BBG – USAGM Watch Commentary
Several former and current employees said independently of each other that the senior United States Agency for Global Media (USAGM) management’s claim of responding immediately to initial concerns they expressed to senior agency executives about USAGM CEO John Lansing’s right-hand man Haroon Ullah, who pled guilty this week to federal charges of stealing government money, are simply not true. They said that the senior management’s initial response to their complaints about Mr. Ullah was not immediate or friendly toward the employees making their concerns known to Lansing’s deputies.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, June 27, 2019
Photos, a full bio of the former USAGM official in this case, and several of his articles were still posted on the USAGM official U.S. government website as of 11:00 AM EDT June 28, 2019.
Formerly On BBG – USAGM Watch
February 25, 2019
BBG – USAGM Watch
Several USAGM employees familiar with the Ullah case said that the current responses about the scandal from Lansing’s senior management team are designed to obscure from public knowledge gross mismanagement, disregard for government regulations, and hostile work environment at the $800 million agency still run by holdover officials such as John Lansing who were appointed to their position in 2015 and 2016 or brought on board more recently by Lansing.
These former and current employees blame the failure of leadership on the part of Lansing and his senior executives for multiple scandals at the agency and its entities. In addition to mismanagement within the USAGM senior bureaucracy, several major scandals have been reported at the Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) under the watch of senior executives selected by John Lansing in recent years. Lansing has been in charge of the agency since 2015.
USAGM’s Office of Public Affairs failed to respond to questions about Ullah’s status posed in a Freedom of Information Act request sent in 2018, part of a series of extensive FOIAs submitted to the agency that are still pending.
The agency’s Office of Public Affairs at one point pledged a response, but then failed to follow through in response to numerous emails.
Responding Friday to a question on Ullah’s plea deal, an agency spokesperson, who reflects what Lansing’s senior management team wants the public to know, made the following comment:
“Consistent with best practices and Agency policy, Agency leadership immediately referred this matter to the Office of the Inspector General, once information about irregularities was made know. The Agency’s own internal oversight and audit processes for travel related expenditures alerted Agency officials to potential fraud. Mr. Ullah’s employment was terminated a number of months ago, as a result of the Agency’s own internal investigation. For further information please contact the U.S. Attorney’s office.”
Former and current USAGM employees who want to remain anonymous paint a totally different picture of how some of John Lansing’s senior executives, among whom Haroon Ullah held a key position right below Lansing and often appeared with him at public events, responded to initial complaints from employees and less senior managers.
These former and current employees said they were the first ones to raise concerns about Haroon Ullah to senior executives reporting to Lansing. Some said that they also raised more general concerns about Ullah directly with Lansing and some of the members of the Broadcasting Board of Government (BBG). These former and current employees say that the senior management initially dismissed their concerns and the information they provided.
Some employees also said they had experienced intimidation from senior managers for trying to warn them about travel and contracting irregularities. They also stressed that they—not the senior executives under Lansing—were the first ones to contact the OIG on this issue using confidential channels.
Some sources reported independently of each another that Lansing not only brought Haroon Ullah to the agency but was grooming him to be his deputy only to have his plan derailed when the scandal became public. They also pointed out that the agency has never seen so many major scandals at any comparable time in its history as it has under Lansing’s watch.