USAGM Watch Commentary
According to a spokesperson for the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), the management is undertaking a comprehensive, case-by-case assessment of personal services contractors (PSCs) who are J-1 visa holders and work as journalists for the agency’s various federal and non-federal media entities, including the Voice of America (VOA). NPR reported that the U.S. broadcasting agency will not extend visas for its foreign journalists, but such a sweeping conclusion does not appear to be accurate as it would cripple the entire operation if it were true.
NPR apparently did not wait to get an explanation from the agency before publishing its sensational and potentially panic producing report. The USAGM management later countered that given that the agency broadcasts internationally in over 60 languages, it appreciates the value of critical-language skills offered by U.S. citizens and foreign nationals.
Such reviews of past management practices are not unusual at the agency when a new management team takes over as it did with the recent arrival of new CEO Michael Pack.
Multiple management scandals were reported at the agency under its former CEO John Lansing who resigned in 2019 and is now CEO at NPR. There were no known reports of visa abuses, but Lansing’s former top aide and strategic advisor at USAGM was convicted in federal court of stealing government funds and went to prison. There were reports that until several months ago the Voice of America hired a journalist under a personal services contract who before being employed by VOA produced anti-U.S. Russian propaganda videos with anti-Semitic overtones. Under U.S. law U.S. citizens have priority in federal employment over non-U.S. citizens if they have the necessary qualifications and skills.
USAGM federal employees union, AFGE Local 1812, has complained repeatedly that nepotism in some VOA foreign language services led to illegal hiring of non-U.S. citizens when U.S. citizens with equal or better skills were also available.
According to an agency spokesperson, to improve agency management and protect U.S. national security, it is imperative to determine that hiring authorities and personnel practices are not misused.
An agency spokesperson did not say whether any abuses have been uncovered so far and whether any visas will not be extended. The agency’s position is that the USAGM leadership is dedicated to ensuring that the agency has the resources needed to advance its mission and those of its networks and grantees.