BBG Watch Commentary

As federal employees of the ailing Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), known throughout the U.S. government for its low employee morale, began to fill out yet another Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS 2017), they received a notice from BBG CEO and Director John F. Lansing.

From: BBG Learning Opportunities
Sent: Tuesday, May 9, 2017 2:13 PM
To: IBB Notices Administration
Subject: 2017 Nathanson Public Diplomacy Scholarship Selections
Dear Colleagues,
I am pleased to announce this year’s candidates for the Nathanson Public Diplomacy Scholarship.
· Vivian Chakarian, Voice of America, Program Manager
· Oscar Rodriguez, Office of Cuba Broadcasting, Radio Marti Director
· Maryana Drach, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Ukrainian Service Director
· Rohit Mahajan, Radio Free Asia, Director of Public Affairs and Digital Strategy
· Omar Mahmood, Middle East Broadcasting Networks, Managing Editor of Raise Your Voice-Iraq Digital Properties
· Kathryn Neeper, International Broadcasting Bureau, Program and Policy Analyst
These candidates will represent the BBG at the Aspen Institute’s Socrates Program seminars from July 7-10.
Please join me in congratulating the 2017 Nathanson scholars for their achievements and wishing them success.
John F. Lansing
Chief Executive Officer and Director
Broadcasting Board of Governors

The notice is about the 2017 Nathanson Public Diplomacy Scholarship Selections. What is striking about this notice is how many times the word “Director,” “Manager,” “managing” or “Analyst” appear next to the names of individuals selected for the scholarship.

We have no reason to doubt that all of them are fine professionals. But it may appear from this agency announcement that the Broadcasting Board of Governors is not primarily a media organization of journalists and journalistic products but rather a bureaucracy of directors and managers run for their own benefit and satisfaction of their own class.

We were under the impression that if an individual is already a director or a manager, he or she should already have plenty of knowledge and experience. Perhaps “Learning Opportunities” should be reserved for those who actually produce the agency’s products.

It seems, however, that we may be mistaken. Perhaps this scholarship, named after a former BBG Chairman, is reserved only for directors and managers. If it is, this also says plenty about this federal agency, which former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called “practically defunct.”

What this notice says is that the Broadcasting Board of Governors, including the Voice of America, is an organization of directors and managers. Mr. Lansing seems to agree. Soon after coming on board, he was apparently so convinced of the extreme importance of having a large and ever increasing number of supervisors that, together with VOA Director Amanda Bennett, he generously at taxpayers’ expense and the expense of program producers and programs created a new position of VOA Deputy Director to add to the already “fabulous” well-populated Management Team.

The sad truth is that with so many managers in charge, no one is really in charge. When, despite having even more senior leaders and senior advisors under Mr. Lansing’s watch than ever before, something went terribly wrong very recently, as with the catastrophic loss of VOA’s credibility in China, these fabulous new and old managers once again transferred the responsibility for any mistakes onto the rank-and-file journalists and first-line managers. This kind of management misbehavior is what produced dismal agency FEVS ratings before, and it is happening again now in an even more blatant display of Maximus Hubris.

Those put under investigation, placed on administrative leave and humiliated by being escorted out of the building are never the senior executives and senior managers. They are the ones who always decide who should be investigated, who is guilty and who should be punished. When on rare occasions something must be done about a particularly misbehaving senior executive, it is done quietly — nothing like the humiliating treatment given by the senior management to the VOA Mandarin Five. Failed executives are always highly praised on their way out. They are not escorted out of the building by security guards.

We hope that all of BBG’s federal employees will keep all of this in mind and will fill out the 2017 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey as honestly as they can. Make your own assessments and give Mr. Lansing and the senior directors and managers of this agency an FEVS rating that they all truly deserve. This is one of the few attributes of power that employees still have over the Management. Let the Congress know what you really think about the agency’s senior leaders.



Amanda Bennett


From: IBB Notices Admin
Sent: Friday, May 5, 2017 11:42:47 AM
To: IBB Notices Administration
Subject: VOA Statement on Guo Wengui Interview




As you may be aware, there has been a lot of attention to a recent interview conducted by VOA Mandarin.  In response to media inquiries on the matter, the following statement was issued and also shared at a VOA Mandarin town hall earlier this week.


VOA Statement on Guo Wengui Interview

VOA Mandarin Service Chief Sasha Gong and four other Mandarin Service employees have been placed on administrative leave pending a full investigation. Scott Stearns, managing editor in the VOA Africa division, will be the acting Mandarin Service chief until further notice. The decisions regarding the interview with Guo Wengui were made by a group of senior VOA leaders led by director Amanda Bennett and included deputy director Sandy Sugawara, program director Kelu Chao, and East Asia division director Norm Goodman. At no time during the decision-making process was there any management consideration of not doing the interview, nor of cutting short an ongoing interview for any reason. The decisions were based on the journalistic principles of verification, balance and fairness that are standard industry practice and apply universally to all VOA services.  There are no special exemptions for individual services to follow different practices. There was no input whatsoever from the U.S. government, nor would the firewall permit any such input.  Pressure from the Chinese government played no role in any decision-making. VOA and the BBG have decades’-long histories of producing full fair and balanced journalism in the face of even the most extreme pressures.


My best,






Amanda Bennett, Director

330 Independence Avenue, SW

Washington, DC  20237

(202) 203-4500




John Lansing


From: IBB Notices Admin
Sent: Friday, May 5, 2017 3:14:44 PM
To: IBB Notices Administration
Subject: 2017 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey


Dear Colleagues,

The past twelve months have passed quickly, and we are less than a month from the launch of this year’s Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS). On May 9, FEVS will be available for a six-week period during which all federal employees will have the opportunity to give their thoughts on factors that drive engagement, satisfaction, and motivation in the workplace. I encourage every employee to complete this year’s survey. Participation is confidential. Results will be evaluated closely by my team and agency leadership, and will inform action plans and solutions. You can learn more about the FEVS here.

Two years ago, we created Workplace Solutions, a framework for cross-functional teams to address issues identified in our survey results. Many of the teams have completed their work, while others are still working on implementation plans.  Some results of this effort include a dedicated internal communications team, a front entry monitor to promote activities, a revamped Mentoring Program, and a robust incentive awards program that included $1.1M in cash awards and 2,000 hours in time-off hours being awarded to employees in 2016.  And recently, Workplace Solutions launched beta version of an interactive organization chart with links to our agency directory.

Workplace Solutions is an ongoing, agency-wide effort which welcomes the participation of any interested employee.  If you would like to get involved or have a suggestion to improve the agency, send a note to

In this vein, I would like to share additional updates on leadership development at BBG.  Last spring, I issued my commitment letter to you. From that, we developed the BBG Management Accountability Charter as a standard for leaders at all levels to communicate effectively with employees, provide resources and opportunities, and create a safe, fair, and supportive workplace culture.

To accomplish the goals of the Management Accountability Charter, agency leaders at all levels need to continually bolster their own leadership development.  In the coming weeks, Workplace Solutions will launch “Leadership 2020,” a comprehensive leadership development program to prepare management teams to improve communication, engagement, and performance management in a changing environment.  Leadership 2020 will implement 360 degree feedback tools for managers, set learning requirements, and require development plans that ensure the goals of the Management Accountability Charter are met.

Additionally, in the coming days I will announce our candidates for the Nathanson Public Diplomacy Scholarship. Candidates will participate in the Aspen Institute Socrates Program in Aspen, Colorado from July 7 to July 10. It provides a forum for emerging leaders from various professions to explore contemporary issues through expert-moderated dialogue. It is a great opportunity that I fully support.

Lastly, I encourage you to participate in the FEVS and to engage with leadership in other ways. Let your voice be heard through VOA’s Ask, suggestion boxes in the Cohen building and the Talk to John section on the CEO intranet page. I want to hear from you about what we can do together to improve our workplace.

Thank you for all that you do in support of U.S. international media.


John F. Lansing

Chief Executive Officer and Director

Broadcasting Board of Governors