International Broadcasting Bureau – We Just Love Being Dysfunctional and Defunct! – Information War Lost: Death By Division
By The Federalist
Most of us are familiar with the axiom, “Divide and conquer.”
With the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB), it may be better phrased as, “Divide and destroy.” Let’s examine some of the record:
- Creating a “strategic plan” that is “neither strategic nor a plan.” Include in this group, David Ensor and Steve Redisch, the Voice of America (VOA) director and executive editor with their “43 newsrooms” concept intended to dismantle the VOA Central Newsroom and creating an environment in which VOA language services contend against each other for diminished newsgathering resources and are in effect encouraged to duplicate the work of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and Radio Free Asia (RFA) surrogate (grantee) broadcasters instead of following the VOA Charter.
- Creating an environment which pits the VOA against the grantee broadcasters.
- The agency’s perennial and likely permanent reputation (under this IBB regime) for being one of the worst agencies in the Federal government, bottoming out in the annual Federal workplace satisfaction survey.
- Running afoul of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) by its practices regarding the hiring of contract employees – who the IRS has determined to really be full-time, permanent employees.
- Exceeding its hiring authority by having over 600 contract employees when the agency limit is around 60. Someone on the Third Floor seems to have misplaced a zero somewhere, intentionally it seems.
- Not paying some of its contract employees for months at a time.
In this last item, the Obama administration has made a very big deal about wages for workers, including Federal contractor workers. Right under the nose of the White House, here is a Federal agency that is so dysfunctional and defunct that it can’t pay part of its contract staff on time!
One wonders if anyone at the White House has been told about VOA contract employees not getting paid for months.
The IBB has made hypocritical the Obama administration’s claims to be supportive of pay issues for workers on Federal contracts.
Senior agency officials steadfastly refuse to acknowledge the problems they have created and their complicity in perpetuating these problems.
As we remarked recently, it’s Gotterdammerung time for these IBB individuals when the only thing left for them to do is to destroy the effectiveness of US Government international broadcasting irrevocably.
The officials responsible for this debacle should be fired for cause. But that isn’t the way it works at the upper levels of the US Federal bureaucracy.
Instead, the name of the game is to deprive those responsible of the bureaucracies they are responsible for.
Not surprisingly, supporters of US Government international broadcasting are searching for ways to salvage the situation.
Hence, you now see various scenarios being publicly floated to recast US Government international broadcasting. Here are some, both inside and outside the Cohen Building:
National Endowment for Democracy Take Over Grantee Broadcasting
This scenario is favored by analysts with the Heritage Foundation. In it, the grantee broadcasters like Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) would be transferred there. To the analysts at Heritage, it makes sense, particularly if you agree with the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) premise that it “supports freedom and democracy” and the basis of US surrogate broadcasting.
How the broadcasting culture of the grantees would mesh with that of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) remains to be seen. The devil is in the details, as the saying goes, and at present, it is an unknown.
Transferring the Persian News Network (PNN)
In the April 2014 meeting of the BBG, there was discussion about broadcasting strategies to Iran. One proposal that was floated would be to take the Persian News Network (PNN) and make it part of the broadcasting grantee operation Radio Farda, itself a part of RFE/RL.
Some of our colleagues do not like this idea at all.
However, the demolitions job performed by the IBB on US Government international broadcasting has now created a sense that in order to save the mission, it is necessary to realign the elements that make up the effort. Becoming virtually intentional in its effect, the IBB’s strategy of being dysfunctional and defunct doesn’t allow for a whole lot of options within the existing organizational chart of US Government international broadcasting.
PNN – which is really not a network at all but the former VOA Farsi language service – has been a hotbed of its own, with staffers divided by political sentiments toward the regime in Tehran, the former monarchy and gradations in between. Such differences are not unusual, but they become a problem if the organization is rudderless. Good management offers a common vision and builds upon differences of opinion.
PNN used to be the Number One Problem in VOA – until Ensor and Redisch elevated the VOA Newsroom to that status as the most demoralized element of the agency.
Wherever it is, PNN comes with baggage and will likely hang onto its baggage barring some breakthrough in getting the staff all on the same page.
Don’t hold your breath.
And moving it is no minor administrative detail. The merits or demerits of taking PNN out of VOA would likely be debated and argued in the Congress and elsewhere by people who have serious propriety interests in its operations. Journalists are likely to pay the price for having incompetent executives and managers. Iran is too important not to have a Voice of America news service from Washington. It is also too important not to have a surrogate news service.
Wither Voice of America?
You may need to consult odds makers in Las Vegas on the chances of these scenarios coming to fruition. However, in the event that they somehow fall into place, the question is: what happens to VOA?
That may be contingent upon the BBG attempt to install a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) within its structure, as opposed to that of the IBB.
A great deal hinges upon who the BBG selects for this post. The person will have his/her hands full.
Keep in mind, the BBG is plodding along in the CEO process. While understandable in order to avoid compounding existing problems, the fact remains that each day the IBB remains in place, the damage to the agency is exponential, building and feeding on itself.
Here are some things we’ve been thinking about that will confront the CEO. It is not intended to be the definitive statement on the problems existent in the agency, but rather a general overview. Here we go:
The first order of business for the CEO will be reorganization issues.
What should be at the top of the reorganization list is to abolish the IBB.
This won’t be an easy task. The IBB will fight back with everything it has and it has earned a reputation for being malevolent and vicious in defending itself.
As remarked earlier, at this point the only thing left for the IBB to do is to survive at all costs or take the agency down with them.
The survival of the IBB guarantees the failure of the agency and its mission.
If the CEO formulates a successful reorganization plan that puts the IBB out of business, then and only then can the tough job of rehabilitating US Government international broadcasting take place.
This is Job One: a major face-off determining if the agency has a future – and that means a future without the IBB.
Successfully dismantling the IBB may go a long, long way in salvaging US Government international broadcasting without the even more laborious task of breaking up its common elements as suggested in alternative scenarios.
In order to pull this together, the CEO will clearly need the endorsement of the BBG. But just as importantly, the CEO will need to organize a world class staff to support and execute a plan along these lines.
That is the central issue because as we have seen, this agency doesn’t have deep “bench strength” when it comes to top tier managers. There are some in the organization who have potential (we leave their names out of this discussion in order to protect them from retaliation by the malevolent IBB and its minions). There should be no doubt that it is critical to the agency’s future to adopt a “good, better, best” philosophy with regard to people to lead the agency in the future.
As we have asserted previously, an effective CEO is going to need a hefty amount of hard intelligence about “inside the Cohen Building,” distinguishing between who give accurate information and those who intentionally provide misinformation to undermine the rehabilitation effort.
Where To Start In Agency Broadcast Operations
Without question, the first order of business in the broadcast operations component of Voice of America is the VOA Central Newsroom. The Newsroom must be restored to its rightful place as a guarantor of the VOA Charter and as the central core of VOA’s newsgathering operation. Everything starts and ends with the VOA Newsroom. Failing in this critical effort reduces the entirety of VOA to an exercise in futility – kind of where it is right now.
The next item is balancing the agency’s media delivery systems. The Soviet-style “strategic plan” created by former and current top IBB executives is a bust. In its place must come an effective concept for an integrated approach to delivering program content that reaches the most critical audiences effectively and is able to circumvent countermeasures by those opposed to the agency’s message without expecting the audience to go through all kinds of technological hoops and quite possibly exposing them to being easily targeted and identified. High tech and large number of people getting English lessons, watching dozens of VOA reports on the British royal family, getting soap operas in Latin America, and watching a VOA zombie video in Pakistan does not equate with mission effectiveness. There is no doubt that the IBB has a buyer’s frenzy when it comes to grabbing any and every piece of technology without knowing if it has a substantial audience able to access it and an infrastructure to support it at the receiving end. The IBB acts like the rest of the world is a Washington, DC suburb, which it most certainly is not.
The IBB Soviet-style “strategic plan” guarantees only this:
It represents job security for those who created it and intend to see its full implementation. It will require the expenditure of millions of taxpayer dollars over decades to chase elusive effectiveness and even more elusive audiences because of its heavy and total reliance upon in-country connectivity where the national government may be most inclined to block the agency’s program content. In its consequences, this “strategic plan” is the IBB scam of the 21st century.
Certainly not to be left out of the CEO’s vision of the agency’s future are the agency’s language services, determining what works and what doesn’t as resources continue to be limited.
Last but not least, the agency’s toxic personnel practices and work environment need to be pitched overboard along with those responsible.
The CEO will come to find that the agency needs less of the oxymorons from the IBB and a whole lot more of capable leadership.
One lesson that repeats itself time and again is the value of leadership that is trusted, materially and philosophically engaged to restore the agency and its mission and considers its employees its most important resource. That kind of management philosophy is not present inside the Cohen Building. The agency also needs to develop a political clout in Washington. IBB executives certainly don’t have it and can’t provide it. Instead they and their counterparts at VOA give the BBG Board and the agency one embarrassment after another.
What the BBG does not need in any way, shape or form is a management attitude of, “I love my job, even if you are losing yours. Too bad for you. Reinvent yourself.” If it were not for VOA journalists, those who have been working nonstop in the VOA Ukrainian Service and others without the sufficient staff, resources and support they deserve, Voice of America would have nothing but exceptionally bad management. On a yearly basis, these senior agency executives eliminate one program after another to perpetuate their own existence. That’s the nature of bureacracy. Divide at impera.