Broadcasting Board of Governors – Information War Lost: A Memo to the Board
by The Federalist
On Wednesday, October 23, 2013 the reconstituted Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) under the chairmanship of Jeffrey Shell held its first meeting. The agency’s Public Affairs Office quickly punched out a press release with “highlights” of the public session of the meeting (“Board Welcomes Weinstein, Streamlines Structure, Announces Leadership Changes,” October 23, 2013.)
Among the announcements from the meeting:
* Formation of an “Advisory Committee” and “special committees” one on shortwave broadcasting and a search committee for a new Chief Executive Officer (CEO) which will also define the responsibilities of the position;
* The selection of Paul Kollmer-Dorsey as the agency’s General Counsel;
* The retirement of International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) Executive Director Richard Lobo.
The newly constituted board brings an impressive record of accomplishments, though absent the kind of broadcasting and journalism credentials always among the criteria examined by the professional working staff. Those kinds of credentials make it easier for the staff to interact with board members and communicate in the lexicon of broadcasters. It also makes it less easy for the IBB to engage in doubletalk to avoid addressing problems.
The IBB Is The Problem
This is an agency in crisis. The IBB is responsible for this crisis. We remind the board that the agency is “dysfunctional” and “defunct.” That is where things stand and it is not an enviable position to be in: in short, an agency that can no longer effectively carry out its core mission.
The IBB-concocted “strategic plan” is a bust: its most notable feature being a “five year” window which, much like those of Soviet era Russia, serves only to: (a) delay accountability for failure and (b) compounds the scope of the failure. This plan has already reached its common denominators: dysfunctional and defunct, as noted above.
The board needs to be honest among themselves: this is a failed agency with a hard core group of IBB officials dedicated to preserving the status quo and cloaking the extent of their culpability in total institutional failure.
Turning around an agency in this condition, with bureaucrats dedicated to undermining any decision that lessens their ability to protect their agenda, is no easy task. It will be a struggle every step of the way. Indeed, these bureaucrats have apparently made intimations that they will sue BBG members if any move is made against them. The bureaucracy has spoken!
The General Counsel’s Office
The agency’s General Counsel’s Office is notorious. It gained its notoriety for being responsible for a judgment in the Hartman class action lawsuit in which the agency was found to have discriminated against women as a class in its hiring and promotion practices. It remains one of the largest judgments of its kind against an agency of the Federal Government.
The cost to the American taxpayer: $500-MILLION dollars. If this sum was to be extracted from the agency’s budget for any fiscal year, the agency would no longer exist. But that is not how it works. The money comes out of a general fund of the Justice Department. However, that does not relieve the American taxpayer of the burden of paying for the consequences of the agency’s actions.
What one learns is that the core strategy of the agency in these kinds of situations is stall and delay, particularly when lower rulings are sustained and the agency has a lost case on its hands. Rather than settle in a timely manner, the General Counsel’s Office uses procedural maneuvering to draw a case out. The intent is not to win a case on a principle of law. No. The intent is to wear down the litigants. That didn’t happen in Hartman. As a result, a large part of the judgment included attorney’s fees and interest as well as the monetary awards to the plaintiffs.
This strategy continues to this day. Cases continue and the meter on the American taxpayer continues to run. Over the years, the cases include those of former members of the VOA Arabic Service and employees of Radio/TV Marti.
This same strategy extends beyond courtroom litigation. It poisons the relationship with the agency’s employees with protracted collective bargaining negotiations, principally with the AFGE union, the agency’s largest. We know the agency strategy: the agency’s representatives are empowered only to extract concessions from the union, particularly those with adverse consequences to the employees. Any agreement, over things large or small, has to be run up to the Third Floor for a page worth of approvals. In a very real way, this replicates another Soviet-style tactic. Symbolically, if not in fact, the ancient Cohen Building resembles the Kremlin more than the Kremlin itself during the Soviet heyday in Russia: a dank, dark and malevolent environment. One can quickly develop the view that the General Counsel’s Office is the leading edge of the bureaucracy’s hostility toward its employees and contempt for the American taxpayer. Under the circumstances, one would have a hard time seeing this office as a paragon of virtue in the realm of jurisprudence.
In our view, affecting a new paradigm in the General Counsel’s Office is in order. We also believe that with this agency, change comes best from the outside and not from within. We believe that doing otherwise presents the board with a key component of the IBB strategy of maintaining the status quo. Conversations with former governors, examination of memos and email traffic and sustained decisions against the agency might also offer useful insight regarding the traits of this office.
Background: the new board needs to know that the IBB considers the board “advisory” and wants it to keep its hands off IBB intrigues; in other words, advice to be ignored and dismissed. As we once heard remarked, the operative philosophy of the IBB could be described as, “Political appointees come and go, but the IBB remains.” It is an astute observation. In short, another core strategy of the IBB is to survive – or better, avoid – direction from the board’s presidential appointees, especially direction which does not comport with the IBB agenda.
One needs no clearer example of this IBB agenda than the overt campaign of character assassination directed against former board member Ambassador Victor Ashe. The new board should disabuse itself of the notion that the IBB would not attempt that tactic again. Indeed, they already have with intimations of a lawsuit against board members if the BBG moves to change the operative paradigm of the IBB.
In the IBB bureaucracy, it’s a badge of “honor” to take down a political appointee. Ignore this group character trait at your own peril. It’s their “reward” for their particular form of gross insubordination, lack of performance and running US Government international broadcasting into the ground.
Advisory Committees: Chief Executive Officer, Shortwave Broadcasting
The BBG has responsibility for most of US Government civilian international broadcasting. That’s a tall order on a good day.
These are not good days for US Government international broadcasting thanks to the ravages of the renegade IBB.
In order to manage its responsibilities, the BBG forms boards/committees among its members to oversee the operations of the Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia (RFA) and Radio/TV Marti (Office of Cuba Broadcasting – OCB).
As the press release points out, we now come to find that the BBG has established “advisory committees” among its own members on two issues, one involving the search for and areas of responsibility for a CEO, the other regarding shortwave broadcasting.
We find this rather odd. BBG members advising…themselves?
The BBG would be better served to bring in outside experts, such as successful public service executives, NGO heads and private sector CEOs, to advise them on how to turn around and salvage an under-performing and generally rebellious IBB management structure. Perhaps that is the intent at some point in the process.
As it should be.
But, to go it alone would be a bad move.
And make no mistake about it: the IBB at the executive level need not be part of the discussion. IBB executives put the agency in the position it finds itself today. If the scenario we suggest were to play itself out, with successful CEOs providing advice to the board, there would be much hand-wringing and sweating among the IBB senior staffers. The obvious would be readily apparent: they aren’t up to the task of managing the agency and a new regimen is the order of the day. It is a conclusion that is virtually inescapable at this juncture.
The same applies to the matter of shortwave broadcasting. Call in successful shortwave broadcasting entrepreneurs along with the technical experts who can speak directly to the advantages and/or the limitations of shortwave broadcasting, along with the changes in shortwave broadcasting technology, but focus on radio as a medium and as a specialized news reporting platform for foreign audiences in the Internet age.
Not only shortwave and radio broadcasting but radio and news reporting in general are the strategic components of the agency’s operations that the IBB wants to destroy. When all else fails this is what reaches people who do not have unfettered access to television or the Internet. To outward appearances, the IBB wants to make US Government international broadcasting inaccessible to people who need it the most. They have succeeded. They have made the agency dysfunctional and defunct by intentionally abandoning the agency’s core news reporting and delivery system, closing transmission sites and cutting radio programs and news delivery vital to the strategic interests of the United States. In our view, the successful demolitions efforts by the IBB have rendered a mortal blow to agency mission effectiveness and message resonance.
In short, the newly constituted board is faced with trying to raise this agency from the dead.
And it is dead until objectively determined otherwise.
We have no message resonance.
Around the world, people hate the United States. The IBB’s “strategic plan” has facilitated the propagation of anti-American sentiment. As such, it should be repudiated and held accountable.
The BBG is staring total institutional failure in the face.
Under the circumstances, it needs to seek out clear-headed solutions to the agency’s self-inflicted maladies.
Our editors believe that this newly constituted BBG is intent upon making changes and fixing things inside the Cohen Building.
We are sitting off to the side with our arms folded. The circumstance that the agency is in makes us skeptical. By nature, we tend to be results oriented. This is not to demean the intent of board members or to ignore their career records. It is taking a hard look at the situation and being realistic.
We have had exchanges with our sources on the subject of, “Are there any positives that can be pointed to with regard to the agency?”
The general answer is, “No, there are not. The agency has been labeled dysfunctional and defunct. It is as remarked. We are far from the point where that label can be removed at the level of authority that rendered it. That is the reality and we must be conscious of it, the status quo that is intended to maintain it and success or failure of attempts to change it.”