Broadcasting Board of Governors – Information War Lost – Dysfunctional, Defunct and Ungovernable – Chess Moves
by The Federalist
Ambassadors Crocker and Ashe are both needed at the Broadcasting Board of Governors to reform the agency’s defiant bureaucracy and to strengthen America’s voice abroad.
On Friday, May 10, 2013 the White House announced that President Obama will submit for nomination Ambassador Ryan Crocker to serve as a member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).
This follows other nominees including Jeffrey Shell (nominated to be Board chairman) and Matt Armstrong to be a member of the bipartisan Board, which by law should have four Democrats, four Republicans, and the Secretary of State.
Shell would be a Democrat nominee. Crocker and Armstrong are Republican nominees.
Sources report that Ambassador Crocker would be a replacement for Ambassador Victor Ashe.
If this is a scenario in play, the outcome would leave the Board with four Democrat appointees, two Republican appointees and two Republican vacancies.
And this would not be good for the board or for the agency it oversees, not good for American taxpayers, and dangerous for national security.
The Right Man for an Addled Federal Agency
Ambassador Ashe is highly regarded in certain quarters for his fortitude in dealing with a very troubled agency lorded over by a group of self-serving bureaucrats in the agency’s International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB). The institutional legacy constructed by these individuals is this:
The worst organization in the Federal Government and the worst place to work in the Federal Government.
These individuals seemingly operate at cross purposes with the best interests of the United States Government, making decisions that undermine the agency’s mission effectiveness and create substantial – if not altogether dangerous – vulnerabilities in the image and prestige of the United States with global populations. They are a disaster for U.S. public diplomacy abroad.
Ambassador Ashe sees the problems created by the IBB and has earned the visceral enmity of these bureaucrats whose sole function seems to be self-aggrandizement – hidden behind a lot of bluster and nonsense that we often ridicule as their “flim flam, Soviet-style, dysfunctional and defunct strategic plan.” These individuals cannot admit that their scheme has been exposed and has essentially left the agency and its mission in ruins. They have a lot to lose. They know it and they are hunkered down, in “bunker mode.”
Inside the IBB “Bunker”
Theirs is an active bunker.
They have spared nothing in an effort of personal and professional character assassination, especially targeting Ambassador Ashe and extending further to include board members Susan McCue and Michael Meehan. Make no mistake about it: the IBB apparatchiks see all three as a threat to their positions. The behavior of the IBB is more akin to a violent totalitarian regime rather than that of a democratic republic.
Their handiwork is everywhere: a seriously flawed Office of Inspector General (OIG) report on the BBG which is little more than a recitation of the prevalent IBB views, an operational and programming fiasco involving the Russian Service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), another OIG report that failed at uncover any problems at RFE/RL and also repeated word for word quotes from IBB’s management allies, creation of a hostile workplace as reflected in successive annual Federal employee surveys, open defiance and gross insubordination in refusing to follow directives from the BBG, a stagnant international audience in key strategic countries and regions since 2008 despite increasing budgets and a dramatic decline in program impact due to their promotion of “soft” content.
In these circumstances, the absolute last thing that should be considered is replacing Ambassador Ashe. He has the institutional memory of destructive IBB decisions. He knows who has done what. He knows what needs to be done to get things on track before the agency slips completely beneath the waves.
And it’s mighty close right now.
And on its face, replacing Ambassador Ashe has the imprint of IBB retribution, a trait well known to those of us who follow its behavior.
Ambassador Crocker’s ambassadorial service has been through a broad stretch of the Arab and Muslim world. On its face, this would ideally place him in a position to know the extent to which the IBB has failed to have a resonant voice with these populations. Getting that aspect of agency programming corrected would be more than enough to occupy his tenure as a member of the BBG.
His last posting to Afghanistan should have also delivered a heavy dose of experience dealing with a government riddled with corruption. The corrosive effects of IBB decisions should be readily apparent. He will likely recognize the parallels and similarities.
If confirmed, Ambassador Crocker would not be the only agency official with experience in Afghanistan. VOA director David Ensor also served at the embassy in Kabul.
An Opinion on BBG Prerequisites
On April 10, 2013 Ensor met with staff of the VOA Central Newsroom to discuss the effects of the administration’s proposed FY2014 budget. It’s bad for the agency in general and specifically for the Newsroom.
From our previous treatment of this meeting:
“Ensor then makes note that the budget proposal contains a provision for the creation of a ‘Chief Executive Officer,’ another favorite of the IBB. Ensor gives us some insight of the thinking on the Third Floor when he stated,
‘…one full-time professional boss, not 9 part-timers, who hopefully will be hired on the basis of a resume that shows experience in journalism and media management…’”
It would be most interesting to see how Mr. Ensor reconciles this statement with the appointments of Mr. Armstrong and Ambassador Crocker, if confirmed. On its face, neither gentleman has what Ensor appears to believe are prerequisites for appointment to the Board.
It would appear that BBG appointments are made for other considerations.
One consideration we hope is not part of the mix is to remove a stalwart advocate of good governance in the national and public interest represented by Ambassador Ashe.
The administration knows full well that Ambassador Ashe can and should retain his appointment. With the number of vacancies existent on the BBG, both Mr. Armstrong and Ambassador Crocker could be confirmed and seated without displacing Ashe.
What is of serious concern to us is the seemingly high tolerance the administration has shown for the abject dysfunction of the IBB and the consequences of IBB policymaking and decisions. Outward or real passivity in dealing with the defiant IBB is not a plus.
The IBB is absent any visible leadership qualities (further borne out in how they are rated in this category in the Federal employee survey. You guessed it – right at the bottom) other than brutish and bullying behavior toward those who criticize and challenge their actions.
Richard Lobo has fared badly as the IBB Director. He has become something of a caricature of the ancient Roman emperor Nero – fiddling away as the agency destructs around him, while the underlings of the IBB staff, whom he was rewarded with bonuses, seemingly revel in the display of their destructive pyrotechnics.
As reported elsewhere, Mr. Lobo has been a contributor of substantial financial girth to the election campaigns of President Obama. Considering the figurative metaphor above, he must certainly feel trapped if not inside a symbolic representation of ancient Rome then perhaps more like several levels of Dante’s “Inferno.” Unfortunately for him, it is neither ancient history nor classic fiction. Seemingly, he has emotionally distanced himself from the havoc wreaked during his appointment – as one would attempt to bury a recurring daily nightmare.
For his personal and professional reputation, he would have perhaps wished for some other appointment with better outcomes and possibilities.
Our Bottom Line
Ambassador Ashe continues to be of great and vital service in his appointment to the BBG. He has our complete support.
Replacing Ambassador Ashe is not in the national and public interest. It is not in the interest of good governance and public administration in the Federal Service.
Ambassador Ashe should be afforded universal bipartisan support in the Congress and the White House for his continuing extraordinary efforts.
In any worthy human endeavor, large or small, there is an inescapable truth:
You need good people and you can never have enough good people – individuals who have the capacity to see beyond themselves, beyond self-interest, and recognize the greater needs that have to be met.
Ambassador Ashe – against long odds and confronting scurrilous individuals – has proven his mettle. He meets and exceeds the standards noted above.
The BBG, US Government international broadcasting and the American taxpayer do not need Ambassador Ashe to be artificially or politically absented from continuing his vital service. We should all be appropriately grateful for every day he avails himself of his service, his principles and his standards.
Having both Ambassador Ashe and Ambassador Crocker encumber positions on the BBG would be of great value to US Government international broadcasting.
We will continue to watch developments in this matter.