BBG executives to Congress – to fix a bloated bureaucracy you must give it more power
Okay, people, long time, no hear.
I’ve been thinking about the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing earlier this month trying to figure out what the panelists actually thought about the reform bill they were there to discuss. Is it just me or did it go something like this (paraphrasing):
Thanks for coming, …………we are really concerned about the really bad stuff we keep hearing about the Broadcasting Board of Governors. What are your thoughts about reforming international broadcasting?
Well.. I’ve been here longer than the last guy and I think I should have all power – delegable, non-delegable and even stuff the BBG itself doesn’t have.
Now that we have John Lansing as the CEO of everything , we, the Board, think we can just leave the whole thing to him to run. And we all know, everything bad was the last board’s fault.
What they said. One CEO. One CEO in charge of anything and everything.
Well, Jeff said pretty much that I would be the big dog — “except for the law” sotto voce… It’s really important, Mr. Chairman, because I want to be able to take money from one place and put it somewhere else when I see that’s needed. I want to have the whole pot of money under my control. (Note: apparently they don’t even want John to have to go through a pesky Board discussion, a Board vote or to have to run through congressional notifications and reprogrammings, etc….)
We are awesome. We rock…(well I do, at least in Hollywood). We’re fixing everything already. This Board gets along!! We never disagree. Can you guys just move with this? We only need reform to make what we want happen. Our plan is: John will be the guy in charge of everything and he can just tell us what to do. I don’t understand why anyone would make the grantees private – and leave VOA federal. (whispering to the side…I don’t think they gave it much thought…)
Governor Weinstein (trying to bring it back to planet earth):
Our folks do great work under really awful circumstances. Our challenges are enormous. We are far less funded than Russian propaganda, Al Jazeera, Da’esh, etc. Moreover, in the real world, digital communication is so essential to breaking down these walls, we are doing really cool work on internet freedom tech to get to the people we need to get to. (Note: there actually was some substance inserted between the panel’s eloquent advice on what the committee should do)
Weinstein, Lansing, Shell (in rotation answering member questions):
Seriously though. our people do GREAT work. Really great work. Super duper really really good work. Let me read from my notes what a great job they are doing on content. Example. Example. Example. Example (or maybe that was in Weinstein’s written testimony…whatever,…the important thing is that Jeff Shell is a big deal in Hollywood, people!)
All jokes aside (intended or not); HOW do three people in leadership of a troubled federal agency that is renown for its dysfunction, come testify to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to discuss reform of a bill that they clearly have never read – or if they have they don’t understand what they read. Because if they had read it they would know: Congress actually spent a LOT of time thinking about the 1994 Act – they spent so much time, they had to summarize their thoughts in more than 28 pages of micro-font Conference Language. (15 page Conference Report for 1994 Act along with 7 pages in the Senate Report; and another 6 pages for the 1998 Act aka. the Amendment.)
They don’t seem to understand that Congress sees the problem as being with the BBG (which it is) and not with the private grantees. So— the first witness panel stuck with a theme that goes like this: We should reform a bloated dysfunctional federal bureaucracy by taking well-run, effective, private grantees and putting them under the control of the said bloated dysfunctional federal bureaucracy. While we’re at it, let’s add more layers of bureaucracy! An office of this, manager of that. Makes perfect sense. Maybe we can all be at the bottom of the barrel of the federal government, www.fedview.opm.gov/2015/Ranking/.
In his testimony, Shell said BBG had already given Lansing as much power as it could “legally delegate” to a federal CEO (wink wink), recognizing there was only so much a board whose members all have other jobs can do. (Per Broadcasting & Cable). (PS. What is BBG Governor Matt Armstrong’s day job?)
That’s funny. I was under the impression that all corporate boards are part-time and have other jobs. I was under the impression that the White House vetted and nominated members of the BBG and the Senate confirmed the members of the BBG so that they could each bring their respective expertise to help the entities. All of that appointment work, just so they could pitch any semblance of their responsibility to one CEO (albeit a very competent and well-chosen CEO).
On to Panel Two:
Although I thought it was weird to see former Governor Wimbush and Kevin Klose seated side by side on the same panel, Mr. Klose’s closing observation says it all: “I think we are in violent agreement”
Once Wimbush got over his fit of pique at being blamed for all BBG dysfunction,and pointing out that many of the successes claimed by the current board actually got started with his board– his ideas about maintaining the independence of the grantees are in perfect support of the Reform being discussed. Klose came out immediately supporting the need for reform so that the grantees could focus on their legislative mission without layer upon layer of BBG intervention but with a private board of directors that is completely and appropriately supporting the mission and success of each grantees’ unique work.
Wimbush seemed to have a little bit of the grass is always greener syndrome as he observed this board seems to “get along better” than his board had (that’s a low bar, my friend). But he and Klose did not have any trouble addressing the basic imperative of the Reform Act — to eliminate the conflict of interest that exists between having identical boards run the BBG, the IBB, the VOA, OCB,, RFERL, RFA and MBN.
Vice Chairman Ben Cardin seemed to be thinking aloud about the first panel’s notion of reform aka. status quo – one mission, one organization, one CEO. One organization means that he either alienates his federal employee constituency by defederalizing VOA- or alienates his constituency of private grantee employees by federalizing the private corporations. Pulling a thing that big off is a huge lift and more power to him if that’s where he wants to go.
Chairman Corker remained the voice of reason throughout. He handled the washingtonism of ignoring the actual questions in favor of talking about what I want to talk about with equanimity.
We on the ground – who are rocked by every surprise leadership reorganization – just want to do our work. Effectively, efficiently and impactfully. We are not working for the bureaucrats or for our own job security. We work for the US taxpayers and for the audiences.
We need reform to give us a fighting chance against the many adversaries so eloquently presented by the first panel.
Can you all just start by reading the Congressional intent? Maybe you’ll get it then. I hope so.