BBG Watch Commentary

Top executives at the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) have caused major damage to the Voice of America (VOA) and the rest of U.S. international broadcasting.

With their inept handling of the Smith-Mundt Modernization project, they have for the first time in history made VOA a target of incessant questioning from U.S. taxpayers, ridicule from American media personalities, unfounded accusations of propaganda, and other highly partisan attacks from both the left and the right. They united Americans in opposition to the Voice of America and other U.S. government-funded media entities. They did it only to satisfy their own ambitions. The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) has been poorly served by this group of IBB executives. They have not offered a single piece of advice that has turned out to be good. They are responsible for the agency being called “defunct” and “dysfunctional.” They embarrassed BBG members again and again, but BBG employees are their primary victims.

No group of government bureaucrats in the history of U.S. international broadcasting has done more damage to the institution and has pushed employee morale to such a low level than the current IBB leaders starting with IBB Director Richard Lobo and IBB Deputy Director Jeff Trimble. In the wake of the Smith-Mundt controversy, for which they should be primarily held responsible, they should immediately resign. None of them has expressed any concerns how their poorly-planned Smith-Mundt proposal and lack of any effective public relations strategy would be met by the media and American public. They have left it all to chance if they even thought about it at all. BBG employees are now paying the price.

This is not a problem that is going away. False accusations of propaganda and questioning by American taxpayers will continue as long as the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act is in place.


Big Brother Speaks! Lester & Charlie, Huff Post Comedy, July 19, 2013.

Taxpayer money at work: US-funded foreign broadcasts finally available in the US, Elizabeth Chuck, NBC News, July 20, 2013. Note comments from readers, these and many similar others under the NBC news article.

Another way to waste our tax dollars.

Aztlan: “I wish they were spending their own money.”

With sequestration and furloughs going, I think this is irresponsible.

In addition to this public relations disaster, BBG Watch has learned from a new article posted on the BBG employee union website, American Federation of Government Employees, AFGE Local 1812, and confirmed it from other sources, that the IBB is now hard at work pushing on Capitol Hill for the de-federalization of the Voice of America and Radio and TV Marti. IBB executives are also believed to be behind efforts to get the White House to replace BBG Governor Victor Ashe for standing up for good management, employee rights and transparency.

According to AFGE Local 1812, the destructive IBB management team is again hard at work.

AFGE Local 1812


by American Federation of Government Employees, AFGE Local 1812

While distracting employees with ice-cream, cake, a fitness center, wine tastings and other social niceties, the IBB has been engaged in a behind-the scenes and not-so-nice project to de-federalize the Voice of America and the OCB. It is evidently trying hard to sell the idea to Capitol Hill as a way to reform the Agency once and for all. But will it? Who stands to profit from such a process? Certainly not the employees.

In practical terms, de-federalizing the VOA will enable the worst-rated managers in the Federal government to hang on to their jobs while setting much higher and perhaps even astronomical salaries for themselves and disposing of almost all congressional oversight. Rank-and-file employees, the ones actually putting out the programming, will be forced to reapply for their jobs with no guarantee that they will be re-hired. If they are deemed not qualified – a very subjective process – they will simply lose their employment. What will happen to those employees who have invested 10-15 years of their professional lives to the Agency and are not eligible for retirement? And, if they are chosen, there is no guarantee their new jobs will offer the advantages and protections they enjoy as Federal Employees: civil service protections, union rights, health insurance, sick leave, annual leave and retirement. The sad truth is that they will serve at the pleasure of the Agency with no protection from abusive managers, firing without cause, unsafe conditions and no recourse through a third party to resolve disputes.

We at AFGE Local 1812 are baffled that Congress could believe that de-federalizing the Agency will actually make the situation better. In the past year, we saw how out-of-control managers with no oversight, caused the quasi-disintegration of the Russian Service of Radio Liberty by capriciously and arbitrarily firing its employees. The fall-out in the arena of international opinion and American prestige is still being felt.

Al-Hurra and Radio Sawa, two other entities that operate outside of Federal rules and regulations as grantees, according to many polls and knowledgeable observers, are known neither for their effectiveness in the target area, nor for saving money. Prime example is the Middle East cauldron and the public diplomacy disasters in Libya, Syria, and, most importantly, Egypt, where it seems that all factions in that country, from the most conservative to the most liberal and everyone in the middle, seem to be joined by one driving principle: their hatred and resentment of all things American.

De-federalizing the VOA and OCB would certainly shut up once and for all any and all criticism on the part of employees, who will serve at the will of their supervisors. That would solve the problem Agency officials have had with the OPM Federal Employee Viewpoint surveys – there won’t be any more to worry about. But wasn’t the problem at RFE/RL the fact that officials had no employee protections to worry about? Wasn’t that why the BBG was left to mop up a public relations disaster caused by the grantee RFE/RL management in tandem with the top management of the IBB?

De-federalizing would also permit IBB management to pursue its dream to fully implement its ill-advised strategic plan: to eliminate most, if not all, radio broadcasts in spite of the fact that the bulk of our audience throughout the world listen on radio and radio is capable of penetrating almost all attempts at interdiction. Haven’t we learned anything from the debacle of the VOA Russian Service that lost 90 per cent of its audience when radio was eliminated in 2008 and it was turned into an Internet-only service?

AFGE Local 1812 understands that Congress is frustrated with the inability of the Agency to reform and that it appears dysfunctional and that it uses the idea of a firewall to avoid complying with the will of the Congress. But why elevate the top management responsible for the debacle and instead punish rank-and-file employees in the Federal service, who have struggled to preserve the VOA Charter by pushing relevant stories, and to save taxpayers money by pushing for proven and cheaper technologies?

What the Voice of America needs is new leadership. A CEO, selected by an advisory board, appointed by the White House and answerable to Congress. A streamlined bureaucracy. Broadcast services that recognize the media in which we can effectively compete and deliver accurate news, and yes, to also communicate the best of our values to the world using technology that will reach those that want to receive the message.
Certainly not defederalization.