BBG Watch Commentary

BBG Travel Resolution 6-7-2012

Considering that Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) new Chairman Jeff Shell reportedly had to tell top International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) and Voice of America (VOA) executives to cancel their plans to travel to Paris in December at taxpayers’ expense to attend an international conference on Internet issues as part of a large, nine-person group of high agency officials, BBG Watch thought it would be appropriate to re-post RESOLUTION REGARDING SENATOR COBURN’S AMENDMENT TO LIMIT SPENDING ON GOVERNMENT-SPONSORED CONFERENCES AND TRAVEL, which the Broadcasting Board of Governors approved at a board meeting on June 7, 2012.

Read: New BBG Chairman Reportedly Told Top IBB and VOA Officials to Cancel Planned Trip to Paris, BBG Watch, October 4, 2013.

In a BBG press release, “Meeting At RFE/RL, BBG Moves To Leverage New Openness In Burma, Control Travel Costs, Honor Former Gov. Wimbush,” dated June 7, 2012, board members stated:

“The board passed a resolution calling for the development of a broader and more transparent policy to control spending on government-sponsored conferences and travel. The board’s governance committee was asked to develop the new policy for consideration in July.”

In a press release, “BBG Governance Committee Meeting, Dec.13, 2012,” dated December 13, 2012, BBG announced that “This meeting was not open to the public.” The press release disclosed, however, that travel policy was one of the topics of discussion.

“The agenda included the proposed creation of CEO to oversee BBG activities, the status of the International Broadcasting Innovation Act, and the 2012 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey Results. Also on the agenda was discussion of meeting dates for 2013 and the Board’s travel policy.”

The BBG’s “2013 BBG Open Government Plan 2013” does not include any information about BBG travel policy.

IBB and VOA executives, some of the worst in the federal government in terms of leadership skills and employee morale, are famous for initiating frequent international and domestic travel. We have also noted a behavior pattern among some IBB and VOA executives of inviting individual BBG members to travel with them.

In the past, such international travel had embarrassed unsuspecting BBG members when, for example, IBB and VOA managers responsible for strategic planning, marketing and programming arranged for BBG Governors to meet with officials of repressive regimes. Since these regimes have absolutely no desire to change their suppression of domestic and international media, these visits embarrassed the agency and BBG Governors. Such expensive and extravagant international travels also appear to us to be a way for IBB and VOA executives to get BBG members to share in their wasteful practices.

Fortunately, some BBG members became aware that their reputation is being damaged by decisions of agency managers and put a stop to at least some of these wasteful trips and other abusive practices.

But our search of the BBG website and a global Google search did not produce any BBG document on the BBG travel policy that may have been adopted by the BBG board. If such a policy document exists, it is well hidden from American taxpayers who were going to pay for a pre-Christmas trip to Paris by nine high-ranking  BBG, IBB, and VOA officials.

Sending nine officials and executives to Paris to an Internet conference  would represent an egregious example of wasteful government spending by the agency’s senior staff that mistreats its employees, exploits contractors and approves its own bonuses. There are many similar Internet conferences held in the United States, even in Washington.

By going to Paris, VOA Director David Ensor, IBB Director Richard Lobo or their top executives are not going to increase the number of Facebook “Likes” for  news stories on the VOA English website from barely a few compared to thousands and even tens of thousands on the BBG, Russia Today and Al Jazeera English websites.

Their primary job should be to address major issues of mismanagement and waste within their own spheres of responsibilities. They should start by fixing news gathering and news reporting operations at the Voice of America.  There will be no audience engagement through social media for the Voice of America without addressing this basic  and overwhelming problem, which they have ignored despite many complaints and warnings from VOA’s own correspondents and other critics.

The proposed nine-person IBB and VOA trip to Paris was, in our view, a test by the bureaucrats of Chairman Shell’s leadership and of some of the new BBG members. It appears that Jeff Shell was not fooled by these bureaucratic tactics.

It’s at least one good and concrete sign that the agency may finally be getting the kind of oversight and leadership that it badly needs.



WHEREAS, an amendment offered by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) proposes a model of reform by scaling back, and making more transparent, spending on government-sponsored conferences by establishing attendance limitations on conferences, capping the amount that can be spent on a single conference, capping Agency travel, and requiring all conference expenses to be published online1; and

WHEREAS, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) notes that the United States Senate agreed to the Coburn amendment by a voice vote.

NOW, THEREFORE, be it resolved that the Board concurs with the spirit and principles of the amendment and agrees to institute further efforts to ensure transparency and accountability of spending on Agency-related conferences consistent with the Administration’s guidance. On the matter of travel, the Board concurs with the spirit and principles of the amendment and agrees to consider their practical application for United States international broadcasting.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Board requests the Governance Committee consider in detail the Coburn amendment and develop a broader and more transparent agency policy on attendance at government-sponsored conferences and travel for consideration by the Board at its July 2012 meeting.

1 Senator Coburn’s press release, “Senate Votes to Limit Lavish Spending on Government Conferences.” April 24, 2012.

Adopted 6/7/2012