BBG – USAGM Watch Commentary
The New York Times
“New Scandals Rock Government’s Foreign Broadcasting Service” was the New York Times article headline on July 8, 2019, but the story, just as the earlier VOA report, had only some of the facts in this case. To the newspaper reporter’s credit, the article by Elizabeth Williamson points out that it is one of many scandals at the agency in a recent period. All of these scandals happened under the watch of U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) CEO John F. Lansing and the watch of top executives selected by him.
A version of this article appears in print on July 9, 2019, on Page B3 of the New York edition with the headline: “U.S. Foreign News Agency Rocked by Faked Report And Financial Misconduct.”
We have never seen so many major scandals happening in such a short time under any previous agency, Voice of America (VOA), or Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) leadership. Nothing comes even close. We post here links to more information and commentary from BBG – USAGM Watch. We tried to cover this story since last year and encountered major stonewalling by the USAGM bureaucracy headed by Mr. Lansing.
In a much delayed and highly misleading message to employees of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, CEO John Lansing used half-truths and omitted many material facts to avoid making an apology for hiring and heavily promoting his former top aide Dr. Haroon Ullah.
Lansing’s former Chief Strategy Officer admitted on June 27 in a federal court to stealing thousands of dollars from USAGM, the federal agency in charge of the Voice of America and other U.S. taxpayer-funded media outlets serving overseas audiences.
VOA did not disclose whether in connection with this story it tried to interview John Lansing, USAGM women who claim they were passed over for promotion or any other employees who had worked for Dr. Ullah. The VOA report did not quote any VOA journalists or mention that any harm was done to Lansing’s, USAGM’s and VOA’s reputation as a result of the scandal.
Some employees dismissed reported claims from senior agency managers that the agency’s leadership immediately referred the case to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) when informed of possible travel irregularities. Mr. Lansing’s message suggested that the agency leadership’s response was immediate. Some of the women employees said they were the first ones to notice suspicious travel by Dr. Ullah. They also said that when their concerns were brought to the attention of senior managers reporting to Mr. Lansing, they said that there was nothing irregular about Ullah’s travels. According to these women employees, they were the first ones to alert the OIG to the possibility of travel fraud because they felt their concerns about Dr. Ullah were being ignored by Mr. Lansing’s senior aides. Mr. Lansing himself had dismissed a general warning about Mr. Ullah from a USAGM manager who later resigned because his concerns were also ignored and he felt that he was being marginalized.
John Lansing’s message carefully avoided mentioning what role Mr. Lansing played in hiring Dr. Ullah and how the two worked closely together at the very top of the agency where some of Mr. Lansing’s current senior top aides, who were brought to USAGM by Dr. Ullah, are still advising the CEO and running the agency. They are still promoting Dr. Ullah on the USAGM official U.S. government website. Mr. Lansing and some of his top aides were also followers of Dr. Ullah’s Twitter account days after he admitted to defrauding the agency and American taxpayers.