can be done again among the senior ranks of agency officialdom.

However, that being said, it has to be meticulous and well thought out. Otherwise, said official could contest the action as constituting an adverse action.

In some instances, the official in question would opt to retire. That doesn’t happen in all cases.

In particular, this cabal of senior officials has demonstrated that it is as malevolent as they come. One should expect a fight. We already have seen what they did in the case of former BBG member Ambassador Victor Ashe. These same officials are certainly inclined to use that tactic again until it is proven to be ineffective. When that happens, the situation will have changed.

Members of the BBG must know that the key element is to exercise precision in their actions to restructure or reconstitute the management staffing pattern.

Do not expect a wholesale toppling of the corrupt construct created by IBB/VOA officials.

It is better to be subtle but having profound impact.

The Federalist
March 2014