Employee Survey Time 2018
US International Media Information War Lost
By The Federalist
It’s time for the annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS), the 2018 edition.
We’ve seen a copy of the memo issued by John Lansing, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) chief executive officer (CEO), on the subject of the survey.
This survey is important to the future of the agency and its employees –
But not for the reasons stated by Lansing. An examination of the memo demonstrates the extent to which
Mr. Lansing is disconnected from reality. It is a fiction, largely created to protect himself and senior agency officials.
Consider the following:
“Results will be evaluated closely by me and my senior management team, and will inform (sic) action plans and solutions going forward.”
To put it plainly, this is a crock.
This agency has been at the bottom of this survey since its inception many years ago and the gap between the BBG and the next bad federal agency widened last year under John Lansing.
The agency has admitted to taking “baby steps” in addressing issues identified in these surveys. “Baby steps” is a bureaucratic term of art which means to do nothing of substance. Substantive action would identify agency officials as the source of the agency’s problems which have earned it the reputation for being one of the worst places to work in the Federal Government.
That is what the agency is and that is what the agency will continue to be, particularly in the hands of the BBG, Lansing, Amanda Bennett (the VOA director), Sandy Sugawara (VOA deputy director), and longtime senior official Jeffrey Trimble (BBG deputy director) along with a supporting cast with offices on the Third Floor of the Cohen Building. They are the gatekeepers of preserving the status quo and protecting themselves and their positions. They will go to extraordinary steps to do so creating fictions around anything and anyone seen to be a threat to their existence.
Crock Number Two:
“We have seen impressive results in our efforts to expand global freedom of information and expression, and to counter disinformation, violent extremism, and censorship. In 2017, U.S. international media saw 400 million social media video views in Russia, reached 23 percent of Iranian adults weekly, and helped 70 percent of its Iraqi audience form opinions.”
Fiction is all that Lansing and company have left to play.
The agency is a colossal failure across the board. What is most significant is that Mr. Lansing and company don’t know how foolish their unilateral statements are.
Here are some alternative points of view to that of Mr. Lansing’s on the subject of global freedom of information and expression:
Am I surprised? No. Is it shameful? Yes. @VOAIran censors my talk (& @MehrangizKar) in report on our @HudsonInstitute panel. I'm on their blacklist. Didn't help that I (again) criticized their severe mismanagement & fecklessness https://t.co/tudkyIK9fU (minute 10) @BBGWatch
— Mariam Memarsadeghi (@memarsadeghi) April 30, 2018
The agency is rapidly becoming a source of fake news or fictionalized declarations of success.
- The agency claims a ludicrous number of 400-million social media views in Russia over a period of ONE YEAR. How about comparing weekly web traffic to that of other news sites. It is dismally small and not even on the radar screen of the vast majority of the Russians. Even some individual bloggers in Russia do better.
- The next is the percentage of Iranians reached by agency programming weekly which it puts at 23 percent. How old is this figure and based on what? The vast majority of the population is being reached by someone else, via domestic or foreign media. Let’s take a look what a liberal anti-regime Iranian woman has to say about VOA Persian Service programs:
“Voice of America Persian service should be resuscitated from its deplorable state[Emphasis added.]. During the Obama administration, the network lost the large and loyal audience it had because popular, politically sharp programming was canceled and replaced with watered-down messaging to accompany appeasement and rapprochement with the Iranian regime. The outlet is poorly managed, with low morale among staff. If the Iranian people are to make a transition to democracy, they will need daily news and analysis from VOA that is robust and encouraging.”
10 ways the US government could help Iranians win back their country, BY MARIAM MEMARSADEGHI AND AKBAR ATRI, OPINION CONTRIBUTORS, THE HILL — 01/12/18
- And then the agency claims that a whopping 70 percent of Iraqis form opinions based on agency program content. Of course, the agency doesn’t say what those opinions are, positive or negative.
What the agency is today is a farce compared against what its stated mission is.
On and on, Mr. Lansing and company crank out fictions to protect their reputations.
But here’s the fact of the matter that virtually all of Washington and global media know:
What the agency doesn’t have are three important components:
- Superior leadership
The lack of all three relate to what can be characterized as “bureaucratic inbreeding:” in essence, perpetuating a failed system by populating it with like-minded individuals and constantly recruiting news ones as people with experience leave.
As anyone familiar with the agency knows, this circumstance is rampant throughout the agency. Expressed in a different manner, the agency has been corrupted top to bottom.
If the agency is to have any meaningful future role in the Federal government, this system must be broken.
You cannot have a federal agency run by people who hide behind a claim of being “MANAGEMENT whistleblowers” (that’s how a media report described them) to protect themselves in the creation of a fiction. This has become a standard tactic of the Third Floor of the Cohen Building the most egregious example being the fiction of a “coup” by a former agency official to overturn the existing management structure. This fiction was propelled by what is an anti-Trump bias that permeates various quarters of the agency. It got a lot of press and deceived the staff of Elliot Engel (D-NY), an intelligent and thoughtful ranking minority member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, into buying into it.
(One wonders if Congressman Elliot ever got the documentation he requested from the agency regarding this “coup.” If he did and did not find proof for the claims made, he should go after those mysterious MANAGEMENT whistleblowers.)
But the good thing coming out of the “coup” affair is to know what these people are afraid of: being given the heave-ho out of the agency.
What’s In The Future?
There is no such thing as a Federal agency existing in perpetuity. And right now, this agency is on the cusp of going onto the great bureaucratic beyond: either being eliminated wholesale or more likely being absorbed into another part of government.
One reason is Donald Trump, president of the United States. You don’t have to like him or hate him. No President of the United States, be it Republican or Democrat, is going to give extra money to the agency head like John Lansing under whose watch some of the employees for months on end have used an F-word and other insults in public to describe the President of the United States, post a VOA video in which the President was called “pig,” “dog,” “fool” and “joke” and streamlined on Facebook sex jokes about the First Lady.
John Lansing can repeat all he wants his assertion to NPR that “we have the greatest respect for the President.” What President would not cut the budget of the agency headed by a man whose employees consistently vilify the President in public? What President would reward the agency head with extra money for his agency if he is being vilified by agency employees in public statements and the chief executive does not do anything effective to stop it? John Lansing is a danger to this agency and its honest and dedicated employees who do not engage in inappropriate behavior. If the agency does not have a new CEO and a new management team soon, its budget and its future are threatened. This means the jobs of honest and dedicated employees are threatened.
What Trump understands and does with great frequency is be his own news channel through his Twitter account. He knows anything he says, no matter how inaccurate or outrageous, is going to be picked up by both domestic and international news outlets. He relishes being in the center of the 24/7 news cycle. He certainly does not need the BBG for that purpose as some hysterical media commentaries inspired by BBG “MANAGEMENT whistleblowers” have warned Americans who have no idea how mismanaged the Broadcasting Board of Governors agency has become. It is the BBG “MANAGEMENT whistleblowers” who have appropriated the agency to promote their partisan and personal agenda. The Trump administration has so far completely ignored the BBG. It may be a deliberate decision or not. It remains to be seen.
What Mr. Trump thinks of the BBG is not known. But to all outward appearances what you don’t want him to be doing is asking, “Why do I need VOA?” And he would likely be answering that question in the negative after seeing some of the crude and virulently anti-Trump posts that have appeared on the agency’s websites and in some of VOA and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) personal but publicly seen social media posts.
What VOA and RFE/RL may or may not report is of little consequence if this is the prevailing atmosphere.
What should also be a matter of concern is the proliferation of digital mobile media internationally. It’s everywhere. It’s pervasive. And in the 21st century it plays to “confirmation bias:” targeting people and their opinions and reinforcing them. As a result:
- The BBG does not have a monopoly on thought or opinion.
- The BBG does not have a monopoly on credibility.
If anything, the BBG has demonstrated that it is as vulnerable to opposing points of view as anyone else.
More worrisome is that events have demonstrated that its employees are vulnerable in global hotspots. The “information war” can be deadly. The inability of the BBG to protect its employees in the field should be of serious concern. These employees are not being given a pass when in harm’s way.
This brings us back to the FEVS.
As an employee, you need to participate in the survey. It’s important.
Decisions move slowly through the Federal Government. But what matters most is consistency, such as:
- The agency is consistently ranked at the bottom of the FEVS among Federal agencies of comparable size.
- Agency officials have consistently demonstrated that they are incapable of taking substantive action to change the agency’s record of poor performance.
We know that the BBG bureaucracy should be eliminated and senior officials replaced. That is obvious. The question is how to do it.
There are individuals and organizations committed to oversight and watchdog activities regarding this agency. In a nation of competing priorities, it is important to keep the agency on the radar. That is what these individuals and organizations do.
A big role in that – indeed a major role – is the FEVS and the employees who take the time to give people outside the agency a comprehensive look at what is going on inside the Cohen Building.
We know that senior officials are committed to maintaining “business as usual.” They will go to extraordinary lengths – unscrupulous actions and statements – to hold onto their office space in the Cohen Building.
The task at hand is to be relentless and determined to expose them for what they are.
The FEVS is part of that process.
The FEVS is one of the strongest and effective counters to the false narrative perpetrated by a disreputable group of senior agency officials only interested in themselves at the expense of the agency, its mission and its employees.
Take the survey.