BBG Watch Commentary

The AFGE Local 1812 union representing federal employees at the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) is, ironically, probably the only remaining free and uncensored voice within the the U.S. government agency charged with promoting media freedom and uncensored news flow abroad.

Concentration of power and resources within the BBG’s oppressive, rebellious and unaccountable executive center, the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB), has lead to silencing of internal dissent or even debate, not only among rank-and-file employees but also among top-ranking and mid-level managers, including those working for the Voice of America (VOA) and other BBG-funded media entities. They generally keep quiet knowing that IBB bureaucrats have the power and means to cut their budgets, positions and programs. Not surprisingly, the agency has the lowest employee morale within the federal government according to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS).

This silencing of debate and punishing of dissent is how the agency has become “defunct,” in the words of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and plagued with one embarrassing crisis after another. While some have also blamed this sad state of affairs on members of BBG boards over the last several years, recent developments and reporting suggest that the only constant factor in the decline of the agency has been the unchanging IBB executive staff which seems even capable of causing removal of BBG members who dare to criticize its abuses.

The following commentary was posted on the AFGE Local 1812 website.

AFGE Local 1812


by American Federation of Government Employees, Local 1812

On Tuesday, August 6th, 2013, during the “All Hands Meeting” held in the Voice of America auditorium, VOA Director David Ensor stated – smack in face of overwhelming evidence – that he had seen no plan regarding “de-federalization” of the Agency.

Two days later on Thursday, August 8th, 2013, in a meeting held in the VOA English-language newsroom, Mr. Ensor no longer claimed that there was no plan to de-federalize the VOA and actually discussed the “de-federalization” idea with staffers, stating that the bar for such a process to happen stands very high and that those supporting this idea would have to show why it would work better than the current government operation. However, he was not taking a stance on the issue.

We at AFGE Local 1812 believe that Agency management has been more than aware of de-federalization plans for a number of years. That Mr. Ensor did not appear free to mention them on Tuesday, but was comfortable raising the topic on Thursday, leads us to believe that he may not have felt at liberty to speak on the matter. This is not the first time a topic of the utmost importance has been brought to the Director’s attention or to the attention of other respectable and well-meaning top VOA managers. In those cases, we had the distinct impression that their hands were tied and that they could not speak openly. In addition, they could not make decisions on their own, but that powers above the VOA office were actually leading the Agency towards the edge of the abyss it now finds itself. The problem began years ago when the Board (at the bidding, as we believe, of the Senior Executive Staff) was allowed to fire the presidentially-appointed VOA Director, Robert Reilly. Since that time the VOA Director has been beholden to the Board and, in reality, to the Executive Staff which, in the past, has been allowed to run the operation on behalf of the members of the Board.

How supremely ironic is it that the Voice of America, which is supposed to be the voice of freedom around the world, pushing values such as freedom of speech and expression, human rights and dignity, the rule of law, etc., would be so paralyzed by powers behind the throne who seem to control, whatever the Agency is doing, turning its employees and middle managers into robot-like creatures who must follow its bidding?

In other words, who is holding the Agency hostage? The Voice of America has never been and should never be the private fiefdom of a few bureaucratic officials bent on privatizing it so as to consolidate their power base at the expense of U.S. taxpayers.

It boggles the mind that in the capital of the free world, and inside one of its once-venerable institutions, the Voice of America, no one is evidently really free. Not even the highest officials of the VOA.