BBG Officialdom Burrowing In
US Government International Media Information War Lost
By The Federalist
Before we get to our main topic…
Out Of Commission!
By practice, the Voice of America (VOA) marks its anniversary on/or about February 1 each year. The year 2017 would mark the agency’s 75th anniversary.
Agency employees and others were surprised to learn that the activities planned for the anniversary celebration had to be cancelled.
The explanation making the rounds is that the auditorium of the Cohen Building is:
“Out of commission.”
We’re not sure what the situation is as no further details have been provided. The Cohen Building, like all Federal buildings, is maintained by the General Services Administration [GSA], but it is up to BBG officials to plan for such events ahead of time and to be prepared for all eventualities. As usual, they obviously did not plan. Nothing unusual at this agency.
Dysfunctional management of the “practically defunct” (Hillary Clinton’s words) agency aside, with the passage of time, sustaining enthusiasm for this kind of observance presents other challenges. The agency which governs the Voice of America has lost a significant portion of its luster and together with VOA has been long drifting toward obscurity. It doesn’t help to be labeled:
- “Regular Bottom Feeder” ; “Going Backward” Washington Post columnist Joe Davidson “Federal Insider,” The Washington Post, September 20, 2016.
- “Dysfunctional” (Heritage Foundation scholar Helle C. Dale)
- “Practically Defunct” (Hillary Clinton)
- “Broken” (US statesmen, diplomats, media experts and journalists interviewed by former BBG member S. Enders Wimbush and former Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty executive Elizabeth M. Portale)
- “Truly Rudderless” or Leaderless (Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ed Royce)
It also doesn’t help to have garnered – and done so with great diligence – the reputation of having become one of the worst agencies in the Federal government.
Cumulatively, the atmospherics inside the Cohen Building are dark at best. The postponement of the 75th VOA anniversary adds to it.
Nevertheless, senior agency officials will do their best to put on a big display which they will dutifully march off to the Cohen Building auditorium to watch – reminding us ironically of government-staged events in some foreign countries where most people would rather not live if they had a choice.
Add to that the agency approaching artistic groups from among the ethnic communities in the Washington, DC area to provide entertainment without compensation for their time and effort.
For most of the working staff, they don’t see much of the doings. At best, maybe bits and pieces, because after all, somebody has to be working inside the Cohen Building while the managers go off to do their preening in the auditorium.
But now – there’s no auditorium! It’s “out of commission.” You honestly can’t make up this kind of stuff. Of late, whatever these apparatchiks touch turns to… Well, you get the picture.
Throughout the Federal Government, there has been a flurry of vacancy announcements in advance of the Trump administration. This is nothing new. It has been going on for years when administrations change. It’s something that leads people to remark that the bureaucracy is another branch of government and seemingly one that revels in the lack of accountability. But the stated intention of the new administration to freeze hiring has added a sense of urgency.
The Broadcasting Board of Governors (or whatever US Government international media will be called in the future) is no exception.
Given the agency’s earned reputation for being rotten to the core, one has to believe the intent is to burrow in people representative not as much of the previous administration but rather to preserve the bureaucracy’s agenda. The last thing this is intended to do is to make the agency run better. The intended outcome is to perpetuate business as usual and by extension to undermine any attempt to bring about necessary reforms to the agency that are long overdue.
This agency is all about mission failure. It can no longer be relied upon to carry forward the principles of the VOA Charter with any measure of effectiveness.
We remind readers that back in her days as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton rightly labeled this agency as defunct: the negative characteristic which the agency has excelled in. Ironically, its inability to function effectively may have contributed to Secretary Clinton’s unsuccessful presidential aspirations. It is no secret that Vladimir Putin has a visceral dislike of Secretary Clinton. Amid all the chatter surrounding the election, there was a great cacophony of disinformation and misinformation, some of it generated by the Russians but also by many other actors, casting both Clinton and Donald Trump in highly negative terms. Countering foreign disinformation is part of what the agency is supposed to do. It failed miserably. Add to that the rather public display of contempt for the incoming administration by Federal career employees in the VOA newsroom as part of its “VOA Follies” presentation during the Christmas holidays.
In so many words, the agency is its own worst enemy.
But back to “burrowing in:”
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has hiring practices by Federal agencies on the radar. You can read an article on the subject here:
Chaffetz sent out a letter to various Federal agencies. The letter notes, in part,
“The accelerated hiring timelines create the appearance that some federal agencies are pushing to fill as many slots as possible without regard for identifying and hiring the most qualified applicants.”
Anyone with long experience regarding BBG/VOA knows that “pre-selection” for promotions is a major concern, especially when you see the telltale sign of a short window to apply and other indications. And when you couple these concerns with what you see in the agency’s performance and its horrid standing in the Federal employee workplace surveys, it moves “appearance” to one of high probability
And the dead giveaway that things are amiss when you see agency memoranda about staff changes among supervisors and managers. It’s like a perpetual game of musical chairs: individuals bounced as language service chiefs or other posts to become “senior advisers.” Some of these individuals have garnered a stellar reputation for being “demolitions experts:” they go somewhere in the agency, things blow up, they do a tour as a “senior adviser” and then go elsewhere in the agency to replace someone else on the “demolitions team” who gets in a tight spot. Recycle and repeat.
Congressman Chaffetz concentrates on some of the larger Federal agencies in his letter. However, he would be just as well served by looking at agencies like BBG/VOA which are perpetual bottom feeders in the annual workplace survey. Get the staffing pattern and grab a highlighter. See how many managers there are as compared to the number of line employees. See how long these managers have been with the agency, encumbered management positions and look at their grades and salaries. It’s the proverbial gold mine of information: a good bit of which the agency would rather not have someone look at, especially someone knowledgeable of the cast of characters on the Third Floor of the Cohen Building.
We already know that there is an anti-Trump sentiment rife in the VOA newsroom. With this in mind:
- People laughed when Mr. Trump announced he would run for president.
- People laughed at Mr. Trump’s performance during the debates.
- People laughed at Trump’s election campaign.
- People gave Trump not a snowball’s chance of winning the presidential election.
- Voice of America management had two pre-written “Clinton Wins” broadcasts on the election night, and none for the possibility of Trump’s victory
And now he is the new occupant of the Oval Office in the White House.
Moral of the story:
Don’t underestimate the guy:
Particularly when you lose all sense of caution and decide as Federal employees in the VOA newsroom to ridicule the man, his wife, and his daughter in the “VOA Follies” in a Federal building on U.S. government time and taxpayers’ money, or in posts to their Facebook pages where they identify themselves as Voice of America (Federal government) employees.
Not very wise, by any objective measurement.
There is a thing called “accountability.” This agency, its officials and some among its employees should be held accountable, both with regard to performance and to conduct.