BBG Watch Commentary
Rank-and-file employees of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty continue to express their outrage over inspection reports published by the Deputy Inspector General for the Department of State and the Broadcasting Board of Governors Ambassador Harold Geisel. Employees accuse OIG inspectors of completely ignoring their concerns, dismissing reports of waste and abuse and siding instead with some of the worst managers in the Federal Government, ranked as such in the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) surveys.
Rank-and-file staffers are calling the OIG reports sloppy, biased, unprofessional and insulting to journalists and other programming and administrative employees. They have for years endured mistreatment by the BBG’s International Broadcasting Bureau top executives and the new RFE/RL management team headed by Steven Korn and his deputies, whose statements are quoted almost exclusively in the OIG reports. BBG journalists said that they are not fooled by the report’s praise for their “journalistic work” in light of the inspectors’ obvious copying and pasting of statements from some of the agency’s worst managers.
Sloppy job by the Office of Inspector General for the Department of State and the Broadcasting Board of Governors has also been mentioned in media reports as a contributing factor in the inability to prevent the 2011 terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Libya, which resulted in the murder of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and other Americans. The office headed by Ambassador Geisel has also been accused of bias and poor performance in the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report and in The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) report.
Many rank-and-file employees are especially shocked by OIG inspectors’ attacks on BBG member Ambassador Victor Ashe and other BBG Governors who have recently attempted to bring IBB and RFE/RL executives to account for waste and mismanagement. Ashe was the only BBG member who had made his email address known to all employees. He also responded to employees who wrote to him about their concerns. The AFGE Local 1812 union members and rank-and-file RFE/RL employees are now coming to his defense.
Except for a handful of executives working for the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) director Richard Lobo and for outgoing RFE/RL president Steven Korn, Ambassador Ashe is greatly respected and admired by nearly all BBG journalists and other employees, including those at the grantee broadcasters: RFE/RL, Radio Free Asia (RFA), and Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN). BBG employees, who were previously highly skeptical of the actions of BBG members, seem now more encouraged by the Board’s increasing willingness to challenge the IBB executive staff and other top managers like Steven Korn. Employees welcomed the appointment of Kevin Klose to replace Korn as RFE/RL president and CEO. The Board recent decisions and the OIG report increased employees’ previously minimal faith in BBG members as a group, not just Ambassador Ashe who was always admired, but also in some of the others, particularly Susan McCue and Michael Meehan, Voice of America and Radio Liberty journalists told BBG Watch.
The American Federation of Government Employees AFGE Local 1812 union representing BBG employees blasted the OIG report in an article posted on the AFGE website.
“In fact, we have never seen an OIG report that was so brazen in its attempt to besmirch a person’s character. The report spends a great deal of time characterizing Mr. Ashe’s legitimate concerns as a public servant as some sort of intentional attempt to disrupt Board proceedings. The report disregards the dedication of a public servant which includes fighting for transparency, accountability, responsibility to the U.S. taxpayer, addressing the concerns of the rank-and-file employees and attempting to further the ideals of U.S. international broadcasting.
For this dedication to public service, he is reviled, belittled, besmirched and shamelessly attacked by the State Department OIG in what we view as a blatant attempt to shift responsibility from those within the bureaucracy who want, above all, to preserve their status and in our opinion to continue wreaking havoc on a once-great federal agency.
If some of the recommendations in the report are instituted it would squelch all dissenting opinion on the BBG. The majority would be able to sanction any member holding a differing opinion and would allow the majority of the BBG members to remove any member they so choose.
Another recommendation would apparently allow the BBG to keep its proceedings totally secret, sidestepping rules outlined in the Sunshine Act meant to foster transparency in the federal government.
It is depressing that the governmental agency charged with investigating waste, fraud and abuse can be misused in this way.”
AFGE Local 1812 requested that a Congressional investigation be conducted to determine who was involved in this misuse of the Office of Inspector General and to prevent this from ever happening again.
The union says that in the future it will address and refute many other issues in the OIG report individually.
The BBG spokesperson said that “The BBG appreciates the work that the Office of the Inspector General has put into this report, and we respect the integrity of the OIG team. We take their findings seriously and have enacted some of the recommended actions, including devising guidelines for travel. We will work to implement others,” the BBG spokesperson said.
Some Voice of America (VOA) employees are specifically outraged that the OIG inspection team completely ignored the submission of evidence by veteran VOA journalists of grave problems with the VOA English web site.
“All of this material was given to the State Department OIG, after an inspection at one of VOA’s overseas bureau in which a VOA correspondent recommended the IG look into the numerous problems with VOA web site performance,” one senior VOA employee wrote to BBG Watch.
“Do you know what the IG response was? After a couple of conversations with the IG representative at the time, who initially said about the information we sent him that it “really pisses me off…..” and spoke about mishandling of government resources, he later told me the IG had decided not to take up the issue and investigate.
All he could say was ‘we feel this is a management issue….’
Indeed — it was a management issue, and continues to be one. Just thought you might want to know about this…..it would make a good secondary but related issue linked to the hatchet job the IG performed on Ashe.”
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty employees are even more outraged that the OIG inspection team completely ignored their concerns, such as extravagant spending by executives on housing allowances and business class travel and mistreatment of journalists, which in the end resulted in RFE/RL president Steven Korn being forced to resign after Russian human rights leaders, including Mikhail Gorbachev, had protested against his brutal dismissal of dozens of Russian Service reporters in Moscow. Had the OIG inspection team done their job right at RFE/RL last year, the public diplomacy crisis in Russia and the destruction of Radio Liberty’s Russian Service and its reputation could have been averted.
A devastating condemnation of the OIG inspection team was sent to BBG Watch by a former Kazakh Service journalist and former BBG analyst Saida Kalkulova who had been fired after making allegations of mismanagement to the OIG inspectors and RFE/RL executives. Her dismissal appears to be a violation of the RFE/RL Whistleblower Protection Policy.
After she and other experienced RFE/RL journalists were fired, the management ordered the placement of offensive sexually suggestive videos on the Kazakh Service website. The videos were subsequently removed after outraged website visitors in Kazakhstan, a largely conservative Muslim country, sent in their protests to the RFE/RL management.
Another young Kazakh journalist Nazira Darimbet was also fired after she publicly questioned RFE/RL president Steven Korn about the sacking of Russian Service reporters in Moscow and later complained about the offensive videos.
Saida Kalkulova sent us this account of her experiences with the OIG inspectors in Prague:
“I’m also disappointed by the OIG report. When I was fighting with RFE/RL managers the OIG inspectors were in the RFE/RL building in Prague to inspect the radio. I and my other colleagues personally met with the inspectors and complained about the terrible situation at the radio. But when the OIG office published its report on RFE/RL, we were surprised by its ridiculous report. I was already fired from the Kazakh Service. I wrote letters to the BBG in July, August, and September, but nobody replied to my emails except Victor Ashe. He was the only member of the BBG who actually cared about my case. At that time the majority of the Board was supporting Steven Korn. But I’m glad that at the end everything turned out against the disastrous manager.
I just wanted to share my thoughts on the OIG report on RFE/RL inspection in August. I included my thoughts in the letters sent to Victor Ashe, too. Here is the citation from my letter so that you also know about my opinion.
Now please let me briefly express my thoughts about the results of the OIG report on the inspection of RFE/RL in May-June 2012. I will refrain from saying anything on behalf of other language services, although many journalists from other services called me to express their outrage over the findings. I will only touch on issues pertaining to the Kazakh Service.
The report says ‘the OIG team received a number of complaints related to the violation of RFE/RL human resources policies. The team found no concrete evidence to substantiate these complaints.’ I think the inspection team has failed to do its job or it is trying to ignore the countless violations of existing policies – harassment, compulsory work for another person, one and a half years of absence from work, humiliating letters at 4 am, un-targeted spending, hiring a person who was dismissed for violation of discipline and systematic editorial policy abuses. These can be proven through documents and witness accounts.
What is the purpose of the OIG inspection team whose work is so slipshod and unscrupulous? It reminds me of authoritarian countries where all sorts of commissions serve the regime. At the same time, the OIG report underlines ‘the perception, even by a few employees, that these policies are being violated and that employees are being treated inequitably contributes to low employee morale.’
It turns out that dissatisfied people are blamed for low employee morale. It means that even if there are violations by the management you should ignore all of this ugliness, keep low profile and feel yourself happy and vigorous. How absurd is this?
Just a few days before the official publication of the OIG report, during our meeting on 31 August, Vice President Dale Cohen said to me something like – Saida, why you think that everybody is wrong except you.
When I hear such a question-statement, I don’t know what to do: cry, laugh or shout from hopelessness. According to historians and documents, the same tactic was used against dissidents during the Stalin regime. They were told ‘so you think that the whole Soviet people are wrong and you are right?,’ and disturbers of tranquility were shot as enemies of the people.”