BBG Watch Commentary

Rep. Ed Royce
Rep. Ed Royce
Rep. Eliot Engel
Rep. Eliot Engel

Yesterday BBG Watch had an exclusive report on the bipartisan H.R. 4490, the United States International Communications Reform Act.

See: Major reform of U.S. international broadcasting and public diplomacy to be proposed in Congress, BBG Watch, April 28, 2014.

We reported that a draft bill originating in the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which has U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) as Chairman and U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) as Ranking Member, would, if passed by Congress and signed by the President, radically reform the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), an agency currently in charge of U.S. international media outreach. The United States International Broadcasting Act of 1994 (22 U.S.C. 6201 et seq.; title III of Public Law 103–236) would be repealed under this draft bill if it were to become law. The draft bill appears to be a bipartisan effort to address problems in how the part-time Broadcasting Board of Governors manages U.S. international media outreach through its large, expanding and highly dysfunctional International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) bureaucracy. Lawmakers also appear to want to address serious management issues at the Voice of America (VOA). They also want to improve U.S. public diplomacy. Sources told BBG Watch that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was also involved in the drafting of the bill in a completely bipartisan effort.

To be known as he the “United States International Communications Reform Act of 2014,” the draft bill calls for the creation of the United States International Communications Agency within the executive branch of Government as an independent establishment. It also calls for creating the Advisory Board of the United States International Communications Agency. According to the proposed legislation, current BBG members would serve out their terms of office on the new board, which in contrast to the current board would have mostly advisory functions.

The draft bill also calls for having a Chief Executive Officer of the United States International Communications Agency, appointed for a five-year term and renewable at the Board’s discretion. The CEO would exercise broad executive powers.

The draft bill also calls for the creation of the Consolidated Grantee Organization, for the non-federal grantees of the BBG: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia (RFA), and Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN). RFE/RL, RFA, and MBN would be consolidated and reconstituted under a single organizational structure and management framework. The draft bill expresses “the sense of Congress that RFE/RL, Incorporated, Radio Free Asia, and the Middle East Broadcasting Network share a common mission with distinct geographic foci, and should therefore be merged into a single organization, with distinct marketing brands to provide the news and related programming and content in countries where free media are not established.”

Today the House Committee on Foreign Affairs posted more information about the bipartisan H.R. 4490, including a section-by-section summary.

BBG Watch has obtained a list of co-sponsors of the bill as of April 28, 2014:

Rep Chabot, Steve [OH-1] – 4/28/2014
Rep Connolly, Gerald E. [VA-11] – 4/28/2014
Rep Engel, Eliot L. [NY-16] – 4/28/2014
Rep Keating, William R. [MA-9] – 4/28/2014
Rep Rohrabacher, Dana [CA-48] – 4/28/2014
Rep Ros-Lehtinen, Ileana [FL-27] – 4/28/2014
Rep Salmon, Matt [AZ-5] – 4/28/2014
Rep Sherman, Brad [CA-30] – 4/28/2014

The sponsor of the bill is Rep Royce, Edward R. [CA-39], Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

LINK TO: HR 4490, The United States International Communications Reform Act

H.R. 4490


Chairman Royce, Ranking Member Engel Introduce U.S. International Broadcasting Reform Legislation

Media Contact: (202) 225-5021

APR 29, 2014

Committee to Consider Legislation Tomorrow

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), the Committee’s Ranking Member, have introduced H.R. 4490, the United States International Communications Reform Act.  The legislation improves the missions, objectives, and effectiveness of U.S. international broadcasters.  The Committee will consider the legislation at a markup tomorrow at 10 a.m.

Royce and Engel recently concluded a three-day visit to Ukraine where they heard first-hand from Ukrainians about the strategic role that U.S. international broadcasting (Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty) is playing in eastern Ukraine and their importance in countering Russian propaganda.

Chairman Royce said:  “The free flow of information and ideas is at the core of a democratic society.  Across the globe – whether it is reaching the young Iranian protesting the regime in Tehran, covering the elections in Afghanistan, or countering Russian propaganda in Eastern Europe – freedom of information is key to the success of our national security objectives.  Unfortunately, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the agency charged with leading the U.S. effort to inform and empower foreign audiences, is badly broken.  It is time for broad reforms; now more than ever, U.S. international broadcasts must be effective.”

Ranking Member Engel said: “Around the world, millions of people are denied access to objective news.  My recent trip to Ukraine was a strong reminder that the competition of ideas is still very much alive and that the United States has an important role to play in facilitating the free flow of information and in sharing our values.  The legislation that Chairman Royce and I introduced will strengthen our international broadcasting operations by improving management, enhancing coordination, and empowering journalists and editors to produce high-quality programming that keeps pace with the rapidly evolving international media landscape.”

The United States International Communications Reform Act:

·         Fixes Well-documented Management Problems. Currently, five U.S. international broadcasting entities report to the Broadcasting Board of Governors (“BBG”), a group of 9 part-time individuals, who meet once a month to make management decisions. Important decisions can languish if the Board does not have a quorum, which is often the case. This legislation would establish a full-time, day-to-day agency head and reduce the role of the Board to a more appropriate advisory capacity. These changes have been recommended by the State Department’s Office of the Inspector General and are widely recognized as needed reforms.

·         Clarifies the Mission of the Voice of America (VOA). The VOA charter states that VOA will provide a “clear and effective presentation of the policies of the United States.” Over time, VOA has abandoned this mission and adopted a mission of the so-called “surrogates” to provide uncensored local news and information to people in closed societies. This legislation makes clear that the Voice of America mission is to support U.S. public diplomacy efforts.

·         Consolidates “the Freedom Broadcasters.” Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia (RFA), and the Middle East Broadcasting Network (MBN) have the same mission – to provide uncensored local news and information to people in closed societies – with different geographic reach. Consolidating these organizations into a single, non-federal organization will achieve cost savings, allow for closer collaboration, and improve responsiveness. While the consolidation would mean shared administrative staff and other economies of scale, they would retain their distinct “brand names.”

More information about H.R. 4490, including a section-by-section summary, is available HERE.

In addition to Chairman Royce and Ranking Member Engel, H.R. 4490 is co-sponsored by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-VA), Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH), Rep. William Keating (D-MA), and Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ).

At tomorrow’s markup, the Committee will also consider:

  • H. Res. 520, calling for an end to attacks on Syrian civilians and expanded humanitarian access.
  • H. Con. Res. 51, Immediate Establishment of Syrian War Crimes Tribunal Resolution.
  • H.R. 4028, to amend the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 to include the desecration of cemeteries among the many forms of violations of the right to religious freedom.