BBG Watch EXCLUSIVE
Some members of Congress and congressional staffers took note of Voice of America director David Ensors’ public comments which they interpret as inappropriate lobbying against pending legislation.
In a “FAREWELL” post on his official Voice of America blog, VOA director David Ensor tosses barbs at members of Congress for what he described as “ill-conceived legislative and internal reform proposals.”
“VOA has also had to defend itself from sometimes ill-conceived legislative and internal reform proposals” and “we also know that if VOA were ever to be limited by law to just covering U.S. news, many of our key audiences would turn elsewhere for information they currently get from us,” David Ensor wrote in his farewell official blog post.
It’s illegal for the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), a federal agency which oversees the Voice of America, to use funds appropriated by Congress “for the purpose of influencing the passage or defeat of legislation being considered by Congress.”
Congressional staffers interpret that language to mean that employees of the BBG, including outgoing Voice of America director, cannot lobby Congress for or against legislation while “on the clock” or using government equipment, facilities and public relations and media platforms such as the Voice of America public PR website and public blog.
In their private lives and as private citizens, BBG employees can do what they want, but during work hours and in their official BBG capacity, they cannot lobby Congress.
Some members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which unanimously approved H.R. 2323, believe that some BBG employees are working hard lobbying to build opposition to H.R. 2323 in the Senate.
A bipartisan bill, H.R. 2323, the United States International Communications Reform Act of 2015, was introduced on May 14, 2015 by Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY). On May 21, the House Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously approved “bipartisan legislation to improve the missions, objectives, and effectiveness of U.S. international broadcasters, which are overseen by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).”
“Doesn’t the Board have bigger problems right now, like fixing an agency rife with problems identified by the OIG again last week?,” these lawmakers are asking.
They were referring to May 22, 2015 U.S. State Department and Broadcasting Board of Governors (OIG) Report MA-15-01 – Management Alert: Broadcasting Board of Governors Significant Management Weaknesses.
OIG: “Through various audits, inspections, and evaluations, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) has identified significant vulnerabilities in the management and oversight of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) and its grantee organizations. Systemic, recurring problems include ineffective leadership, insufficient oversight of contracts and grants, weaknesses in financial management, and inadequate information security. Although BBG has made progress in correcting some of these vulnerabilities, significant issues remain that expose BBG to increased risk for instances of fraud, waste, and abuse.”
“Is lobbying Congress the best use of their time or should they be concentrated on fighting Putin, ISIS, China and others?,” some members of Congress and congressional staffers have been asking.
“Seems like misplaced priorities to us,” they said.
In reporting on David Ensor’s pending resignation, The New York Times noted in early April 2015 that emails obtained under the Freedom of Information Act showed that “Mr. Ensor and a number of his subordinates had planned a skit that mocked former employees who had been critical of the agency.” The mocking of former VOA correspondents and a former Broadcasting Board of Governors member who was also a U.S. ambassador occurred on government time. The holiday party mocking session aimed at an independent U.S. watch dog blog, BBG Watch, was led in a federal government building by Mr. Ensor. The BBG’s mission is “to inform, engage and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy,” according to a statement on the BBG official website.