Assessing the Terrain:  USAGM Watch Resumes Watchdog Role

USAGM Watch Commentary

Four months into 2021, the former BBG Watch is now reborn as USAGM Watch, months during which the U.S. Agency for Global Media, under the control of a familiar set of managers, went without scrutiny by any independent watchdog.

Between 2010 and 2020, the former BBG Watch played that watchdog role, and came to be required reading in official Washington – at the White House, in Congress, and at major think tanks.

We produced hundreds of reports and commentaries drawing back the curtain on mismanagement, corruption, waste of taxpayer dollars, and hubris at USAGM, formerly called the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), and its component parts.

Here are but a few:

  • Revelation of an executive summary of a contractor’s report, paid for by taxpayers but buried by agency managers, that discussed the problem of political bias in Voice of America – with multiple reports detailing the issue.
  • Investigative reporting on biased reports aired by VOA’s Urdu and French to Africa services.
  • Revelation of efforts by certain VOA reporters to prevent citizen reporters from viewing their social media channels.
  • Investigative reporting on the case of a former high-ranking agency official who was eventually convicted and jailed for stealing taxpayer funds.
  • Coverage of numerous scandals, including the VOA Mandarin and Hausa Service firings, Radio/TV Marti airing of anti-semitic material, and massive technical infrastructure breakdowns.
  • Reporting on congressional findings that VOA targeted Americans with Facebook ads in violation of the Smith Mundt Act. 
  • Multiple reports on VOA federal employees violating the organization’s own standards and Best Practices guidelines.
  • Reporting on the years-long management and programming problems in VOA’s Persian Service for Iran.
  • Reporting on embarrassing breaking news failures by VOA’s central newsroom.
  • Revelation of whistleblower allegations of widespread cronyism at USAGM, shared with the Office of Inspector General, under former Obama administration holdover agency managers.

It should come as no surprise that USAGM Watch intends to resume its watchdog function, and some of that reporting will seek to follow up on previous stories.

Whether readers supported now President Joe Biden, or his predecessor, we think most everyone will agree that an agency with the record of mismanagement that USAGM has amassed over the years, cannot be allowed to just “disappear” in history.

Mainstream media would have readers forget that USAGM has for years been one of the worst agencies in federal government where employee satisfaction is concerned, with scandal after scandal in the Cohen Building.

USAGM Watch will also have a new focus on encouraging reporting from willing sources inside the agency who can consider this site an “avenue” to report concerns about mismanagement, corruption, and inefficiencies that hamper it from fulfilling its mission.

We will be address issues that developed since the Biden administration began and made changes in leadership at USAGM and VOA, which consists mostly of previous officials who have been running the agency for years and are responsible for its current state.

We will be pursue new information on cover-ups and the extent to which agency officials abide by congressional statute requiring more rigorous oversight of programming and prevention of journalistic violations.

And we will be writing about “Rumors, Myths and Untruths” – those that the agency claims to be clarifying for taxpayers and consumers of its content, and those that were told about this site.

So, with that – and at the urging of numerous people inside and outside the agency – we begin anew.