BBG Watch Commentary
Voice of America Information War Lost – Words And Their Meanings
By The Federalist
Sometime during the week of January 19, 2015 Andrew Lack will be sworn in as the first Director / Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).
As reported by BBG Watch, Mr. Lack’s official title is “Director, Broadcasting Board of Governors.” Thus, Mr. Lack becomes one in a multitude of “directors” that populate the BBG’s organizational chart. As one of his first official duties, we suggest that Mr. Lack obtain a copy of the agency’s Staffing Pattern, take a highlighter and see how many times “director” pops up next to someone’s name. And familiarize yourself with who these people are. It will come in handy later as the agency’s many problems are revealed. Connect the names to the problems.
Reading over BBG Chairman Jeffrey Shell’s comments on Lack’s appointment, two things are noteworthy:
“…I want to thank in particular Rick Stengel (US Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy) for his help in this process and his incredible work in his position at State. With Andy and Rick in place, we now have a fighting chance to transform this organization to a place where it can have a larger influence in the critical mission of using our values and our words to counter our enemies around the world at this critical time.”
Okay! Bosom buddies all, “Jeff,” “Andy” and “Rick!”
For those of you, particularly in the dysfunctional and defunct Voice of America (VOA) Newsroom with a few dozen Twitter followers worldwide (most popular BBC reporters have hundreds of thousands; most popular Bloomberg reporters tens of thousands), who desperately hold onto the oft-repeated canard of David Ensor, the VOA director (there you go, another “director”), that the agency is a “news company,” think again.
It is not.
It is a news and information agency 100% funded by the US Government with taxpayers’ money appropriated by the U.S. Congress at the request of the White House. The Voice of America has a charter which requires it to report on U.S. news, U.S. policies and U.S. institutions. It is required to present all significant discussions on U.S. policies. What other “news company” in the United States has such a mandate and gets all of its funding from Congress? VOA staff reporters are U.S. federal government employees.
VOA has never been, is not now, nor will it ever be in the future an independent and unaccountable “news company.” Kiss that notion good-bye, and perhaps David Ensor along with it, since he refuses to give it up and looks foolish for doing so while contributing to the schizophrenic dysfunction of the agency.
It would be reasonable to conclude that whatever is yet to come following Mr. Lack’s appointment, one thing seems to be evident: namely, more attention to be paid to this agency by U.S. taxpayers, the Congress, and the administration, including the office of the Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy, to make sure that the VOA Charter is observed.
One hopes this means more attention to accountability than has heretofore been the case.
But just as importantly is the rest of this portion of Mr. Shell’s statement,
“…we now have a fighting chance to transform this organization to a place where it can have a larger influence in the critical mission of using our values and our words to counter our enemies around the world at this critical time.”
If you are talking about transforming the organization, the “fighting chance” may well be the entrenched bureaucracy: senior VOA officials and the bureaucrats of the constantly expanding International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) with all of its technical and administrative elements. You know the people in charge of it by another name: The Rogue Bureaucracy.
We remain skeptical of Mr. Lack’s role of “The Transformer.” This is not a reflection on Mr. Lack. It’s all about the organization. Look at what awaits his arrival:
- Detention of one Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) Azeri Service employee by the government of Azerbaijan and the ransacking of its bureau in Baku.
- The agency’s atrocious record in the annual Federal workplace survey and management’s hostile posture toward its workforce (and by extension, the repudiation of the agency’s “leadership” by its employees reflected in the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) survey results).
- Enormous violations of Federal regulations regarding the employment of contractors and administration of other contracts.
- Self-censorship of programs for local placement, questionable audience claims for non-news placement programs, embarrassingly minuscule audience engagement through social media, and loss of mission relevance and resonance with global publics.
- Open and hostile opposition to congressional legislation intended to make substantive reforms to the agency and its mission performance.
- Substantive questions about the broadcasts of the Voice of America’s Persian News Network (PNN) and Middle East Broadcasting Networks’ (MBN) Radio Sawa and Alhurra Television.
- VOA websites as a platform for anti-American views without balance or contrasting views.
The moment he is sworn in, Mr. Lack takes ownership of these problems.
All of them.
They have now become his problems. He is not responsible for their creation. However, he will be responsible for solving them – if he can. And keep in mind, he will be surrounded by the people who created and/or have perpetuated these problems and who refuse to acknowledge ownership of them.
“Gifting” by the self-serving bureaucrats of the agency.
Not the best of circumstances.
And should the “fighting chance” not play out according to Mr. Shell’s hopes?
What is “Plan B?”
Most assuredly, continuation of the status quo should not be and most likely is not on the list of acceptable alternative outcomes.
Mr. Lack comes from a private sector environment, one in which you enhance the prospects for success by surrounding yourself with people you can rely upon.
Who is Mr. Lack surrounded by?
Do we really need to answer that question? Again?
Okay. Here it is: The Rogue Bureaucracy.
These apparatchiks have well-established reputations – in the negative. What are you going to do with them?
To “migrate” these people out of their positions, where they would otherwise continue to obstruct and/or undermine necessary “transformations,” is not going to happen overnight, if ever. These people know how the game is played and they have had plenty of time to protect themselves and prepare for Mr. Lack’s arrival – on top of the protections they may be entitled to under Civil Service regulations. There will be a lot of “smoke” deployed Mr. Lack’s way – diversionary tactics to distract his attention, laying blame where it doesn’t belong, presenting him with phony problems. He will be told, as many BBG members had been told before, that these bureaucrats cannot be fired, transferred or have their jobs eliminated. Much of it is not true, but most BBG members, former and current believe it is because that’s what they were told. And there could also be outright defiance and refusal to carry out directives from Lack.
Mr. Shell’s “fighting chance” may be prophetic: without question, a fight is what is coming, with one guy against the arrayed forces of The Rogue Bureaucracy. And they are arrayed in this manner because they are all complicit in making the agency dysfunctional and defunct. They make decisions and take actions “by committee.” Safety in numbers – and complicity.
You be the bad guy, Mr. Lack, disrupting their steady roll toward their very comfortable retirement annuities. That’s an integral part of their strategy: stall and delay.
“Fighting chance” by Mr. Lack alone? Not likely.
We maintain the view that reform or “transformation” of this agency is not going to be accomplished internally. There needs to be a powerful external component.
That comes in the form of congressional legislation. That legislation has already been crafted in the form of HR 4490 introduced last year by the House Foreign Affairs Committee. What happens in the new Congress remains to be seen. However, it is unlikely that the effort will go away, particularly if it appears that Mr. Lack is not making any substantial headway against the internal opponents to reform.
Reform may take the shape of fine tuning HR 4490 or it could be something much more “industrial grade.” If “fighting chance” turns into unmitigated failure, another congressional bill to de-fund the most egregious failure – the Voice of America – cannot be ruled out. One such bill, the first one in VOA’s history, had been introduced in the previous Congress, but the bipartisan HR 4490 was the one eventually passed by the House of Representatives only to be stuck in the U.S. Senate.
The best advice for Mr. Lack:
Eyes wide open. Things will be coming at you from all directions.
And remember: every day that goes by, failure is compounded.
With interest, so to speak.
Even if you have the support of the Board, what does that mean? What have they been able to accomplish as a group that you will now be expected to accomplish all – by – yourself, with the forces arrayed against you? Not so much, it would seem.
It seems we are witness to the collapse of US public diplomacy in which the Cohen Building is not the only contributor.
In the aftermath of Islamist extremist attacks against French civilians, particularly the staff of the inflammatory satire publication, Charlie Hebdo, European and other world leaders put on a major demonstration of unity against international Islamist terrorism. Conspicuously absent was any senior official of the Obama administration.
In place of participation in that event, a pallid US Secretary of State John Kerry showed up in France last week with pop singer James Taylor who sang, “You’ve Got A Friend.” To us, it sounded remarkably like, “Send In The Clowns.”
Idiotic and insulting: a guitar-playing folkie as a demonstration of American resolve? Perhaps the survivors of Charlie Hebdo ought to do a cartoon of Taylor holding up his guitar confronting an Islamic extremist pointing an AK-47 at him.
Another “leading from behind” moment brought to you by the Obama administration.
Instead of a “Lafayette, we are here” moment, we do kumbaya?!?
We are talking about the French here. As part of their historical resume, they saved us early on in our national timeline. We saved them twice in theirs. Military cemeteries across France and Belgium attest to American resolve to rid the European continent of fascism and enslavement.
The French have no trouble identifying Islamist extremism.
In the meantime, we have “turn and run” appeasement and cowardice permeating US foreign policy.
Our apologies to the French nation and its people.