The Failing Grade: Employee Survey Results
Broadcasting Board of Governors Information War: Lost
By The Federalist
“And so, from hour to hour we ripe and ripe,
And then from hour to hour we rot and rot;
And thereby hangs a tale.”
Shakespeare (As You Like It)
Ah, the great storyteller gets it, as he so often did when describing human nature.
For years, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) has been the proverbial bottom feeder in the annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS).
Nothing has changed – and nothing will.
Following the 2016 survey, John Lansing, the BBG chief executive officer (CEO) put out a couple of memoranda. One was particularly amusing, in a sense. In that memo, Lansing chose to post those areas where the agency recorded some meager “gains.” In doing so, our view is that Lansing was being both disingenuous regarding the overall agency results and demonstrated that he is an enabler and facilitator of the status quo.
Lansing has ensured the perpetuation of the agency backsliding, bottom-feeder status by putting people in charge of various committees who are responsible for making the agency what it has become. And they intend to make sure that it stays this way. This is not limited solely to the survey results but the even larger consequences to the agency’s failed mission.
These committees are nothing more than an exercise in “motion without movement.” They cannot and will not reach conclusions and propose actions that get to the heart of the agency’s number one problem:
You know this when you have “managers” who talk of improvements in the survey results as “baby steps.”
Frankly, the agency and its employees will be long gone before these “baby steps” have any minutely positive impact.
That tells you everything you need to know: that the intent of these officials is to keep things the way they are, protect their positions, maintain a hostile work environment and deny an obviously failed mission.
The results that we see demonstrate that Mr. Lansing and Amanda Bennett (the Voice of America [VOA] director) are perfectly placed to see that this is the result. To this point, their actions are consistent with maintaining things as they are.
Both Lansing and Bennett should resign.
Jeffrey Shell, the BBG chairman should also resign.
The Russians easily lured both Mr. Lansing and Mr. Shell, as well as BBG executive Jeff Trimble and new Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) president Thomas Kent, into a trap in Moscow designed to embarrass the United States government and show who really is in control when they gave Mr. Shell the boot out of Russia not long ago. It appears BBG executives foolishly thought that Mr. Shell would be meeting Putin officials invited to a reception in Moscow during his ill-advised and ill-timed trip, which apparently had an inappropriate mix of private company business and U.S. government business. Figuratively speaking, as the Russians would see it, BBG chairman Jeff Shell is nothing more than a pawn in their eyes – and in the eyes of others who watch what the Russians do and how they manipulate events to send a message and score propaganda points with the unwitting cooperation of the inexperienced and incompetent BBG’s top management team.
Resignations will start to come among political appointees throughout government when the next administration takes office in January 2017 and new political appointees are placed to take over various executive branch agencies in the US Federal Government. That’s the way it works.
But in the meantime,
“…from hour to hour we rot and rot…”
And for now, this is the only progression that really matters. And the reason why is because the rot is exponential. The decay has taken the agency out of the business of successful execution of its mission. Agency officials like to talk a BIG game, but the fact of the matter is: the agency is DEAD: no significant or impactful resonance in international public opinion – other than perhaps expanding a negative view of the United States.
Even at the tortoise-like pace of the Federal Government, the rot hastens the demise of the agency in its current form. It’s on the radar. It’s not going off the radar any time soon.
While there is much to be taken from reviewing the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) FEVS survey results, we want to focus on one area in particular which we believe is the key to all that is rotten in the BBG:
When it comes to the BBG, “leadership” is an oxymoron. The agency has no “leadership.” It has inexperienced individuals encumbering positions and given titles that are supposed to reflect persons of responsibility and accountability. Neither of these qualities is present in the individuals who encumber these positions. They are being surrounded by incompetent second-tier executives, managers whom they have kept and on whose advice they rely because they themselves having never professionally engaged in any of these areas know very little about international affairs, intercultural communications outside the United States, government operations, U.S. foreign policy and U.S. public diplomacy.
We know how to read the agency’s staffing pattern.
We know where the problems are.
More importantly we know who the problems are – and they are all over the senior management structure of the agency.
Here is a sampling on how the agency shapes up on the subject of “leadership:”
Question #53: In my organization, senior leaders generate high levels of motivation and commitment in the workforce.
Question #54: My organization’s senior leaders maintain high standards of honesty and integrity.
Question #61: I have a high level of respect for my organization’s senior leaders.
Question #71: Considering everything, how satisfied are you with your organization?
You don’t need to be a Rhodes Scholar to figure out where the problem is: a “leadership” that isn’t seen as honest, doesn’t generate respect and is not seen as committed to the workforce.
In each instance, senior agency leadership cannot crest 50% or greater in positive responses.
Based on what we’ve seen from this agency, this is an altogether expected result:
1. Senior officials among the bureaucracy have ruined the agency and its mission.
2. Senior officials among the bureaucracy have steadfastly refused to take responsibility for their actions and continue to add to the agency’s posture of
- “Regular Bottom Feeder” ; “Going Backward” Washington Post columnist Joe Davidson “Federal Insider,” The Washington Post, September 20, 2016.
- “Dysfunctional” (Heritage Foundation scholar Helle C. Dale)
- “Practically Defunct” (Hillary Clinton)
- “Broken” (US statesmen, diplomats, media experts and journalists interviewed by former BBG member S. Enders Wimbush and former Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty executive Elizabeth M. Portale)
- “Truly Rudderless” or Leaderless (Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ed Royce)
The end result still is:
- “This Broken Agency is Losing the Info War to ISIS & Putin,” House Committee on Foreign Affairs Blog, February 23, 2016.
These are the cornerstones of how this agency operates.
3. Senior appointees, such as the BBG, Lansing and Bennett have done nothing to materially change the status quo. Indeed, they have made it worse by labeling these bureaucrats as a “fantastic leadership team.”
And indeed they are – if you were looking for a group of individuals adept at destruction. That is something – perhaps the only thing – they excel at.
The lack of accountability and responsibility as it applies to these senior bureaucrats is atrocious. There is no penalty that has been applied to these individuals. In the real world, they should be shown the door and told not to come back. They are that bad as the record demonstrates time and time again, whether in these survey results or satisfying the agency’s requirements under the VOA Charter.
Let’s face it: from a management standpoint, this is nothing more than a collection of accidental individuals who have unfortunately been left to muddle and revel in the hostile environment they have created.
From a mission standpoint, there is no reasonable expectation for improvement. The agency should be closed, save for one thing:
Continuing to fund the agency earmarks a certain amount of money in the overall Federal budget that would allow the Congress or the next administration to transfer the agency’s functions elsewhere in the government or to reorganize the agency altogether. That makes sense. But in the meantime, the agency continues its rapid deterioration. This complete lack of effectiveness makes it very easy for the rest of the world to move on without much regard for the BBG, the VOA or other elements that comprise US Government international broadcasting, leaving the US Government to decide how much it can commit to rebuilding the agency’s effectiveness.
Right now, at this very moment, the agency’s posture is much like an afterthought in international broadcasting and media.
And make no mistake about it: there are some serious issues out there that require this agency to be effective.
Just to pick one:
The Russians are moving forward with an aggressive campaign of cyber warfare. It is global in nature but is almost specific in certain targets which include the United States. They have the capability of taking down the agency’s IT infrastructure as a demonstration of its power. The Putin government has built up a visceral dislike for the US government. On the Russian chess board, the chess pieces are in motion. It is a situation not to be taken lightly, especially if the Putin government perceives the United States to be weak and vulnerable.
One Last Thought
Reporters David E Sanger and Nicole Perlroth (“What Options Does the U.S. Have After Accusing Russia of Hacks?” New York Times, October 8, 2016) made the observation:
“…Voice of America programs, a relic of the Cold War, are slow to work, if they can work at all in the internet age…”
Arguably, the best moments of this agency’s performance came during the Cold War. But that does not make it a relic from that period. The mission of the agency, codified in the VOA Charter, is as important today as it was in the latter half of the 20th century.
But what has changed – and rather dramatically – is the ability of the new agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors created between 1995 and 1999, to adjust to a significantly changed global media environment. The BBG had nearly 20 years to adjust and it failed to adjust.
No small part of its failing is due to a faulty management structure which focuses on digital technologies without understanding how they work and how easily they can be interdicted in various countries while at the same time ignoring the overwhelming problem of program quality and its relevance to overseas audiences and the agency’s mission. Another part is agreements with foreign governments or broadcasting facilities which allow these entities to censor VOA news content, block live news programming or, even worse, encourage self-censorship by BBG content producers. Another may also be the result of policy decisions by the Obama administration.
This makes the observations of the agency’s workforce most important. It’s all about consequences resulting from decisions and management practices within this agency.
We will have to wait and see what the next administration has in store for this agency.
For the purposes of this discussion the next administration must make note of a weak, inept and incapable agency “leadership” that only contributes to, facilitates and makes more pronounced the agency’s failures and has no intention of deviating from the status quo.