BBG – USAGM Watch Commentary

As the Advisory Board members prepare for their June 5th U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) meeting, they should plan taking immediate actions to improve perpetually and dismally low employee morale at the Voice of America (VOA), Radio and TV Marti at the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB) and among USAGM’s other Federal employees. Any objective outside observer knows what needs to be done. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made it quite clear in his latest statement about the current state of the agency when he called for a new USAGM leadership. If the Secretary of State, who is one of the members of the Advisory Board knows what needs to be done, other Board members should know it as well. They should work with Secretary Pompeo’s staff, the administration and the U.S. Congress on replacing the leadership and the management team responsible for countless scandals and failures.



A recently published statement from the AFGE Local 1812 union, which represents most of the USAGM Federal employees, shows that the workforce is demoralized and fearful. The AFGE Local 1812 is encouraging all employees to fill out this year’s OPM Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) to show American taxpayers and the U.S. Congress what they think about the current leadership of the U.S. Agency for Global Media.

Mass firings of journalists over disputes with top executives simply did not take place at the agency under any previous management, as they do now. In fact, until the VOA Mandarin 5 incident, we were not aware of frontline VOA journalist being fired en masse in a dispute with the VOA Director, VOA Deputy Director or VOA Program Director. Former top agency executives did not try to cover up their failure to lead, engage with journalists or to manage an important program or a sensitive interview by punishing employees.



The AFGE Local 1812 is absolutely right in pointing out that bad executives and low employee morale kill innovation and productivity.

Low employee morale is not USAGM union employees’ fault. It is entirely the fault of executives who for the last several years occupied top level positions. Any leader who supports firing of longtime, award-winning journalists after admitting to “miscommunication,” in our view, does not deserve to be in a leadership position.

By the way, non-union contractors, who do not participate in the Federal employee morale surveys, are just as frustrated by the agency’s dysfunctional management.




AFGE Local 1812


[This is what the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1812 has to say about the agency’s current leadership.]

Bad Morale More Than An Inconvenience


Soon, once again, like the arrival of Spring, employees of the United States Agency for Global Media (USAGM) will be asked to respond to a survey to assess the state of morale at the Agency. This year we should see the announcement next week – a little later than normal – the second full week in May.

Just like in the past a failing grade is almost certainly going to be the result. Since this time last year, the management of the USAGM has made no significant changes that would improve overall morale. There just seems to be no urgency to address the severe morale crisis.

There will be those who will shrug off the USAGM’s failing grade by claiming that the government shutdown hurt morale. But the government shutdown hurt numerous agencies and yet some of those same agencies will show major improvement in their morale while the USAGM will not.

It appears that the upper management of USAGM just simply does not value its employees – at least those rank and file employees that work for the VOA and TV/Radio Marti. They seem to be determined to demonstrate this over and over again. This problem is deeply seated and has been perpetuated over many years. Apparently, to be accepted into the upper management club, you must share if not a total disdain at most an indifference for the rank and file working for the USAGM.

So is high morale of any real importance? It sure seems to be. Studies have shown that in a significant number of instances high morale equals high productivity. This is not a surprise for those in the military. A demoralized army is almost certainly destined to be defeated. In sports, it is not unusual to hear the reason for a team’s failure to succeed and the subsequent sacking of its manager as being due to lack of morale.

Some believe that it makes no difference if they fill in the survey and this is understandable. Year after year the USAGM (formerly the BBG) received failing grades and no substantial changes happened. AFGE Local 1812 believes that there are those that are looking at the results and that it is worthwhile for employees to report their true feelings about the organization. For example in a recent Inspector General’s report (Targeted Inspection of the Governance of the United States Agency for Global Media ISP-IB-19-22 April 2019) it was noted that “USAGM consistently scored below average for the global satisfaction index among medium-size agencies participating in the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.” The report indicated that the areas that actually showed improvement included training (especially pointing out supervisory training), employee development, work-life programs, and improvement in the number of supervisors who held discussions with employees regarding performance. We believe that more work in the areas of employee development and work-life programs would help. For instance there appears to be a retrenchment in the area of telework. Telework should be expanded especially in the case where employees are in areas that are being renovated and are potentially dangerous to their health. There are numerous single parents working at the Agency. Why has the Agency refused over and over again to participate in child care facilities for its employees? And why do Agency officials continue to irresponsibly designate as many employees as possible as “emergency employees” and force them to risk their health and safety to come in to the worksite during emergencies? In addition the habit of meting out the most extreme penalties to employees who commit transgressions is unnecessary and ultimately a waste of government resources and cannot possibly help with overall morale. The purposeful under-staffing throughout the Agency (except at the upper ranks of management) lets employees know that management does not care about their health as the stress levels just keep rising. “Less is more” in reality means “less is more stress”.

We encourage all employees to fill out this year’s OPM Employee Viewpoint Survey. Will it help? With others outside the Agency taking notice, we believe that eventually it will.



1 comment
  1. Why is it that portions of the Agency always scored, until recently, much higher than others? Why is it that OCB went from being the lowest rated area in the Agency in 2017, to the highest rated area in the Agency in 2018? Why is it that VOA continues to drag the entire Agency down? There are common threads to all of this. But they were and they are ignored because they are totally and completely inconvenient. Senior Management knows it, employees know it and the unions know it. Yet no one dares to say it out loud. Fear rules supreme. It is quite a legacy for the current CEO and his choice hires.

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