BBG Watch Commentary
Will Ambassador Crocker’s nomination to the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) displace corruption watcher and champion of free speech Victor Ashe?
President Barack Obama announced his intent to nominate Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker as a member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the federal agency in charge of U.S. international broadcasting, which includes the Voice of America (VOA) and other U.S. government-funded media outlets providing news for overseas audiences. Crocker is a distinguished diplomat and is considered highly qualified for a seat on the BBG board.
It will be interesting to see, however, especially in light of the politically motivated IRS investigations scandal and the controversy over the alleged Benghazi attack cover up, whether the Obama Administration will ask for Ambassador Crocker to fill one of three Republican vacancies on the bipartisan board or whether it will try to replace Ambassador Victor Ashe who is currently the only Republican BBG member. Ashe has developed a strong reputation for exposing and fighting mismanagement, waste and corruption within the agency. He has been pushing for greater transparency and is credited with getting BBG meetings streamed live online and for inviting members of the public to make presentations to the board.
Ashe is also the only BBG member with a perfect attendance record at BBG meetings. BBG’s Interim Presiding Governor Michael Lynton, who has opposed Ashe on many issues, has missed every BBG meeting since January 2013 and made the agency virtually ungovernable, but the White House is not proposing to replace Lynton. His company, Sony Entertainment, does business in Russia and China, but Lynton has not been excusing himself from voting on BBG issues dealing with U.S. broadcasting to these two countries which censor news and repress political opposition, sources told BBG Watch. Lynton has contributed money to President Obama’s reelection campaign.
If Crocker were to replace Ashe, there would be four Democrats to only two Republican members and two GOP vacancies. By law, the board must have four Democrats and four Republicans, with the Secretary of State serving as an ex officio member. President Obama had nominated Jeff Shell to become BBG chairman and a Democratic member and Matt Armstrong to become a Republican member, but their nominations have not yet been confirmed by the Senate.
Getting rid of a corruption watcher and advocate for transparency would please the agency’s top bureaucrats within the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) who have been on the receiving end of Ashe’s criticism designed to improve management and employee morale.
IBB Director Richard Lobo was a large contributor to President Obama’s reelection campaign and has kept his job despite performance which sources describe as extremely poor.
IBB executives, whom Director Lobo has protected and rewarded with large bonuses, have been rated in numerous Office of Personnel Management (OPM) surveys as being the worst managers in the entire federal government and being responsible for the worst employee morale among federal agencies.
Ashe has been calling for greater accountability for IBB’s poor management performance. He has received support from Democratic members Susan McCue and Michael Meehan, as well as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Tara Sonenshine who represents Secretary Kerry at BBG meetings. Ashe, however, is highly disliked by IBB Director Lobo and his top deputies, sources told BBG Watch.
Ashe was the first BBG member to call attention last year to a serious management crisis at Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) which was being ignored and covered up by IBB officials. As a result of this crisis, Radio Liberty has lost much of its Russian online and radio audience and became alienated from the Rusian human rights community. With support from McCue, Meehan and Secretary Sonenshine, Ashe succeeded in forcing management reforms at RFE/RL to the apparent annoyance of Michael Lynton and top IBB officials, sources told BBG Watch.
As a BBG board member, Ashe has also annoyed IBB officials by opposing their plans to eliminate or reduce programs to countries without free media, including Russia, China and Tibet. They in turn have been working behind the scenes to get him replaced and tried to smear his reputation, sources told BBG Watch. They are believed to be responsible for feeding inaccurate information about Ashe to OIG inspectors and for criticizing other BBG members as well. But IBB bureaucrats have very few political allies. They are deeply disliked and mistrusted by many members of Congress who were particularly outraged by their proposals to end broadcasts to China and Tibet.
Even though he is a Republican, Ashe enjoys strong support from the BBG employee union, AFGE Local 1812, for advocating better treatment of employees by IBB management and for listening to union and employee concerns. BBG journalists and other rank and file employees see Ashe as their champion and protector from the agency’s expanding bureacracy. He is the only BBG member who posted online his email address and telephone number. He is also strongly supported by the Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB – CUSIB.org), a nonpartisan advocacy group supporting media freedom worldwide. The New York Chapter of the Visual Artists Guild has given Ashe its 2013 Champion of Free Speech Award. The award was also given to Governors McCue and Meehan.
It is not yet known whether the nomination of Ambassador Crocker will help IBB officials achieve their goal of getting rid of Ambassador Ashe anytime soon. Sources tell us that if the issue of whom Ambassador Crocker should replace comes up, it will be resolved in negotiations between the White House and Republican leaders in the Senate.
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 10, 2013
President Obama Announces Another Key Administration Post
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, President Barack Obama announced his intent to nominate the following individual to a key Administration post:
· Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker – Member, Broadcasting Board of Governors
President Obama announced his intent to nominate the following individual to a key Administration post:
Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, Nominee for Member, Broadcasting Board of Governors
Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker is the Kissinger Senior Fellow at Yale University, a position he has held since October 2012. He is also the James Schlesinger Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of Virginia, a position he has held since March 2013. From 2011 to 2012, he served as Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Previously, Ambassador Crocker was Dean and Executive Professor at the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University. His 37-year career in the Foreign Service included service as U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Kuwait, and Lebanon. He is a Member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Board of Trustees of Whitman College. Ambassador Crocker is a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Presidential Distinguished Service Award, the Secretary of State’s Distinguished Service Award, and the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Civilian Service. Ambassador Crocker received a B.A. from Whitman College.