Commentary by Quo Vadis (Marie Ciliberti)

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey this year has again demonstrated for all to see why the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) is one of the very worst places to work in the federal government. Once again, it looks as if the Broadcasting Board of Governors and the IBB, are poised to receive the dubious “honor” of languishing at the very bottom of the barrel among all Agencies in the federal government.

The percentage of respondents to the OPM Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey in this cycle dropped significantly from 67 % to 53%. No surprise, for the obvious reason that employees, like Archimedes, have evidently reached their Eureka! moment. Over successive years of taking this survey, many employees truly believed that if they expressed their concerns in an anonymous survey through a reputable Agency like the Office of Personnel Management that perhaps things would change. Unfortunately, after all these years and numerous OPM surveys, any hope for meaningful change has deteriorated to despair as people realize that the only solution would be a change in the Agency’s top leadership.

Let’s look at just some of the BBG’s record for the past decade :

1) the destruction of the Voice of America, which once was our authoritative and listened-to voice to the world;

2) the sorry and shameful spectacle of the destruction of Radio Liberty (Radio Svoboda) as a result of the wholesale firing of competent and dedicated staff, thereby destroying one of the few respected alternatives to the authoritarian and oppressive Russian government. The journalists formed Radio Liberty in Exile;

3) the Middle East Broadcasting Network, the spawn of a past BBG member, deep-pockets political contributor, who tried to blind DC with his bling several years ago with an all-fail plan, singlehandedly killing VOA Arabic and decimating the audience. Years later, the BBG executive staff still boasts of the “success” of its flagship Al-Hurra TV while actual figures show a miniscule audience. But the beat goes on: the BBG trumpets a non-existent Arab Spring ignoring a reinvigorated Al Qaeda throughout the Mideast expanding now to the African continent including the new hotspot in Libya.

4) Another fanciful and expensive offspring from the kingpin commercial radio executive: Radio Sawa with its frenzied attempts to parlay pop, rock, and rap in creating what has become a warped image of America, its culture, and institutions among listeners in the Middle East. Responding to criticism from many quarters, Sawa has tried to expand into news and commentary, instead of the sparse and short news bursts in its peppy format. In September, Sawa broadcast a fairly long interview with the creator of the anti-Muslim video blamed by the President, Secretary of State, and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations for the recent anti-American explosions in Egypt and Libya where we lost the U.S. Ambassador, an Information Officer, and two former Navy Seals.

Truth be told, the communication efforts of these two glitzy broadcasting outlets which supplanted the VOA Arabic Service have failed to establish credibility with the audience and to win the hearts and minds of a Middle Eastern public in the post 9/11 world. They deserve an “F” both in the academic and street slang meaning of that alphabet letter.

To believe that a part-time Broadcasting Board of Governors meeting a few times a year could or should be put in charge of an almost billion-dollar budget boggles the mind. The truth is that the BBG merely rubber-stamps the decisions made by a highly-paid executive staff whose knowledge of international broadcasting and foreign policy would hardly fit in a thimble. In its frenetic and progressively outlandish maneuvers, bunker mentality, personal animus against the employees, authoritarian-style arrogance, and utter incompetence, the shadowy BBG executive staff fancies itself the real power behind the BBG throne. That top “leadership” is still determined to run pell-mell-like lemmings into the sea with its plans of defederalizing the Agency, creating a new level of oppressive bureaucracy with its Broadcasting Czar plans, cutting qualified personnel, hiring unproven and uncleared contract employees, and lastly, badgering, bullying, bashing and belittling its employees while incessantly issuing dubious positive research on listenership/viewership statistics.

The OPM survey laid bare the Executive Staff’s incompetence and fraudulence. However, failure revealed is a dangerous motivator. Expect the BBG Executive Staff to ramp up the demagoguery and viciousness. First off, a devastating reduction in force for 2013 whether Congress approves or not. Their primary purpose: to eradicate the remnants of staff employees still protected by union bargaining rights and labor law with the corollary benefit that they will be empowered to fire anyone here just as capriciously and arbitrarily as they did at Radio Liberty in Russia. That way they could erase the embarrassment of having an arbitrator declare, as one did in November 2011, that the Agency had conducted an illegal RIF at the Office of Cuba Broadcasting and consequently, would have to re-hire the fired broadcasters with back pay. Also, the Executive Staff has not shelved its plans to dismantle the last remaining government shortwave transmitters standing on domestic U.S. soil in Greenville NC.

From its inception, the BBG, the majority of whose members have been and remain impressively unknowledgeable about foreign policy and foreign audiences, has wrapped itself in a veneer of supposedly erudite domestic broadcasting sophistication. They come and they go through different administrations, representatives of both parties, some bombastic and blustery, others as mute as a turnip. Only a few have understood the real implications and importance of their appointments or to find out the true state of affairs in the Agency.

Contrary to the lofty expectations at its creation, the BBG has been a frightening miscalculation and total failure and has been successful in only one thing: the destruction of U.S. international broadcasting.