BBG Watch Commentary
How can anyone, particularly members of Congress, take the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) seriously when members of its bipartisan board, nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate to run U.S. international broadcasting operations, simply refuse to work?
BBG Watch has learned that the current seven members of the BBG board have decided to cancel their already scheduled July board meeting because not enough of them wanted to participate and they would not have a quorum. The board meeting was scheduled for July 24. The BBG’s Governance Committee meeting, scheduled for the same day, was also cancelled, sources told BBG Watch.
BBG members regularly miss their monthly and sometimes bimonthly meetings. Dana Perino, a Republican member, has not attended the last eight BBG open meetings. Others, with the exception of Ambassador Victor Ashe, Dennis Mulhaupt and Under Secretary of State Tara Sonenshine who recently has started to represent Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have also missed meetings.
BBG members are paid for the number of hours they work on international broadcasting matters. They are also reimbursed for travel, meals, and hotel expenses when they travel on BBG-related business. Because BBG members don’t want to do their jobs, the agency is run by executive staffers who have been rated in the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) employee opinion surveys as the worst managers in the federal government. They have proposed cuts in broadcasts to China and Tibet and have drafted legislative proposals that embarrassed the board and were rejected by both Democrats and Republicans in Congress.
Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) has written a letter to the BBG Interim Presiding Governor Michael Lynton protesting the BBG plans to consolidate grantee broadcasters — Radio Free Asia (RFA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN) — as violating of Congressional intent. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) has criticized the lack of transparency at the BBG. There are widespread reports of poor employee morale at the BBG, particularly at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. There has been a widespread Congressional and public opposition to the plan to modify the Smith-Mundt Act to allow BBG officials to target Americans with government information programs.
Yet none of these issues, including the latest controversy over a VOA official requesting the U.N. to review the press accreditation of an independent American journalist, will be dealt with by BBG members in an open meeting in July. They sometimes conduct meetings by telephone, but those are not televised and are not available for public review. Even these meetings are very rare.
The U.S. Congress should take a close look at the Broadcasting Board of Governors, its executive staff, and how the agency operates. If BBG members don’t want to work, they should not have accepted these important positions. It’s a public institution in deep crisis. Something needs to be done to protect the very critical mission of communicating with the world from neglect and lack of leadership.