International Broadcasting Bureau – Adding Disinformation to Dysfunctional and Defunct – Information War Lost: Extraordinary Measures
By The Federalist
As reported by BBG Watch, the House Foreign Affairs Committee has taken the extraordinary step of creating a special webpage to explain its groundbreaking legislation intending to reform US Government international broadcasting.
Under normal circumstances, this might not be necessary.
But the circumstances here are not normal.
No doubt, staffers of the committee must be aware of the disinformation campaign emanating from some of the longtime executives on the Third Floor of the Cohen Building objecting to the legislation. No doubt, these same elements – most likely senior Voice of America (VOA) and International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) officials who are still there because they have not yet been replaced (there is a new three-person IBB management team put in by Broadcasting Board of Governors Chairman Jeff Shell and the renewed BBG board) — are more than comfortable with the status quo which is painfully evident as being dysfunctional and defunct.
There are still many executives and managers who are more than just comfortable with the status quo: they like it. A lot. They relish it. They regale in it. They are defiant. They have no intention of changing it. They have no intention of following Chairman Shell’s reported unambiguous instruction not to oppose, support, or comment on the legislation. They are opposing it and will continue to oppose it and comment on it to their contacts in Washington in violation of the board’s directive.
According to our sources, Chairman Shell and most BBG members welcome the reform legislation and want to see it passed, even if they do not agree with every proposed provision. There may also be a BBG member who does not agree with the legislation at all. But, according to our sources, the absolute majority agrees that under the current arrangement, with the IBB running the show, the board has seen the agency’s mission take a power dive in lost effectiveness and seems to be powerless to stop it.
It is time to put an end to this sordid chapter in the history of US Government international broadcasting.
As part of the reclamation effort, lack of effective remedial action will relegate the board to an advisory role, putting daily management of the agency in the hands of two Chief Executive Officers (CEOs), one for VOA and the other for the grantee/surrogate broadcasting entities, such as Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia (RFA) and others to be organized as a “Freedom News Network.”
And it hangs an “Out of Business” sign on the IBB bureaucracy.
What people may not know is that the BBG has twice dropped their CEO search. This in itself could be a sign of dysfunction on the part of the board’s staff. It could also be a reflection of the changing legislative landscape with two CEOs instead of one and the diminished role of the BBG.
To outward appearances, it should be a straightforward matter of selecting the top two candidates as determined by an executive search company. But nothing inside the Cohen Building comes simple or easy. Everything is a struggle: a possible reflection of the obstruction tactics by the IBB. Similarly, it could also be a reflection that the BBG could not line up someone to their liking to assume the CEO roles.
As we have often remarked, we know the IBB very, very well. The name of their game in the CEO scenario would be ideally (a) to have one of their own as a CEO or (b) someone they could easily threaten, intimidate and savage much in the way they played out their malevolence with the late Kenneth Y Tomlinson, a former BBG chairman, or Ambassador Victor Ashe, a former BBG member and others.
Never underestimate the malice of some VOA and IBB senior agency officials. They are cornered and trapped by their record of destroying the agency’s effectiveness. H.R. 4490 details the destruction with over more than a dozen findings and declarations which read like an indictment of the IBB record – which in its effect, it is.
Thus, we have what appears to be a BBG/IBB gambit of delay or obstruction – kind of an exhibition of bureaucratic passive-aggressive behavior. This is no surprise to anyone who has watched these people for any length of time.
Knowing that, it is a very good move for the House Foreign Affairs Committee to establish its special website page for H.R. 4490. In our view, it clearly demonstrates its unanimous and bipartisan commitment to see the legislation enacted into law. We wholeheartedly support the committee’s action and the legislation itself.
Without question, some senior agency officials will play any and every card they can to derail this legislation. They may hope for a radically different bill coming out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Or similarly, they may hope for their last card to play: a presidential veto.
These are dicey political propositions. The agency has been labeled dysfunctional and defunct at a very high level of the US government. Not addressing this problem in a substantive way bodes ill politically for anyone who would seem to allow this state of affairs to continue.
We all know the difficulty in reaching bipartisan consensus in the Congress. This bill represents a major departure from partisan politics – a reflection that national lawmakers can come together and deal with a problem that they can agree on as egregious and desperately in need of corrective action. All members of the committee and their staffers should be commended for the extraordinary amount of time and cooperative effort in the National and Public Interest that has been committed to turning things around for this important instrument of US Government strategic communication.
The Sky Is (Still) Falling – Not!
One of the things that some VOA and IBB executives want to exploit is hysteria over the subject of news versus propaganda, making the bill out to be the open floodgates for the latter.
We get a lot of discussion over this subject with sources familiar with the VOA Newsroom.
We have to say – and will say again – that the concerns are intentionally overblown by VOA and IBB senior managers.
H.R. 4490 reaffirms the primacy of the VOA Charter and the demarcations to distinguish between delivering news and information and that of discussing US foreign policy positions for international audiences.
It is not a difficult thing to do; and the agency did do it remarkably well before the agency’s mission was purloined by the IBB and its “strategic plan.” This “plan” has been wholly refuted – although the BBG has not been effective in blocking its implementation by the IBB. Make no mistake about it: if fully implemented, the chances of successfully rehabilitating the agency are slim to none. With specific regard to VOA, the damage will have been so thorough to the agency’s credibility and effectiveness that the only action left would be to close it.
Think about it: the people who came up with this “strategic plan” are being given the ultimate “vote of no confidence.” Their organizational structure will be largely abolished under this pending legislation. They have no interest in anything other than “scorched earth:” incinerating any chance that the agency will fare better through reconstitution and rehabilitation.
It is unfortunate that some staffers in the Newsroom have seemed to succumb to the hysteria. To outward appearances, they have made a subjective judgment that any kind of reform is bad.
To that we would respond: dysfunctional and defunct is bad. It’s the kind of “bad” that puts the agency out of existence.
Congressional reform of an agency on the cusp of being rendered a total waste of American taxpayer monies cannot nearly approach the dire circumstances that make up the agency’s current operational paradigm.
If these staffers are indeed worried about “propaganda,” the first place they should be looking is within the confines of the Cohen Building: and in particular, the senior offices of the 3300 Corridor.
The IBB has been trafficking in propaganda for years: the so-called “strategic plan.”
This IBB-inspired propaganda is the basis for much of the critical analysis leveled at the agency in commentaries on the BBG Watch website.
Some staffers object to the criticisms of VOA English News failings.
For the record:
As we have stated repeatedly, we are very supportive of the staff working in difficult circumstances inside the agency. The objective point being made is the manner in which the workforce, in the Newsroom and elsewhere in the agency, is mismanaged.” In essence, the workforce is understaffed and under-resourced. As such, senior officials have set the workforce up to fail. And intentionally so. That is the criticism. And it is a legitimate criticism. Underreporting international news and events is not in the best interests of the United States. Creating the impression that the agency (its officials, not its employees) has a 9-to-5 approach to reporting international events is not in the best interests of the United States.
Another tactic as part of IBB propaganda is making it appear BBG Watch articles were the foundation for congressional action to reform the agency.
To be sure, BBG Watch and similar websites have an important media role in the overall process: providing independent and influential oversight regarding the agency’s performance.
But that oversight does not begin or stop there.
You heard it here, perhaps first: legislation of this scope relies upon a broad, divergent spectrum of analysis from both inside and outside government. At the end of the day, one of the most important sources of information on performance is the agency itself, particularly its top executives.
How has the agency fared on the performance spectrum?
- It has earned a reputation for being dysfunctional and defunct.
- It is one of the worst agencies to work for in the Federal government.
- It has embraced a “strategic plan” that has been described as “being neither strategic nor a plan.”
- It has unilaterally abandoned strategic audiences in China, Iran and Russia.
Much of the opinion on these subjects of a failed agency did not come solely from BBG Watch; and materially, much of it was established before BBG Watch arrived on the scene.
And it may surprise some people inside the Cohen Building that other Federal agencies are even more critical of the agency’s lack of mission performance than BBG Watch, which always defends the work of BBG journalists and their mission and points out that even among the management chaos, some entities, some services, and individual journalists are doing valuable work for the United States. They, of course, could do much more and much better under a reformed management structure and under better leaders.
Extraordinary measures are necessary in dealing with an agency that has “gone rogue” and chooses to remain intentionally so. The record makes clear that this situation cannot be tolerated and the agency cannot be allowed to operate without mechanisms in place to make it accountable to the American people and their elected representatives.
The employees of the agency should expect nothing less, especially if it is intended to make the agency and their service much better than what it is today.