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Radio World has two articles on the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) report on the future of shortwave broadcasting.

Shortwave Audience Still Dropping in Most Markets, Radio World, July 4, 2014.

CUSIB Pans Shortwave Report, Radio World, July 4, 2014.

BBG Watch Commentary

Ted Lipien, who is also one of the sponsors of BBG Watch, said that the independent NGO Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB – cusib.org), which he co-founded with Ann Noonan, does not question at all the need for adjusting shortwave radio program delivery to changing audiences needs and habits and supports digital expansion and new media projects.

But CUSIB has come out strongly against cutting shortwave and medium wave (AM) transmissions to some of the poorest and most vulnerable audiences around the world. CUSIB points out that often these are the same audiences that are victims of government repression, censorship and propaganda.

CUSIB strongly criticized the proposed ending on August 18 of medium wave (AM) transmissions of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) programs to Belarus, the last dictatorship in Europe, as well as the BBG’s reluctance to use medium wave (AM) radio transmissions from Lithuania to eastern Ukraine and European Russia.

CUSIB’s opposition to many of the already implemented or proposed shortwave and medium wave cuts stems from CUSIB’s belief that the Broadcasting Board of Governors’ (BBG) International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) wastes countless millions of taxpayers money due to enormous growth of its bureaucracy in recent years and general mismanagement at the federal agency in charge of U.S. international media outreach.

The IBB bureaucracy appears to have convinced both the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and BBG members that the shortwave program delivery rather than waste and mismanagement at the agency was the most pressing issue to be addressed by new board members and the area where savings should be urgently made. Instead of addressing the program delivery issue holistically by looking at bad decisions, mismanagement, unworkable organizational structure, and overspending by IBB, agency officials succeeded in narrowing the focus of the BBG inquiry to shortwave radio transmissions. They got BBG Governors on the Shortwave Committee to agree to cuts in program delivery to some of the most needy and underserved audiences while IBB continues to waste millions of dollars on itself.

CUSIB apparently does not disagree with some of the findings of the BBG Shortwave Committee, but the organization believes that as a public media outlet the BBG has an obligation to serve audiences that have few other information choices. CUSIB believes that the BBG is abandoning these audiences because of bad advice from its discredited IBB bureaucracy. Critics say that its only proof of effectiveness has been to increase its staff positions by 37% in the last seven years while cutting numerous programs and programming jobs.

Despite having a new and somewhat better management team, IBB has again succeeded in protecting its privileged position within the agency and its overabundance of high-paying executive jobs by getting the BBG board to agree to shortwave and medium wave radio transmission cuts — an action that hurts vulnerable audiences, but protects IBB bureaucrats. A bipartisan reform bill pending in Congress would abolish IBB.

The Royce – Engel United States International Communications Reform Act (H.R. 4490) lists management problems at the agency, which BBG members should have focused on first before making decisions about shortwave, medium wave and other program delivery options.

But BBG Governor Matt Armstrong, Chairman of the BBG Shortwave Committee, described bipartisan congressional criticism of the agency as “dated,” “overly harsh” and “not fair.” He and the rest of the board should have addressed some of these larger issues first and only then focus on program content, media mix and program delivery, seeking advice from outside experts and groups and making decisions that Congress and U.S. taxpayers would support.

SEC. 2. FINDINGS AND DECLARATIONS.

Congress finds and declares the following:

(1) United States international broadcasting exists to advance the United States interests and values by presenting accurate, objective, and comprehensive news and information, which is the foundation for democratic governance, to societies that lack a free media.

(2) Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that ‘‘[e]veryone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression’’, and that ‘‘this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers’’.

(3) Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified before the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives on January 23, 2013, that the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) ‘‘is practically a defunct agency in terms of its capacity to be able to tell a message around the world. So we’re abdicating the ideological arena and need to get back into it.’’.

(4) The BBG, which was created by Congress to oversee the United States international broadcasting in the wake of the Cold War, has, because of structural and managerial issues, had limited success to date in both coordinating the various components of the international broadcasting framework and managing the day-to-day operations of the Federal components of the international broadcasting framework.

(5) The lack of regular attendance by board members and a periodic inability to form a quorum have plagued the BBG and, as a result, it has been functionally incapable of running the agency.

(6) The board of governors has only achieved the full slate of all nine governors for seven of its 17 years of existence, which highlights the difficulties of confirming and retaining governors under the current structure.

(7) Both the Department of State’s Office of Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office have issued reports which outline a severely dysfunctional organizational structure of the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

(8) The Inspector General of the Department of State concluded in its January 2013 report that dysfunction of the BBG stems from ‘‘a flawed legislative structure and acute internal dissension’’.

(9) The Inspector General of the Department of State also found that the BBG’s structure of nine part-time members ‘‘cannot effectively supervise all United States Government-supported, civilian international broadcasting’’, and its involvement in day-to-day operations has impeded normal management functions.

(10) The Government Accountability Office report determined that there was significant overlap among the BBG’s languages services, and that the BBG did not systematically consider the financial cost of overlap.

(11) According to the Office of the Inspector General, the BBG’s Office of Contracts is not in compliance with the Federal Acquisition Regulation, lacks appropriate contract oversight, and violates the Anti-Deficiency Act. The Office of the Inspector General also determined that the Broadcasting Board of Governors has not adequately performed full and open competitions or price determinations, has entered into hundreds of personal service contracts without statutory authority, and contractors regularly work without valid contracts in place.

(12) The size and make-up of the BBG workforce should be closely examined, given the agency’s broader broadcasting and technical mission, as well as changing media technologies.

(13) 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.

(14) The lack of a coherent and well defined mission of the Voice of America has led to programming that duplicates the efforts of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, Radio Free Asia, RFE/RL, Incorporated, and the Middle East Broadcasting Network that results in inefficient use of tax-payer funding.

(15) The annual survey conducted by the ‘‘Partnership for Public Service’’ consistently ranks the Broadcasting Board of Governors at or near the bottom of all Federal agencies in terms of ‘‘overall best places to work’’ and ‘‘the extent to which employees feel their skills and talents are used effectively.’’ The consistency of these low scores point to structural, cultural, and functional problems at the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

(16) The Federal and non-Federal organizations that comprise the United States international broadcasting framework have different, yet complementary, missions that necessitate coordination at all levels of management.

(17) The Broadcasting Board of Governors has an overabundance of senior civil service positions, defined here as full-time employees encumbering GS–14 and GS–15 positions on the General Schedule pay scale.

(18) United States international broadcasting should seek to leverage public-private partnerships, including the licensing of content and the use of technology owned or operated by non-governmental sources, where possible to expand outreach capacity.

(19) Congressional action is necessary at this time to improve international broadcasting operations, strengthen the United States public diplomacy efforts, enhance the grantee surrogate broadcasting effort, restore focus to news, programming, and content, and maximize the value of Federal and non-Federal resources that are dedicated to public diplomacy and international broadcasting.

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