BBG Watch Commentary

American Federation of Government Employees, AFGE Local 1812, a union representing Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) federal workers joined others in their praise of Victor Ashe’s tenure as a BBG Governor.


AFGE Local 1812 wishes to extend its gratitude to Ambassador Ashe, who came to personify the values embodied by the Voice of America Charter, notably that VOA will tell the truth, whether the news is good or bad.

Very soon after coming on the Board, Governor Ashe made his presence felt by doing what the current BBG/IBB Executive Staff has been incapable of doing. He personally met with employees, providing his personal coordinates and encouraging them to stay in touch. He refused to allow those running the Agency to wall him off from the rank and file. He did not rely on the Executive Staff to provide him with information on the health of the organization. He rolled up his sleeves and found out for himself.

One of the first things Governor Ashe correctly identified was the problem with long-term purchase-order contractors. Contractors are supposed to fill short-term assignments – to supplement and not supplant staff employees. They are definitely not supposed to be long-term employees, as is the case for many at VOA. We believe it is a violation of their human rights and their labor rights.

Governor Ashe fought for transparency in the way the Agency communicates with the staff and the outside. In response, the BBG/IBB Executive Staff fought back with the help of the General Counsel’s Office, effectively imposing a gag order on BBG members, a gag order aimed primarily at Governor Ashe.

Governor Ashe was willing to consider the rights of the rank and file employees and was concerned with protecting the interests of the taxpayers. He rightly pointed out that the Agency should seriously consider settling with the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB) employees, who had been illegally fired in a RIF and were vindicated by an Arbitrator’s decision. The BBG/IBB Executive Staff not only refuses to comply with the law by implementing the decision, but seems to pride itself on stringing things out through legal maneuvering.

Governor Ashe helped resolve the RFE/RL Russian Service mess, a major diplomatic snafu that destroyed much of the Agency’s credibility in Russia. For his efforts, he will always be remembered by the fired RL Russian broadcasters, some of whom were returned to their previous positions.

Unlike many BBG/IBB officials, he was available 24/7, as during the recent broadcasting crisis in Cambodia, where thanks to the efforts of Governor Ashe together with the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh, the Cambodian government’s decision prohibiting news broadcasts by foreign broadcasters prior to Cambodian national elections was withdrawn.

Thanks to the efforts of Governor Ashe together with bipartisan support from the U.S. Congress, the Edward R. Murrow transmitting facility in Greenville NC, the only shortwave transmitter asset remaining in the continental United States, was saved. In 2012, a rededication ceremony of the facility was held at which Governor Ashe, U.S. Congressman Walter Jones, and the respected journalist’s son, Casey Murrow, were featured speakers.

For these “sins” and others, the honorable former U.S. Ambassador was unfairly vilified, insulted and hounded by an Agency Executive Staff that cannot tolerate any oversight or contradictions to its hard-fisted management methods. At the Voice of America, you do as you are told, you keep silent and you are expected to cheerlead for a poor strategic plan and bad management decisions. If you don’t, you are in danger of being vilified and/or neutralized, as was Ambassador Ashe in a highly inappropriate State Department IG report that was so one-sided in its attack on Governor Ashe that the Union felt the need to address it in a website article calling it a ‘hatchet job’. Who the actual initiators of this attack were, we can only guess.

Yet, in the face of this character assassination, Governor Ashe forged ahead, showing the same grit, courage and indomitable spirit that got him re-elected as the longest-serving mayor of Knoxville, TN, and exhibiting the qualifications that led to his appointment by the White House to the important post as U.S. Ambassador to Poland from 2004-2009.

Rank and file VOA employees can’t be fooled. They may have to stay silent as their Agency is eviscerated by misguided people who claim they are moving it into the 21st century. But they know integrity when they see it. And they saw it in the person of Governor Ashe.

That is why AFGE Local 1812 extends its warmest thanks and best wishes to Ambassador Victor Ashe, for doing what the management of this Agency has so often failed to do: tell the truth, be willing to make adjustments to plans that are not working, reaching out to those who actually produce the work of the Agency, suggesting instead of threatening, listening instead of ordering, and recognizing that there is a major morale issue in this Agency.

At this juncture, we reluctantly say goodbye to this outstanding Governor and Gentleman, and thank him for being a shining example of what a public official could and should be.

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