Broadcasting Board of Governors – The Board Meets With Secretary Clinton
by The Federalist
This week, members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) meet with Secretary of State Clinton. As reported by BBG Watch, sources indicate that consolidation and de-Federalization of the Voice of America (VOA) will be two topics covered. They are important. The official BBG website, www.BBG.gov, has not yet reported that the meeting of Board members with Secretary Clinton will be held this week.
It would be nice if the BBG Watch editors had the opportunity to speak with the Secretary or Under Secretary Sonenshine. That not being the case at present, we offer some comments to them and to the broader audience of BBG Watch on these two important subjects and others.
In Congressional testimony, Secretary Clinton correctly observed that the United States is losing the information war. While the comments were directed at efforts by Al-Jazeera television in the Middle East, the context can and should be expanded globally. Indeed, in the time between Secretary Clinton’s testimony and now, the situation has become exponentially worse. In our view, the situation now facing the U.S. Government is: information war lost.
Who is responsible for losing that war? It’s a no-brainer: the BBG and its International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) senior staff. One reason for this atrocious state of affairs: the IBB’s so-called “strategic plan,” which we see as ill-conceived and a front for a self-serving, power-grabbing IBB agenda. Almost comically, members of the IBB now talk in terms of its strategic plan as a “five-year plan,” seemingly revised annually.
Who does that remind you of?
Answer: the Soviets. As a source meaningfully opined, “Five-year plans didn’t work for the Soviets and they won’t work for the IBB. They are a cover-up for something that is mismanaged, not working and flawed in design.”
By any measure, the plan the IBB has tried to forcefully impose on U.S. international broadcasting has failed miserably – as it should because the plan doesn’t address the agency’s mission, codified in the VOA Charter. It has taken the agency off-mission and no one should be surprised by the catastrophe rendered by the BBG and the IBB together.
Let us consider the two critical subjects before Secretary Clinton.
U.S. Government international broadcasting has for decades followed successfully a two-tier approach: the global mission of the VOA and the more targeted and independent missions of U.S. Government grantee (so-called “surrogate”) broadcasters (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, and others). VOA has been broadcasting for 70 years; some of the grantees almost as long. They have institutionalized missions honed over many years of experience and the expertise of staff members.
Consolidation of these various operations is not in the national or public interest. Because of the specific missions given to each broadcasting element, any attempt to co-mingle them has as a direct and immediate consequence —– chaos, confusion and a lack of mission effectiveness. Working within these specific missions optimizes conditions for mission success. Consolidation does not.
But more importantly, if one studies the behavior of the IBB, one becomes convinced that mission effectiveness is not a priority concern. More of what we see of the IBB appears to be driven by an overt attempt to accrete power. As we have seen in the matter of the “Parazit” program of the VOA Persian News Network (PNN), the IBB acts to protect its own interests, purposely misrepresents a program’s broadcast status and fails to dutifully report circumstances in a timely manner to its superiors (i.e., the BBG). Should any of this build confidence with regard to intended outcomes and consequences of consolidation specifically or the IBB strategic plan in general?
We believe the answer is decidedly no.
We also look at the manner in which the IBB tenaciously intends to eliminate direct radio broadcasting, the most effective and in many cases the only means of reaching global publics. The radio audiences make up half of agency audiences, around 100 million worldwide. Clearly, the IBB intends to diminish the effectiveness of U.S. Government international broadcasting by 50%. The remaining half of its audience is claimed to be in television and a decidedly minor audience via the Internet.
But even within these numbers there is a much larger issue. The world population is a staggering 7-BILLION. Of that number, 2-BILLION are at or below the poverty level. Sophisticated technologies are beyond the economic reach of these 2-BILLION and the IBB’s intended heavy reliance upon the Internet factors this demographic completely out of the equation of U.S. Government international broadcasting.
Let us not forget that these 2-BILLION represent an historic fertile resource for charismatic leaders to galvanize into acts of revolution, insurrection or terrorism.
Also, with a claimed audience of around 200-million, in terms of pure numbers, this number is insignificant on a global basis, diluted heavily in the population volume of 7-BILLION.
We must also remember that U.S. Government international broadcasting has been around for 70 years. These low numbers are indicative of something that should be of grave concern: whatever message the U.S. Government intends to convey to the rest of the world it has either lost its resonance or is not reaching intended audiences. We see both as a consequence of poor broadcast decisions by the BBG/IBB and rigid adherence to its flawed “strategic plan.”
Another intended goal of the IBB is to de-Federalize the Voice of America workforce and its unique mission.
Let us put this in a context.
Repeatedly, this agency has consistently ranked at/or close to the bottom in the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) “Human Capital Survey.” Its lowest scores are in the area of leadership, repeatedly, from the first survey to the most recent.
This is also an agency that has been correctly labeled as “the worst organization in the Federal Government.”
In each case, this is not by accident or some pedestrian anomaly.
The agency is what it is because senior agency officials – BBG and IBB included – intend for it to be this way. This is something more than lacking the requisite skill sets to change the agency’s management culture.
Agency employees work in a hostile environment, belittled and demeaned as inconsequential to the designs of the IBB on the agency’s mission. Some agency officials openly display contempt for the VOA Charter. These same officials want the career Federal workforce out of the way. Contrary to the national and public interest, an action of this kind would only serve to further the self-interest of the IBB officials who have become notorious for accruing bonuses in the face of sub-par agency mission effectiveness and performance. It is not one of the best places to work in the Federal Government. It is one of the worst.
As we have often remarked, these officials have set failure as an acceptable standard of performance.
In the absence of leadership, in the face of senior officials more intent on securing cash bonuses, it is the Federal employees who attempt to make the agency function in spite of and not because of people who encumber senior management positions within the agency.
In this regard, we make particular note of the fortitude of the officers and members of Local 1812, American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE). This union is the largest within the agency and is composed of professionals who speak many foreign languages and are deeply committed to providing uncensored news and news about America. Under almost constant assault by the agency – through intended goals of cutting the agency’s broadcasts, eliminating employees and other tactics – these employees have stepped forward to hold the agency accountable and provide the Executive and Legislative branches of government a last line of defense against waste and mission ineffectiveness as a direct consequence of senior-level agency decisions and actions.
The courage of the AFGE Local 1812 leadership and its members serves another important group: the American taxpayers.
The behavior of the IBB, an arrogant beyond-the-law mindset contemptuous of accountability, is an insult to the American taxpayer. It is an affront to the principals of good government and administration. The American taxpayer – sacrificing much now and likely to sacrifice more in the future – cannot and should not expect the highest levels of the US Government to tolerate a continuation of the IBB “business-as-usual” modality.
There may be instances where the actions of organized labor should be rightly criticized. This is not one of those moments, as Voice of America journalists and other employees have proven again and again that they will defend their mission of bringing news to the oppressed and the underprivileged despite all odds.
De-Federalizing the VOA workforce is yet one more bad idea based on suspect motives from the IBB.
Before this meeting begins and after it ends, the problems remain the same:
*A failed IBB strategic plan;
*The intractable IBB officials who advocate the plan without regard to the damage to US national and public interests and the cost to American taxpayers;
*A Board of Governors which refuses to assert its authority and hold the IBB accountable for its actions; and,
*An institutionalized hostile work environment perpetuated by senior agency officials toward its workforce.
Please be clear on the point – these problems will not be solved by the people holding senior positions within the agency. Resolving these problems, if not already beyond resolution, must come from outside the Cohen Building.
Broadcasting Board of Governors – The Board Meets With Secretary Clinton