BBG Watch Commentary
As if the “practically defunct” (Hillary Clinton’s words in 2013) Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) federal agency was not already saddled with a tremendous bureaucratic bloat, BBG CEO and director John F. Lansing and Voice of America (VOA) director Amanda Bennett are trying to add more bureaucratic positions to the federal agency before they themselves may be asked to leave by the Trump White House.
A concerned VOA reporter, who does not want to be identified by name, wrote to BBG Watch:
VOA REPORTER: They just posted a GS-15 BBG job for Global Communications and Public Affairs. Sheesh.
Keep hearing about upheaval in the newsroom…
Whatever high-level bureaucratic positions Lansing and Bennett manage to fill between now and the start of the new administration means more money going to executives and managers of their choosing and less money for programs and BBG journalists. It may not be easy to remove these new hires because of their federal employment status. Considering the bureaucratic bloat at the agency, these new positions with salaries of well over $100,000, are not needed. If any new positions are needed, the management selected by the next U.S. administration should fill them, not John Lansing and Amanda Bennett.
What the Trump administration should do is to eliminate most if not all BBG bureaucratic positions and restructure the BBG and the Voice of America while keeping the non-federal status of other entities, such as Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia (RFA), and Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN).
Even if Lansing and Bennett are gone soon from the agency, American taxpayers may be stuck paying six figure salaries and generous benefits for any persons put by the current management team on the federal payroll during the interim period. If candidates for these jobs are hired in-house, it means the current management gets to promote their favorite employees. This may be truly bad news for the agency’s mission and the VOA Charter.
VOA has been accused of “Unprecedented Bias, Partisanship, and Sloppiness“ in its coverage of the 2016 U.S. election campaign under the Lansing/Bennett management team. Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders were primary targets of one-sided VOA hit pieces, but VOA also posted a bizarre and unproven accusation against Senate Democratic leader Senator Harry Reid who is retiring from the Senate was not running for re-election.
Additional expenses for the BBG bureaucracy due to the current hiring frenzy may continue for the next 30 or 40 years unless Congress and President Trump reform and/or abolish the agency in favor of some other arrangement for U.S. information outreach to countries without free media.
Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) and the committee’s Ranking Democrat, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) had introduced a bill to reform the structure of the Broadcasting Board to Governors and drastically cut down its bureaucracy. Royce and Engel stated in the Findings and Declarations section of the 2015 bill, H.R. 2323, that “The size and make-up of the BBG work-force should be closely examined, given the agency’s broader broadcasting and technical mission, as well as changing media technologies.” They also noted that “The BBG should be structured to ensure that more taxpayer dollars are dedicated to the substantive, broadcasting, and information-related elements of the agency’s mission.”
John Lansing and outgoing BBG Chairman Jeff Shell have publicly opposed the key reform provisions of the bipartisan bill which is still pending in Congress. Many former BBG members and other experts are supporting the reform bill.
The Broadcasting Board of Governors has been described by a Washington Post columnist as “regular bottom-feeder“ in employee morale. BBG’s federal employees have given Lansing lower marks on leadership and employee engagement in the 2016 Federal Employees Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) conducted by the Office of Personnel Management (OMP) than they had given to BBG management teams in previous years. Even then, these FEVS results at the BBG were already record low.
Both Lansing and Bennett turned out to be a great disappointment to many BBG employees. Employee engagement and confidence in senior leaders have declined under their watch. Concerned BBG employees have been commenting to us on what they describe as a bureaucratic hiring frenzy under John Lansing and Amanda Bennett.
This comment from another VOA journalist, who also want to remain anonymous (they fear retaliation from the management), reveals how low employee morale has sunk.
VOA JOURNALIST: Plum assignments like the elections, World Cup, the Olympics, postings outside the Washington headquarters and other big ticket opportunities that lead to awards, promotions and kudos are decided on the basis of favoritism rather than experience. There are people working for the agency who have plenty of experience covering politics in the private sector, and the bosses know it, but won’t utilize them if they’re not on the teacher’s pet list. Constructive criticism of the newsroom’s output, including pointing out glaring errors, is either passive-aggressively ignored or results in a defensively worded response.
SEE: Voice of America should stick to journalism, stop one-sided name-calling in reports on Donald Trump, BBG Watch, November 15, 2016.
Another Voice of America journalist who wants to remain anonymous, wrote to BBG Watch:
Salary Range: $128,082.00 to $160,330.00 / Per Year
Opened Tuesday 11/15/2016
Closes Wednesday 11/30/2016
Amanda Bennett and [her newly hired deputy] Sandy Sugawara are trying to hire as fast as possible because of Trump’s hiring freeze threat. For example, we have a new investigative editor (GS 13-14) with no reporters. They’re hiring 3 investigative reporters when, as you point out, VOA can’t even do basic journalism.
These “leaders” need to go ASAP.
Another BBG employee wrote:
Even more bloat:
Yet another concerned longtime Voice of America reporter shared with us an e-mail from VOA director Amanda Bennett describing plans to hire more highly-paid managing editors for the VOA newsroom which is woefully understaffed when it comes to regular reporters and web specialists actually producing content.
Both Bennett and Sugawara have recent work or personal connections with The Washington Post. Both were hired after John Lansing became BBG CEO in September 2016.
From: IBB Notices Admin
Sent: Monday, November 14, 2016 11:01 AM
To: IBB Notices Administration
Subject: Job Posting – Note from VOA Director Bennett
As you know, we are making all kinds of changes here that are designed to help us move faster, cooperate more, share more across all services and generally try to make sure that our structure helps the great journalism we all want to do, and doesn’t get in the way.
From time to time we are going to be looking for people to fill a variety of new roles. We’ll be looking for the best journalists we can find – both inside and outside of the building.
The best chance we have of getting the best journalists we can is for as many people as possible to see the job postings. You journalists here have an amazing network of fellow journalists – so I’m asking you all to help.
If you have colleagues here at VOA that you think would be amazing for any of these positions, please make sure they know about these jobs and encourage them to apply. I would also like you to help us be as aggressive as possible in finding the best journalists around the country and around the world to come help us. Because journalists out there are less likely to be paying close attention to USAjobs, I’d like to enlist all of you in helping to make these openings known. I’ll be using my social media networks, and personal networks to ask people I know to make sure to pass these job postings on to others who might be interested. You all have vibrant social media and personal networks too – can I ask you to do the same?
Here’s one to start with (it’s written from an outsider’s point of view, so that you can just cut and paste if you want):
The Voice of America News Center is looking for a Planning Editor to focus on major news coverage, along with a variety of interesting multimedia projects and reporting assignments. It’s an ambitious job for a seasoned professional who has sound news judgment and strong organizational skills and has experience working under pressure in a fast paced and deadline driven environment. This person will be responsible for planning both daily and long-term coverage. Reporting to the Managing Editor, this editor will be working closely with the reporters in our 45 different language newsrooms who are reporting and broadcasting digital, mobile, radio and TV news around the world.
The Voice of America is an independent news provider with over 1500 people around the world and reaching more than 187 million people in over 60 different countries. The position is located at our headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Filling out U.S. government employment forms can be a bit of a challenge if you’ve never done them before. If you have questions, feel free to reach out to Sheila Gandji in my office at … .
If interested, visit the USAJOBS website at:
ST-10002222-17-BJ – Lead Editor (Planning), GS-1082-14 https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/454689700/
Another VOA employee has shared with us an email to staff from BBG CEO and director John Lansing. Note that his email does not mention Donald Trump by name. VOA director Amanda Bennett in her email to staff after the election also did not acknowledge who won the vote and also did not mention Trump’s name. Under her and Sugawara’s watch, VOA prepared in advance two “Clinton Wins” programs, but had no such programs about Donald Trump.
SEE: Message from Voice of America Director fails to acknowledge who won U.S. Presidency, BBG Watch, November 9, 2016.
SEE: Voice of America had two pre-written ‘Clinton will win programs’; none for Trump, VOA staffers say, BBG Watch, November 9, 2016.
From: IBB Notices Admin
Sent: Wednesday, November 16, 2016 1:16 PM
To: IBB Notices Administration
Subject: Message from BBG CEO Lansing: Update on Presidential Transition
Last week, the American people cast their ballots to elect the next President of the United States. Now, the transition to the next Administration begins. I know that many of you may have questions about what comes next and what to expect as the transition unfolds, and I wanted to clarify a few points.
First, your leadership team will remain in place. The BBG Board members will continue to serve into 2017 and until their successors have been appointed. They remain fully supportive of the BBG mission and are engaged on our issues every day.
I will also enthusiastically continue to serve. I am proud to be a part of the BBG team and am heartened by the powerful work each of you carries out each and every day. I know that the ICC – Amanda, Malule, Tom, Libby, Brian – and the IBB senior management share my enthusiasm.
Second, our mission will not change. Our efforts to inform, engage, and connect citizens around the world in support of freedom and democracy have never been more important. We are going to continue to work together, as a team, to advance these goals.
In fact, I want us to double down on our efforts. We have tackled our priorities with energy and enthusiasm thus far, and your dedication, professionalism and expertise have generated important progress, and powerful programming, all across the BBG. Let’s keep it up.
I am personally excited about the future for U.S. international media. I look forward to working alongside you all to ramp up our positive momentum thus far, and carry it into 2017!
John F. Lansing
Chief Executive Officer and Director
Broadcasting Board of Governors
Meanwhile, Independent Auditor’s Report on the Broadcasting Board of Governors 2016 and 2015 Financial Statements, ordered by the Office of Inspector General (OIG), shows that “material weaknesses” and “significant deficiencies” have continued under John Lansing’s watch in FY 2016. He had joined the agency in September 2015.
It also appears that John Lansing does not want to own the results of the audit. Instead of offering his own response, he had Acting Chief Financial Officer write a response. Mr. Lansing has no prior experience in U.S. government operations, intercultural communications, international news media, U.S. foreign policy, or U.S. public diplomacy, but he was a successful private sector manager of a cable entertainment TV company.