BBG Watch Commentary
Amanda Bennett has been named director of the government-owned broadcaster Voice of America (VOA), Ron Nixon reported in one of “National Briefing” short news items in The New York Times on April 15, 2016. The Washington Post waited until today, April 18, to post an item by Joe Davidson in his “Federal Insider” column on Bennett’s appointment to a U.S. government position at VOA. Both papers noted low employee morale at the Voice of America and its parent agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).
Some VOA reporters are concerned that Bennett may be co-opted by the dysfunctional BBG bureaucracy. These VOA journalists and other employees do not want their new director to buy into the Broadcasting Board of Governors’ PR propaganda and disinformation which tries to hide the agency’s failures.
VOA Virtually Ignored By National Media
If she does not know it already, Ms. Bennett needs to know that VOA under the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) since 1999 is not what it once was or what the BBG and VOA PR operations present it to be now. VOA gets almost no attention from national media. President Obama does not mention it when he talks about responses to ideological challenges from hostile nations and groups. He has not given an interview to VOA in five years.
Low Employee Morale
When major American newspapers like The Washington Post report on the Broadcasting Board of Governors and the Voice of America, they often focus on management and employee morale problems.
The Washington Post
“She will take over an agency that, along with the Broadcasting Board of Governors that oversees VOA, has had a series of management difficulties in recent years. In the latest Best Places to Work in the Federal Government report, published by the Partnership for Public Service, VOA is rated 288 out of 320 agencies in its category.”
Read more: Pulitzer Prize winner picked as new Voice of America director, By Joe Davidson, Federal Insider, The Washington Post, April 18, 2016
Also see: Agency that few Americans use draws controversy, By Joe Davidson, Federal Insider, The Washington Post, November 22, 2014
Also see: Report blasts foreign broadcasting board as ‘dysfunctional’ and ‘ineffectual’, By Joe Davidson, The Washington Post, January 22, 2013.
BBG PR Disinformation
In his short news item on Amanda Bennett’s VOA appointment, New York Time‘s Ron Nixon wrote:
New York Times
“It [VOA] has been hampered by shrinking budgets, questions about its mission and gaps in oversight by the Broadcasting Board of Governors.”
See: New Director Named for Voice of America, By Ron Nixon, National Briefing, The New York Times, April 15, 2016
The New York Times reporter got the part about “questions about its [VOA’s] mission and gaps in oversight by the Broadcasting Board of Governors” right, but with the “shrinking budgets” part he became one of the victims of disinformation by BBG bureaucracy.
Neither VOA’s nor BBG’s budgets have been shrinking in recent years.
New York Times‘s Ron Nixon was not entirely wrong, however. Those budget increases went to the constantly growing BBG and VOA bureaucracy while VOA programs and programming positions were being cut year after year to allow the BBG federal bureaucracy to grow by 37 percent in a recent seven year period.
More Misleading BBG PR
Federal News Radio
Andre Mendez, BBG CIO and CTO
“When I first came on board in 2009, every single server in this agency was controlled by the Chinese cyber army and they could have literally dropped this agency with one key stroke. Fortunately they chose never to do so, but at the same time we knew they were exfiltrating literally gigabyte upon gigabyte of information every day,” said Andre Mendes, the chief information officer and CTO of the Broadcasting Board of Governors. “We were able to eradicate them through a long-term exercise, about four months, to completely clean them out of our environment, but we continue to be targets for some of the most sophisticated cyber hackers in the world.”
See more: Broadcasting Board of Governors kicked the Chinese out of its network, remains vigilant as cyber attacks continue, By Jason Miller, Federal News Radio, April 15, 2016
Ms. Bennett should question all BBG bureaucracy PR claims, especially if they come from the IBB. A recent article in Federal News Radio, “Broadcasting Board of Governors kicked the Chinese out of its network, remains vigilant as cyber attacks continue” is a perfect example of BBG PR fed to U.S. media. Andre Mendes, the chief information officer and CTO of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, makes claims which based on IBB’s performance record so far are highly suspect because they omit critical material facts.
The Federal News Radio article makes no mention of the successful Iranian Cyber Army hacking of the VOA website, repeated failures of digital storage and audio and video processing infrastructure used by VOA reporters, and a recent power failure which IBB was unable to fix for many hours and which prevented VOA programs from being transmitted to their audiences abroad.
The Iranian Cyber Army managed to launch a successful hacking attack on the Voice of America (VOA) main news website in February 2011, replacing it for several hours with and anti-U.S. message addressed to the then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The Federal News Radio article also does not mention that the Broadcasting Board of Governors’ response to cybersecurity incidents and its newly developed policy and procedures were the subject of a cutting review by auditors at Williams, Adley & Company-DC, as pointed out by the agency’s Inspector General in a new report and reported by Aaron Boyd, Senior Staff Writer, Federal Times, on January 20, 2016: “IG: Broadcasting Board cyber policies not ready for primetime.”
According to an earlier 2014 Office of Inspector General (OIG) audit, the Broadcasting Board of Governors Information Security Program showed “a significant deficiency.”
Republicans and Democrats Fed Up with VOA’s Agency’s Bureaucracy
Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), talks about a “broken agency“ that is “losing the info war to ISIS and Putin.”
When she was still Secretary of State and ex officio member of the BBG, Hillary Clinton called the agency “practically defunct.”
Secretary of State and BBG Governor Hillary Clinton
During testimony on January 23, 2013 before the House Foreign Affairs Committee meeting chaired by Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated:
“Broadcasting Board of Governors is practically defunct in terms of its capacity to be able to tell a message around the world. So we’re abdicating the ideological arena and we need to get back into it.”
See video: “Secretary Clinton Testifies: BBG is Defunct.”
Members of Congress
“Enough is enough. America desperately needs a modern, dynamic international broadcasting agency to take on ISIS and Russia’s propaganda in real time, over the internet and on the airwaves with the accurate news and information,” Chairman Royce wrote.
“A generation ago, we broadcast America’s values – including freedom and respect for human rights – to help win the Cold War. Today, the United States must rely on this strategy again to counter Putin and help defeat ISIS and its online caliphate. We cannot allow incompetence and Washington bureaucracy to hold us back any longer,” Chairman Royce said in a press release a few weeks before Amanda Bennett’s VOA appointment was announced.
A bipartisan bill, H.R. 2323, pending in Congress proposes to restructure and reform the Broadcasting Board of Governors. The BBG bureaucracy, BBG CEO John Lansing, BBG Chairman Jeff Shell, most current BBG members oppose key reforms in the bill. Many members of Congress, many former BBG members, many former U.S. diplomats and many international media, public diplomacy and foreign policy experts support the bill.
VOA Not BBG’s Largest Element
Ms. Bennett should not be fooled by BBG’s PR myth that VOA is the agency’s largest element. The BBG’s largest element is its bureaucracy and its program support elements. The combined budget of BBG’s International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) and BBG’s Office of Technology, Services, and Innovation is $242 million in FY 2016. These two offices, which are artificially separated but represent and report to the same bureaucracy, account for 32% of BBG’s entire budget. VOA got 29% of BBG’s FY 2016 budget.
Ms. Bennett should check out a number of briefing memos prepared by anonymous BBG employees before her boss, BBG CEO and director John Lansing, came on board in September 2015.
“BBG Watch was correct in observing that IBB has become a bureaucratic nightmare and cancer that is killing the BBG’s mission; that IBB executives were proposing new program/broadcast cuts and programming position cuts every year while increasing their own budget and positions; that IBB does not produce any broadcasts or any other programs; that consecutive BBG boards found it convenient to have IBB executives in control of the BBG budget.
However, the 37% increase in the number of IBB bureaucratic and program support positions in a recent seven year period while many VOA programs and programming positions were eliminated by the IBB bureaucracy is just one part of a much greater problem. What BBG Watch did not calculate was the total cost of IBB operations. It is the total cost of IBB operations which represents an enormous waste of U.S. taxpayers’ dollars — a far greater amount than salaries for IBB FTE positions alone.”