BBG Watch Media
AllGov.com has published a profile of John Lansing, the new CEO and Director of the Broadcasting Board of Governors. He has been on the job since mid-September 2015 and has to face and solve challenges left by years of mismanagement by BBG executives he inherited whom he now has to manage or replace.
“Lansing took over as Scripps’ senior vice president for television in 2001 and was in charge of the 10 television stations the company owned at the time. He moved over to Scripps Networks, which managed cable television programming, in 2004. There, he was in charge of channels such as Food Network, HGTV, the Travel Channel, and others. It was a good time for Scripps Networks; revenue tripled under Lansing’s watch to $2.1 billion in 2012.”
READ MORE: Chief Executive Officer of the Broadcasting Board of Governors: Who Is John Lansing?, AllGov.com, January 3, 2016
BBG Watch Commentary
The last few days of 2015 have brought home the reality of how badly managed and led the BBG has been for well over a decade, but especially in recent years. A $400 million class action discrimination lawsuit reportedly has been filed against the agency by poorly paid contract and exploited contract employees, most of whom work at BBG’s Voice of America. In late December, VOA was hit by a series of electrical power and digital equipment failures.
To the apparent surprise of John Lansing, BBG executives who presented themselves to him as technical geniuses and leaders of digital innovation trying to bring inflexible Voice of America rank-and-file broadcasters kicking and screaming into the 21st century did not in fact put in place the most basic electrical and digital back-up systems which would have been well designed, tested and ready to kick in at the first sign of trouble. If history is any guide, these failed managers will blame the GSA, lack of funding, inflexible VOA journalists and everybody else except themselves. John Lansing should be prepared for hearing a lot of phoney excuses on Monday. VOA lost or could not produce some critical broadcast programs for several days. Despite a long list of great accomplishments he and BBG Chairman Jeff Shell constantly get from BBG’s senior leaders, two comments from a Voice of America journalists are much closer to the truth.
“This isn’t hyperbole: this is the complete and total failure of the agency. The fact that it is, apparently, self-inflicted makes it all the worse. We are doing what Putin would love to be able to do: the Voice of America is silenced.” — A Voice of America Journalist, Dec. 30, 2015.
“It looks like the fixes aren’t working. This is a full-fledged meltdown of essential systems. Is it a bug, an attack, poor system maintenance? Does the Board know what is going on? Congress? The White House?.” — A Voice of America Broadcaster, Dec. 30, 2015.
John Lansing does not have any prior government service experience. Before the latest setbacks, he charged two longtime BBG executives with leading administrative reforms even though they have been badly tainted by contracting and other problems and abuses uncovered earlier by the Office of Inspector General and by extremely poor employee morale at the agency in recent years. Some Voice of America and other BBG employees were apparently deeply disappointed but, according to some, the jury is still out on whether John Lansing can gain control over the BBG bureaucracy or be co-opted and defeated.
Mr. Lansing’s lack of prior government service may hamper his ability to find competent managers and remove or transfer incompetent ones. Finding competent managers in the agency at the senior level may be close to impossible, while hiring new ones is a lengthy process, which the government bureaucracy controls. Hiring new executives without removing the old ones also may not be possible. Removing failed government managers is not easy, especially for someone without prior federal government service who does not yet know how to navigate the system.
Mr. Lansing’s best hope for success in shrinking the Broadcasting Board of Governors’ bloated bureaucracy, especially in the BBG’s International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB), may be the U.S. Congress and the pending bipartisan BBG reform bill, H.R. 2323, the United States International Communications Reform Act.
The BBG/IBB bureaucracy hates this bill. Unfortunately, both John Lansing and Jeff Shell also oppose the key provision of the bill which was already approved unanimously by all Republicans and Democrats serving on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Shell and Lansing argue that consolidation and centralized management of media entities makes perfect sense in the private media industry, where they have been highly successful. Their critics, who have broad experience in U.S. international media, public U.S. media, public diplomacy and foreign affairs, argue that consolidation and centralized management makes absolutely no sense in pursuing different U.S. government’s interests with the help of both government and non-government entities. They argue that smaller, highly specialized entities of different kind are needed. They also argue that a centralized government bureaucracy with even more power than the current BBG would produce results which would be far worse than they are now.
Just before the reported $400 million lawsuit against the agency and electrical and digital outages, Mr. Lansing seemed to have repeated in a radio interview some of the narrative being pushed by the management team he has inherited that low employee morale at the BBG can be attributed to the whole media industry undergoing changes which some employees find disturbing. While this is true to some degree in private media industry, it does not explain well dismal employee morale at the agency. Mr. Lansing may now be discovering this after the latest management-caused crises.
Most VOA broadcasters appear both frustrated and, by most accounts, far more creative and pro-digital than the mostly incompetent management team blamed by employees for making the agency dysfunctional and defunct. On one of his recent trips, Mr. Lansing met by chance with a woman journalist from a foreign country who despite several years of outstanding performance had been dismissed under the watch of one of the current BBG top executives. The executive had refused to meet with her to explain why she was being dismissed even though he knew her personally and was familiar with her work, including war zone reporting, for 12 years, the woman said.
LISTEN HERE TO JOHN LANSING INTERVIEW
John Lansing: New Broadcasting Board of Governors CEO not sitting still, By Tom Temin | @tteminWFED, Federal News Radio 1500 AM, December 23, 2015