An alternative view of the BBG Board

By a long-time employee AND taxpayer

BBG members with IBB Director Richard Lobo and Deputy Director Jeff Trimble
BBG members with IBB Director Richard Lobo and Deputy Director Jeff Trimble

We’ve heard the part-time BBG Board described as anything from dysfunctional (OIG Report) to defunct (former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in testimony to Congress.) In no way does this diminish the problems facing the Board of Governors but I suggest there is another and somewhat more believable way of characterizing the management mess. Maybe the real problem is that nobody in the current full-time management of the BBG or, for that fact, VOA listens to the Board when it does make a decision.

Any employee aware of how the BBG, IBB and VOA actually works knows there is a culture of “I hear you, but that doesn’t mean I’ll do what you ask” permeating the Cohen Building.  The culture extends to the motto we’ve long heard.  “Quality is NOT job one!  Keeping our jobs, getting promotions and year-end bonuses is what we do best; expanding the bureaucracy is second and using a heavy-handed approach to dealing with the grunts who do the actual work is third.”  Quality, we hope but we’re not certain, is on the list somewhere.

You can almost hear them say:  “We’re not saying you (the grunts) are wrong.  We said we’re blaming you.”  We’ll take credit when things go right but you’ll be blamed when things don’t.  Lately, not too many things are going well so guess who deals with the fallout?  The grunts are fired while the bureaucracy forms more committees and hires more advisors to stall meaningful reforms.  

​We’ve got more than enough Generals already.  What we need are boots on the ground.

​Let’s look at who is on the board and you decide if they have the qualifications to run a $730 million operation.
​Chairman Michael Lynton who runs the Sony Corporation – yes.
​Michael Meehan, who began and runs a well-respected and enormously successful Public Relations business in California – yes.

​Victor Ashe, who ran Knoxville, Tennessee as Mayor for four terms and who served this country of Ambassador to Poland  – yes.​

​Susan McCue, president of Message Global Partners, a strategic advocacy firm she founded in 2008 – yes.

​Dennis Mulhaupt, the Founder and Managing Partner of Commonwealth Partners Inc., which provides advisory services to Philanthropic Institutions and families – yes.

​Tara Sonenshine, who, as Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, represents Secretary of State
John Kerry – yes.​

Three positions on the nine member Board are vacant.
​That is enough talent with management know-how to get things done.  Look at their individual track records.  But why don’t they?  Rocks have been hurled at the Board for not doing its job well.  I suggest the blame should be shared if not transferred to the “silent service”.

Could it be the Board is working with a bureaucracy that’s way out of its league. To their credit, they are first-rate bureaucrats but are they up to the task of dealing with professionals who have made their mark in the real world?

And while the part-time board does, at times, try to do what is best for this Agency, the full-time, well entrenched bureaucrats do what’s in THEIR best interests and not in the interests of the taxpayer or fulfilling the real mission of U.S. International Broadcasting.

While these bureaucrats push for a full-time CEO as a panacea for fixing what they see as broken, here’s something to consider:  give the Chairman of the BBG Board the authority to make binding decisions, in consultation with the rest of the Board.  That would force the bureaucrats to do as they are told, and give the Board the ability to replace the non-responsive.

​It takes almost an act of Congress to replace someone at the level of Senior Executive Service or at the GM 15 level but we wonder why this Board doesn’t exercise the power and authority given it in the Broadcasting Act that created this monster 15 years ago.  If you can’t fire them, put enough pressure on them to do what they are paid to do which is to follow instructions and do their job, not come up with excuses for why they can’t.  If they won’t, the heat from the Board should be enough of a signal to leave.

​Maybe the bureaucrats can’t be fired but they can be reassigned. That would be a powerful incentive to do what is right instead of what is convenient and self-serving.  Let’s share the spotlight and aim it at the bureaucrats as well as the BBG Board.

The bureaucrats do as they please.  The Board is ignored.  
The response “I hear you” when listening to the Board should be replaced with “I hear you, understand you and I will follow through.”