Broadcasting Board of Governors – Information War Lost: “One Particular Governor”
by The Federalist
This month, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for the Department of State and the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) issued a report titled: “Inspection of the Broadcasting Board of Governors.” One of our sources provided us with a copy.
We’ve seen our share of OIG reports. We went to the report’s executive summary, under the heading “Key Judgments.” The report didn’t waste any time getting our interest.
There are a number of things which distinguish this OIG report from others and not in a positive way. The one thing that dominates throughout is predicated on this “judgment:”
“Board dynamics are characterized by a degree of hostility that renders its deliberative process ineffectual. Board meetings are dominated by one member whose tactics and personal attacks on colleagues and staff have created an unprofessional and unproductive atmosphere.”
The first thing – and perhaps the most important thing – is that this report targets one member of the BBG. That member is Ambassador Victor Ashe. He is not mentioned by name. However, anyone remotely familiar with the antics of the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) senior staff knows that Ashe is their “Public Enemy Number One.”
So – Ambassador Ashe has enemies on the IBB. Why are we not surprised?
What is surprising is the boldness, the rashness of the IBB (because this report is really all about them) in going after Ashe in a very public way.
Memo to the White House, the State Department and the Congress: with regard to Ambassador Ashe – You cannot spare this man. He fights!
We consider Ambassador Ashe a kindred soul, fighting for a just cause: the survival of US Government international broadcasting, the agency’s mission, its employees. We do not abandon fighters for the principles and the people Ashe represents.
The more you read of this report, the more you walk away incredulous with the bias that pours off its pages, a direct reflection of the vicious antipathy these IBB characters have toward Ashe.
Answer: He nailed them. He clocked them for every shenanigan they have been up to for a very long time. If you want to know who makes transparency, oversight and accountability happen in this agency, the name is Ambassador Victor Ashe.
He is not alone, but he has been the one out in front.
That’s called leadership – something none of the individuals of the IBB have and never will have. Those individuals subscribe to a cult that puts themselves first ahead of everything and everyone else.
With this in mind, for the benefit of folks at the White House, in the State Department and up on Capitol Hill, let’s consider the environment in which Ambassador Ashe has to carry out his duties:
This is “the worst organization in the Federal Government.”
This is the worst agency to work for in the Federal Government among Federal agencies of equal size.
It is a toxic, hostile environment. It is an environment in which the agency has been found at fault in a variety of personnel practices and, in spite of decisions against it continues with those practices.
Is this the consequence of any action on the part of Ambassador Ashe?
The answer: absolutely not!
The demeanor of this agency has been in place for a long time, long before Ambassador Ashe arrived on the scene.
This demeanor originated with senior agency officials – IBB and Voice of America (VOA) included. It has become an integral part of the agency’s operating philosophy.
To paraphrase a sentiment expressed elsewhere, you will never find a more wretched hive of villainy in the Federal Government than on the Third Floor of the Cohen Building. These officials are proud of it. Indeed, they have taken this attitude outside the Cohen Building to badger and bully employees in public.
Let’s get right to it:
This report reflects a bias. It is the bias and vicious demeanor of the senior IBB and VOA staff. It is clearly falsely prejudicial.
What is the intent here?
As we see it, the intent – the intended IBB outcome grossly on display in this report – is to stifle any criticism of its actions, any encroachment on its power, any oversight and accountability of IBB actions impacting negatively upon the agency’s mission.
And there’s more:
If the IBB thinks that this “report” somehow “legitimizes” their attempt to subvert the VOA Charter and demolish the US Government international broadcasting landscape to their liking, they are mistaken.
They have made a serious, strategic miscalculation. This report reveals them for what they are – and it isn’t flattering.
The IBB has played its hand: anyone – BBG member, entity head, line employee – will be savaged if they get in the way of the ruthless bunch on the Third Floor. That is their demeanor – less public servant and more ruthless, revenge-minded, power-hungry bureaucrats.
This is not the first time these guys have attacked a governor, but it is the most public and egregious to date.
Irony abounds. These guys pay lip service “supporting freedom and democracy” when in fact the claim is an exercise in hypocrisy. Free and open discussion – a cornerstone of the American Experience, commonly referred to as the First Amendment – is not welcome by the IBB. They are a confederacy of ruthless tyrants.
Anyone who has had to deal with these guys when they are in their “revenge mode” knows full well what they are all about: to protect themselves from the consequences of their actions; namely, building their bureaucratic empire upon the destruction of US Government international broadcasting. The numbers of their own research say it all: the place is tanking, bleeding audiences and doing so rapidly. At the rate things are going, these guys won’t have to worry about their “flim flam Soviet-style strategic plan:” the agency will have imploded. No meaningful audience = no agency.
The American taxpayer is not, should not and will not pay for these guys to generate paper on mobile phones in Nigeria (at the cost of millions of taxpayer dollars in a contract with the Gallup polling organization).
Is Ambassador Ashe correct to slam on the brakes and say “enough is enough?”
(Note: What you get out of this report is not solely the IBB antipathy toward Ashe. What is also woven into the narrative is what amounts to a brazen attempt by the IBB to neuter the BBG and take over all power relating to decisions regarding US Government international broadcasting. These guys want the BBG, the White House, the Congress to simply “sign on the dotted line” to anything they want to do, at any expense to the American taxpayer, without regard to effectiveness and relevance to the agency’s mission.)
There are a whole lot of things missing in this set-up and demonization of Ambassador Ashe by the OIG and the IBB.
Here is a key, salient point:
The day-to-day operations of the agency are in the hands of the IBB.
So – what have our IBB boys and girls been up to in their day-to-day?
Answer: The kinds of things that you as a BBG member would really want to know. Things that impact on your oversight and accountability requirements.
How about “The Amazing ‘Parazit’ Disappearing Act?”
You remember “Parazit” don’t you?
That was the Persian News Network (PNN) television project that was supposedly “widely popular” in Iran. We’re not only talking about moving the program up to the agency’s New York offices (costing taxpayer’s money) from the Cohen Building.
No, but that’s bad enough for the cost.
What we’re talking about here is “Parazit” going into the IBB “Bermuda Triangle” and off the air. Of course, the general public had to find out about “Parazit” going off the air via the Iranian-American community and BBG Watch.
Because the IBB was assiduously maintaining the fiction – with the BBG and with the Congress – that the program was still on the air! Keep in mind that the IBB exploited this program trying to use it as leverage to extract more funding (hence the cover-up). And then – Poof! Gone! No explanation.
From the OIG report:
“The inspection team observed the behavior of the Governor in question in Board meetings and reviewed extensive communications between him and his Board colleagues and IBB senior staff. In meetings, he habitually disrupts the flow of discussion with points of order, complains of being uninformed about matters that were part of documentation presented before the meeting to all Governors, and accuses senior staff of hampering him from carrying out his fiduciary duties by keeping important information from him.”
You will note that the OIG report doesn’t say that the allegations rendered by Ambassador Ashe were unfounded.
And there is a reason for this. As seen from other episodes, the IBB likes to play it tight with information that it doesn’t want reaching Ashe, the other BBG members, the Congress, the public or its audiences.
But they go beyond keeping it tight. In some instances, senior agency officials have refused to provide information. One notable case involved Steve Korn, former president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) who refused to provide information to the BBG Strategy and Budget Committee, whose members are Governors Michael Meehan and Victor Ashe, unless he was ordered to do so by the entire BBG! Korn also refused to explain why his Vice President of Administration was not available to answer questions.
One wonders who gave him guidance on that maneuver. Conventional thinking is that one need not look further than the Third Floor of the Cohen Building.
Ladies and gentlemen, where we come from, this kind of behavior is commonly referred to as insubordination. And when a senior agency official does it, it is called gross insubordination. It’s the kind of thing that could get someone removed from the Federal Service for cause.
Here’s another one:
“Board dynamics are characterized by a degree of hostility that renders its deliberative process ineffectual. During the course of the inspection, the majority of individuals interviewed firmly expressed the view that the Board’s current paralysis was the fault of a single Governor and that the reputations of other Board members should not be damaged because of his tactics. The inspection team’s observations and interactions with the aforementioned Governor support this view.”
The OIG (and likely persons on the IBB) think they are being charitable and compassionate when stating, “the reputations of other Board members should not be damaged because of his tactics.”
That’s playing the old “divide and conquer” game, IBB style.
It’s all bogus.
Message to the bureaucrats of the IBB: A tactic known is no longer a tactic.
And what makes it even more hypocritical is an observation earlier in the “report,” with regard to the IBB’s bogus strategic plan:
“However, in the face of criticism from within and outside the organization, the Governors have not implemented these decisions (related to the strategic plan), with two Governors in particular backsliding on their prior commitments. Instead, the Board has allowed itself to be distracted by operational issues best handled at lower management levels and has consistently undermined the IBB Director in the execution of his duties. By allowing its focus to slip from issues of strategic importance, the Board fails to exploit fully its collective talents and does not meet its legislative obligation to provide oversight of and strategic guidance to the broadcast entities.”
Well there you go: try to get the governors to play along with the hatchet job on Ashe but slam “two Governors in particular backsliding on their prior commitments…” when it comes to the highly-flawed “flim flam Soviet-style strategic plan.”
And, once again, we have Richard Lobo, the IBB Director, whining and petulant.
Let’s be plain: it’s obvious that Mr. Lobo has no demonstrative leadership skills – other than perhaps leading the way in this hatchet job of Ambassador Ashe?
By the way –
Doesn’t the report say “in the face of criticism from within and outside the organization” regarding the “flim flam Soviet-style strategic plan?”
Let’s try to follow the OIG/IBB logic: get the BBG behind a flawed strategic plan, support it without question, rubber stamp it to make the IBB look like a bunch of geniuses (not!) and help set up the agency to fail!
Remember what we said earlier:
The IBB has played its hand: anyone – BBG member, entity head, line employee – will be savaged.
There’s plenty more to find fault with in this “report.” It has no credibility other than being a bald-faced hatchet job (the apt description by the AFGE Local 1812 Union) and power play by the IBB.
The bad thing – the really bad thing – is the buy-in by the OIG. If credibility and objectivity were particularly important standards for the OIG, they demolished both with this shameful, unprofessional piece.
We’ve said it before: there needs to be a serious investigation of the IBB. This “report” demonstrates that the State Department cannot be relied upon to carry out that investigation. That moves things to another venue: the Congress.
And as always, there is the venue of public opinion. In the case of BBG Watch, we know that means the court of both American and international public opinion.
We are staunchly supportive of Ambassador Ashe and any other members of the BBG who stand with him. Individuals who distinguish themselves accordingly are conspicuous for their fortitude in the face of abject intellectual and moral decline within the IBB.
At this time and place, if US Government international broadcasting is to be saved, Ambassador Ashe is the man.
(It is 1864. The American Civil War is into its fourth year of bloody conflict. In the East, the Army of Northern Virginia, Robert E Lee commanding [the most potent Confederate army in the field], had fought the Union Army of the Potomac to virtual stalemate. A succession of six Union commanders [George McClellan twice] failed to defeat Lee and end the war. Lincoln was beside himself. Needing to do something to bring the war to an end with a Union victory, Lincoln appointed Ulysses S Grant as the new Army of the Potomac commander. In 1863, Grant won a battle of strategic significance – laying siege to the city of Vicksburg, Mississippi, splitting the South in half and gaining strategic control of the river. Lincoln had his commander.
And not only would he command the Army of the Potomac. Lincoln gave Grant command of all Union armies fighting the Confederacy. For the first time, the Union had a unified strategic plan.
But Grant was not without his detractors. A “whispering campaign” began, the intended outcome to force Lincoln to choose someone else for command. The subject was rumors that Grant had a drinking problem. Lincoln made it plain, “I cannot spare this man. He fights.”
Lincoln stuck to his guns and Grant came East. Although it would take another year of heavy fighting, Grant was not intimidated by Lee’s prowess. He knew what was needed to defeat the South and he put the armies at his command in motion and achieved his objectives.)