Broadcasting Board of Governors – How Do You Spell Tyranny?

A commentary by The Federalist

“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.”
~ George Orwell

Tyranny – that great weakness within a bureaucracy and those who manage it.  And the Broadcasting Board of Governors and its International Broadcasting Bureau (BBG/IBB) are not immune to this disease.

This goes beyond the “culture of secrecy” referred to by Helle Dale of the Heritage Foundation in her recent blog post about the BBG/IBB – The BBG’s Culture of Secrecy.

Secrecy is a manifestation of something that goes far deeper into the organizational mindset of the agency’s senior bureaucrats.  And that’s when we start talking about how this bureaucracy goes about embracing tyranny and pursuing hostility toward its employees and others.

To all outward appearances, the goal of agency bureaucrats is to perpetuate their agenda, their status quo.  Interference with that agenda is viewed as a threat.  They will resist and lash out using any tactic they deem expedient to further their cause against anyone who has the audacity to challenge them and what they are doing.  These people have established failure as their gold standard.  They expect to be praised for it and rewarded for it (like a $10-thousand dollar bonus).  And they want to protect themselves from all forms of unwanted scrutiny.
Let’s try to connect the dots so that our readers get a better understanding of the situation.

This is an agency correctly labeled as “the worst organization in the Federal Government.”  That label was applied by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) a couple of years ago.  It was true then.

It is much more the case now.

Senior agency officials have earned this label by their actions.  But what is more important is the actions demonstrate they are comfortable with being the creators and perpetuators of a hostile environment in pursuing an agenda set by themselves.

There are ways they go about it:

Most recently, the agency issued a memorandum dealing with the subject of “confidentiality,” or more to the point the penalties for breaching “confidentiality.”

The agency has become a fountain of information, much of which reflects badly upon it.  Senior officials of the agency want to stem the flow and control the dissemination of information – their form of domestic propaganda: the propagation of misinformation, disinformation and partial information to protect their interests.

In so many words, the memorandum was not issued as an advisory to employees to protect them against unintended violations.  It was intended as a threat, a big difference.  In issuing this memorandum, it is one more thing that further cements the agency’s deserved reputation for being “the worst organization in the Federal Government,” with a management philosophy fully committed to hostility toward its employees.

This would be consistent with another longstanding feature of the management culture of the IBB: its performance ranking in the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) employee survey.  The agency has consistently ranked at or near the bottom of this survey – each year and every year the survey has been conducted.

What does that tell you?  The answer is simple:

Agency officials want it that way – and they don’t care.  The results demonstrate what has become an intended outcome of the senior bureaucracy: the establishment of a climate of fear, retaliation and retribution and an institutionalized negative leadership model: these officials seek to accrete power as a means of maximizing control and retaliating against threats to their agenda.  Since they don’t care what happens to agency employees, they don’t care about the results of the survey – a fair straightforward conclusion one can draw from the results.

Here’s another example”

The Obama administration – much like the Clinton administration – has established a labor-management process in which agency officials and employees are supposed to meet, discuss and resolve issues.

Is that what is being accomplished at this agency?

No way – particularly with the big issues impacting on agency employees brought about by the IBB attempt to consolidate US international broadcasting.

The largest of the agency’s unions, Local 1812 of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), has withdrawn from these meetings – and rightly so.  Why?  As we have discussed previously, these meetings are a testament to “motion without movement.”  The agency representatives are not empowered to reach agreements on key, critical issues.  They are there to extract concessions or engage in endless discussion of minutiae, such as the creation of a “wellness room.”  They are not there to share crucial information.  In our view, it is like sitting across the table from a group of North Korean generals.  They are not there to be your pals.  If you know that and you understand the management strategy and objectives, it’s time to move in a different direction and engage in more productive activities and counter-strategies elsewhere.

The same applies to contract negotiations with AFGE.  The agency has used this process as a weapon – a punitive process, dragged out over many months – with the seeming intention of not resolving issues but rather to extract concessions from the union that would have an adverse impact on the employees the union represents.

Agency officials conducting these meetings have no authority to do anything other than that.  Any deviation from the script must be approved by senior agency officials – and that isn’t coming.  The Third Floor is quite content with pursuing its hostile work environment agenda and philosophy.  They consider it “normal.”  Thus, “normal” equates with hostile.

Keep in mind that the agency’s “flim flam strategic plan” has as an intended outcome the elimination or substantial reduction of 14 of 43 Voice of America (VOA) language services and roughly 200 employee positions in FY2013, as the IBB moves to eliminate direct radio broadcasts.  This is not the time to be sitting around a table doing kumbaya with the agency.  Along with this objective is the goal to de-Federalize the agency’s workforce.  If that happens, American taxpayers need to know right now, right up front, that your last line of defense against the excesses, waste and mismanagement tendencies of “the worst organization in the Federal Government” will be gone and your tax dollars wasted – in part on those big bonuses the IBB bureaucrats like to hand out to themselves.

Senior agency management is not in the business of fixing problems.  They create problems.  The exacerbate problems.  They compound problems.  They can’t and they won’t back off because to do so would be an acknowledgement of their failings and responsibility for problems.  They are moving full speed ahead toward the abyss – the complete destruction of the agency’s mission and effectiveness.

Let’s ask a question:

Do you think these senior agency officials believe in transparency?

No way.

To be certain, the bureaucrats will pay lip service to transparency as a concept, perhaps; but in their day-today-running of the agency, it is one of the furthest things from their minds; hence, another reason for issuing the “confidentiality” memorandum, reinforcing the real agenda.

Remember what we said – these guys want a one-way monologue about what they are doing – or more correctly, they want you to think they are doing great and wonderful things, which they are not.  Their strategic plan is pretty much a bust.  It has been overtaken and surpassed by events – particularly by the Russians, the Chinese and – those pesky Iranians.

That’s because their “strategic plan” is the strategy for losing the information war with the Big Three above and with the world in general.

This leads to the question of: where is the Broadcasting Board of Governors in all this?

That’s a really good question.

To outward appearances, as a group, the political appointees to the Board seem to have taken a pass on reining in the excesses of the careerists on the IBB who are running “the worst organization in the Federal Government.”  At the very least, as a group, they aren’t seemingly exercising oversight and accountability in any effective way.  They should be and the absence of that particular aspect of LEADERSHIP is felt every day.

In this scenario, we can see agency officials refusing requests for information from members of the Board.  We can imagine scenarios in which senior officials instruct other agency officials – or contractors – not to provide information requested by Board members as part of the regular course of their business in managing the agency.

Perhaps what we “imagine” may have already crossed into reality.

This is all part of a scenario for insubordinate behavior – the kind of thing that could get someone removed from the Federal Service for cause.  And if this is what’s happening – and the careerists aren’t being called on it – makes it part of the larger problem beyond the “culture of secrecy,” trademark behavior of a pattern of IBB arrogance and defiance.

It follows that a question that should be asked is: secrecy to what purpose and to what end?

Believe me – it has nothing to do with national security.  That is an IBB-created myth.

The next question that develops from these scenarios is: just how bad are things inside this agency that senior staff would even possibly consider such behavior?

That’s another good question.

Want another one?  What is being protected or hidden from scrutiny?

Of late, it appears that certain members of Congress have had just about enough of the antics inside the Cohen Building.  We consider a recent letter from Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) to the BBG in which he made particular note of the BBG being “tone deaf to Congressional priorities.”

And there is also the letter from Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) who notes that the BBG/IBB attempt to consolidate the grantee broadcasters of US international broadcasting to be contrary to Congressional intent.

This is getting close to the heart of the matter.

Seen in this context, the reorganization looks more like a power grab by the IBB and a whole lot less as an action to improve efficiency.  In essence, the IBB would seek to nullify the effects of checks and balances between the executive and legislative branches of government.  To be certain, the IBB wants the Congress to be as an extension of the American taxpayer – an ATM machine to hand over money to run its fantasyland operation inside the Cohen Building.  But the really important objective is the absolute absence of serious congressional oversight as to the latest scheming to cloak the clear and obvious destruction of effective US international broadcasting.

Members of Congress are right to cut through the babble from the IBB hucksters and call them out on the mess they have created and seek to perpetuate.

Finally, a word for the employees caught up in this unending fiasco:

Your participation in the annual employee survey is important.  What the agency is counting on is employees giving up.  Participation in this year’s survey – around 48% – is testing the lows of participation.  You can’t do that and expect the pressure to be maintained on the characters who are running things.  You cannot turn over employee discussion of what is wrong with the place to shills, sycophants and misguided do-gooders who desperately want to believe that there mere act of talking to these people is going to build up good will.  It isn’t.  You’re up against an agenda.  Remember what we said – it’s like sitting across the table from a group of North Korean generals.  What can you possibly have in common with these people?  Their priorities are entirely different from that of the employees.

And you can best believe that they think of themselves first – ahead of any employee, ahead of any negative consequences to any employee, ahead of the agency’s mission and ahead of their responsibilities to the American taxpayers and their elected representatives.

Give in or give up and you lose, when you are dealing with these people.

Don’t do that.

Agency officials don’t have that in their game book and neither should you.

Take a page from those pesky Iranians when it comes to news and information: trust no one beyond a certain point and question everything.

And remember – the agency’s problems are on a long list of national problems.  The country has gotten itself into a tight spot.  If you expect your problems to be addressed in some meaningful way, your first order of business is to turn up the volume and be heard.  Low participation in the survey doesn’t get it done, even if the results continue to be the same.  More participation equates with more attention – and makes it harder for senior agency officials to double-talk their way around it.

One last thing –

VOA's Steve Redisch's Complaint to the UN Against Matthew Russell Lee asking for his UN press accreditation to be reviewedWhat this agency has become is an exercise in hypocrisy.

These senior officials claim that the agency acts “in support of freedom and democracy.”  Perhaps it does on the level of its line employees who believe in the mission – the same employees that these senior officials are trying to get rid of.

However, at the senior levels, this agency only deals in self-interest.  Their only interest “in support of freedom and democracy” is that it serves as a means to an end – those BIG bonuses that these guys like to hand out to themselves.

Whatever good is being done at the employee level is being nullified by the behavior at the senior levels of management.

Remember what these guys said: they want a new identity that is more corporate in nature.  What we see in the behavior of the senior management echelons is just that – the kind of corporate behavior that makes the agency look like the Enron of US international broadcasting and also as an insinuation of that kind of mentality into an agency of the Federal Government.

Is that a good thing?

Not by a long shot.

What is that line from a movie about Wall Street?  “Greed is good.”  This is the same kind of thing.  And adding to the “greed” (those bonuses again) come the oppressive, retaliatory and hostile policies toward the Federal and contractor workforces employed by the agency and others who get in the way of their self-interest-based agenda.

If you are looking for a true representation “in support of freedom and democracy” look elsewhere and not to the BBG/IBB.

The Federalist
July 2012