BBG Watch Commentary
A Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) member Dennis Mulhaupt has informed the White House that he is resigning from the bipartisan board in charge of U.S. international broadcasting. If the BBG’s absentee Interim Presiding Governor Michael Lynton continues to be a no show at future board meetings, the BBG will no longer have a quorum and cannot function as an effective oversight body for the agency’s executive staff, which has been consistently rated in the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) surveys as worst managers in the federal government. The fear is that without a quorum and with a reduced number of board members, the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) Director Richard Lobo and his staff will increase their bureaucratic stranglehold over the agency. Everything must be done to prevent it.
Despite real risks still on the horizon, there are some good signs that the Broadcasting Board of Governors is finally moving in the right direction. The three most active BBG members, Ambassador Victor Ashe, Susan McCue and Michael Meehan, have formed an alliance to reform the agency, starting with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), where they had put in Kevin Klose as the acting president. But they are encountering strong resistance from IBB Director Lobo and his deputies. They need every kind of support from the Administration and the Congress.
In his letter to President Obama, Mulhaupt wrote:
“Over my tenure I, along with some of my board colleagues, have consistently advocated for necessary and far-reaching reform of the governance structure and organization of U. S. international broadcasting (USIB). My belief in the importance and need for these reforms has only grown stronger the longer I have served. I hope that the administration and Congress will address soon the urgent issues facing USIB and the BBG, the components of which do such vital work advancing freedom and human rights in many countries throughout the world.”
But according to sources, Dennis Mulhaupt was not strongly supportive of the reforms initiated by his colleagues and was considered to be a close ally of former RFE/RL president Steven Korn, whom the board replaced with Kevin Klose after Radio Liberty in Russia has lost its reputation and much of its online and radio audience. The Korn experiment, supported by Mulhaupt and most IBB executives, was presented by them as a prelude to “far-reaching reform of the governance structure and organization of U. S. international broadcasting.” It ended in a complete disaster. The only thing Mulhaupt was right about was in saying that only “some of his board colleagues” supported him as he supported Korn and his experiment. In the end, even that support evaporated.
The State Department was embarrassed by what happened to Radio Liberty in Russia and did not like it. The ex officio BBG member, Secretary of State John Kerry, is represented at board meetings by Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Tara Sonenshine who is believed to be supportive of reform efforts initiated after the fiasco of the RFE/RL-Korn experiment, but she has an important full time job that keeps her busy. She did provide input on RFE/RL, but it still leaves Ashe, McCue and Meehan to keep an eye on the bureaucracy that constantly tries to push their own agenda, ignore members’ requests for accurate and timely information and frustrate their wishes, several well-informed sources told BBG Watch.
It is a matter of public record that BBG’s Interim Presiding Governor Michael Lynton has not participated in any board or committee meetings since January 2013 and, according to sources, has not been heard from much for over three months. He managed to issue a statement Tuesday on Dennis Mulhaupt’s departure:
“Dennis Mulhaupt has been tireless and selfless in his service to the BBG. He passionately believes in the mission of U.S. international broadcasting, has approached his role with the utmost integrity, and has earned widespread respect in Washington, Prague and beyond. We will miss him greatly as a colleague on the Board, but would welcome his continued contribution to our work.”
Lynton was right that Mulhaupt has worked hard until almost the very end of his tenure, but as the chair of the RFE/RL board and a supporter of Steven Korn, he bears a lot of responsibility for what happened in Prague and in Moscow, where dozens of experienced Radio Liberty journalists were arbitrarily fired to the delight of President Putin. As for Lynton, it is not known whether he will show up for the BBG board meeting scheduled for April 10-11 or participate in it by phone. Since five members are needed to have a quorum, the BBG may not be able to hold a formal board meeting if Lynton is again absent. The board also did not have a formal meeting in February due to uncertainty whether he would attend. He did not. He also had missed some of the earlier board meetings, left meetings early and was seen texting on his phone while his colleagues were having a discussion.
An accomplished entertainment media industry figure, Lynton has a busy job as CEO of Sony Entertainment, Inc. Sony Entertainment does business in Russia, where the BBG is charged with encouraging media freedom. Having access to doing business in Russia and supporting journalism that may annoy President Putin are not mutually compatible activities.
Like Mulhaupt, Lynton was also a strong supporter of former RFE/RL president Steven Korn, whom he called “a seasoned media executive” even as the crisis at Radio Liberty in Russia kept growing and the station became an enemy of the human rights community. The IBB executive staff failed to alert Lynton and other BBG members to problems with RFE/RL. After several months of protests and negative media publicity, BBG members finally took action, prompted mainly by Ambassador Ashe. They read reports on BBG Watch and received protest letters from leading Russian human rights activists and anti-Putin politicians, including a powerful plea for action from this year’s Nobel Peace Prize nominee Lyudmila Alexeeva and a strong statement from Mikhail Gorbachev.
Shortly before leaving her job as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, an ex officio BBG member, called U.S. international broadcasting agency “defunct.”
If it were not for Ambassador Ashe, Susan McCue, Michael Meehan, and Under Secretary Sonenshine, the IBB executive staff would have had nearly complete control over the agency, with support from Lynton, Mulhaupt and Enders Wimbush, a Republican member who had resigned earlier. Mulhaupt was also a Republican member. His departure leaves Ashe as the only Republican member on the BBG board, but fortunately he works well with Democratic members, McCue and Meehan, and with Under Secretary Sonenshine. IBB executives hoped that they would force Ashe’s resignation. They failed.
Toward the end, Mulhaupt may have realized that his support for Steven Korn was a problem and he tried to repair the damage, but he ultimately decided that leaving the BBG was a better option. To his credit, unlike Lynton, Wimbush and Dana Perino, another BBG member (Republican) who had resigned earlier, Mulhaupt had a nearly perfect attendance record at BBG meetings. Ashe is now the only BBG member with a perfect attendance record. McCue, Meehan and Sonenshine also have a good attendance record. Like Ashe, they also question the IBB staff and demand answers and action. This annoys IBB bureaucrats who are not used to this kind of scrutiny.
As a form of retaliation, while the crisis at RFE/RL kept growing, the IBB staff engaged in a behind-the-scenes smear campaign, directed primarily against Ashe, but also against Meehan and McCue, by feeding false information to OIG inspectors. They had miscalculated because the BBG employee union, AFGE Local 1812, and everybody else strongly defended Ashe and other BBG members. It would fair to say that while Lynton and Mulhaupt made some serious mistakes for which they should be held responsible, they are among many victims of the IBB executive staff’s phenomenal failure, as is the entire agency.
With Lynton becoming disengaged and Mulhaupt also withdrawing, Ashe, McCue and Meehan united, started the reform process at RFE/RL, and put a stop to some of the most egregious IBB bureaucratic excesses. These included wasteful international travel and executive bonuses that on top of general mismanagement resulted in record low employee morale, worst than at nearly all other federal agencies. But with Lynton, who either defends IBB staff or is absent and with Mulhaupt sitting on the fence and now leaving, the IBB staff is launching a counter-offensive, sources told BBG Watch. It will be up to the three BBG members and Under Secretary Sonenshine to make sure that this bureaucratic coup does not succeed. It will not be an easy task.
Director Lobo was told by BBG members that he cannot furlough any employees and that he cannot approve any more $8,000 bonuses for his top aides. But his deputies are using sequestration as an excuse to reduce or eliminate programs they do not like, including radio transmissions to Iran, Afghanistan, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. They are not as brazen as they were before, when they had proposed cutting broadcasts to China and Tibet and were told by members of Congress essentially that they have lost their minds, but they nevertheless are retaliating in their usual bureaucratic fashion.
The bottom line is that there are now only three BBG members who are working full time to save the agency from its own bureaucracy. They have support from Under Secretary Sonenshine and presumably Secretary Kerry. For the first time in many years, the bureaucrats are on the defensive as most of their supporters on the BBG board have now left. Kevin Klose is cleaning house at RFE/RL. For the first time in years, there is a chance that public interest can become more important at the BBG than the interests of the self-perpetuating and program-destroying IBB bureaucrats.
Members of Congress and other important stakeholders are beginning to realize that the problem was not the BBG board itself, but its individual members who did not take their public duties seriously or who had conflicts of interest. There is also a growing realization that the problem is indeed the BBG bureaucracy at the International Broadcasting Bureau.
If anything, the RFE/RL crisis showed that the bipartisan BBG board can do what it was designed to do, to protect the integrity of U.S. international broadcasting in a crisis situation. Had BBG members been more carefully chosen and had greater international and public service experience, they could have responded to the RFE/RL crisis and the IBB bureaucracy excesses earlier and with better results. Eventually, they did.
It was, however, a very close call. To secure a better future for U.S. international broadcasting, Michael Lynton should resign, also to save his own professional reputation, as should disengaged IBB Director Richard Lobo and his Deputy Director Jeff Trimble who has been in charge as the BBG failed to increase its global audience since 2008 despite increasing budgets. Jeff Shell, who impressed a lot of people with his openness and a desire to reach out to various groups, should be confirmed by the Senate as the new BBG Chairman if no conflicts of interest are found with his private sector job and if he can devote enough time to his public duties.
President Obama needs to nominate several new BBG members, most of the vacancies are for Republicans, and the Senate needs to confirm them. They should not be primarily private industry executives like Korn and Lynton, but individuals with broad international/foreign policy experience, significant public service accomplishments and/or human rights advocacy background.
The Soviet-style five year strategic plan developed by the discredited IBB staff needs to be discarded and a new mission-focused plan developed. Fired Radio Liberty journalists must be returned to their jobs. Ambassador Ashe, Susan McCue and Michael Meehan should be reappointed by President Obama to insure that the reforms they initiated continue, the IBB executive staff is brought under control, its failed top managers transferred out, and its bureaucracy greatly reduced, with saved resources redistributed to various program-producing media entities.
We hope that Ashe, McCue, Meehan and Sonenshine will not be discouraged by bureaucratic resistance and will all agree to continue to serve. They deserve thanks for saving U.S. international broadcasting from a bureaucratic disaster but their job is far from finished.
Independence of surrogate broadcasters and the Voice of America needs to be re-confirmed and they need to return to their original missions. If these steps are taken, U.S. international broadcasting can once again serve its important media freedom role which is so essential for the defense of human rights and for advancing democracy and U.S. national security interests around the world. Soft power through U.S. international broadcasting is the most cost-efficient investment in enhancing America’s security and in helping other nations build democracy. But to succeed, it also needs more funding and more attention from the Administration, the Congress, and the American people. Fortunately, U.S. international broadcasting always had bipartisan support. Everything must be done to make it stronger.
BBG Press Release
Dennis Mulhaupt Leaves the BBG Board
April 9, 2013
Washington, DC – BBG Board member Dennis Mulhaupt today informed the White House and his colleagues that he is leaving the Board.
Mulhaupt had been serving as alternate presiding governor, chair of the BBG Governance Committee and chair of the board of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
“Dennis Mulhaupt has been tireless and selfless in his service to the BBG,” said the Board’s presiding governor, Michael Lynton. “He passionately believes in the mission of U.S. international broadcasting, has approached his role with the utmost integrity, and has earned widespread respect in Washington, Prague and beyond. We will miss him greatly as a colleague on the Board, but would welcome his continued contribution to our work.”
Mulhaupt is the founder and managing director of Commonwealth Partners, Inc., a firm that provides advisory services to philanthropic institutions and families. He began his career working in an investment bank in London and subsequently established the West Coast international political and economic risk advisory department at a major U.S. financial services company.
After 15 years in various corporate roles, he turned full-time to the non-profit sector. Before founding Commonwealth Partners, he served as executive vice president at KCET in Los Angeles, the West Coast flagship public broadcaster. Other roles in higher education administration have included positions as Vice President at Claremont McKenna College; Associate Vice President at Stanford University; and Senior Associate Dean in the College of Letters, Arts & Sciences at the University of Southern California, where he also taught undergraduate courses in international relations.
Like his fellow appointed governors, Mulhaupt was appointed to the board on July 2, 2010 to a term expiring on August 13, 2011. By law, any member whose term has expired may serve until a successor has been appointed and qualified. His departure leaves the Board with five members, including Secretary of State John Kerry, who serves as an ex-officio member.
Here is the letter that Mulhaupt sent to President Barack Obama:
April 9, 2013
The White House
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President:
I write to submit my resignation from the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) effective today.
Over my tenure I, along with some of my board colleagues, have consistently advocated for necessary and far-reaching reform of the governance structure and organization of U. S. international broadcasting (USIB). My belief in the importance and need for these reforms has only grown stronger the longer I have served. I hope that the administration and Congress will address soon the urgent issues facing USIB and the BBG, the components of which do such vital work advancing freedom and human rights in many countries throughout the world.
I am beyond grateful for having been given the opportunity to serve our country through my role on the BBG. In addition, I want to express my thanks to you and Senator McConnell for your confidence in indicating to me I would be re-nominated for an additional term.
Finally, I would like to pay tribute to the thousands of men and women of USIB throughout the world who do such important and all too often dangerous work in support of a free press in more than 60 countries around the world.
I am honored to have served with them.