BBG Commentary

Beloved by Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) rank and file employees and feared by International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) executives, former BBG Governor Ambassador Victor Ashe welcomed President Obama’s promise of federal employee pay raise while warning new BBG members to be on guard against anti-labor animus among top IBB leaders.

Asked by a reporter for comments before Labor Day, former BBG Board member Victor Ashe said today that President Obama’s effort to grant a one percent pay raise to federal employees on January 1, 2014 is “welcomed and insures rank and file employees will benefit somewhat.”

“However, the new Board will need to be vigilant in preventing IBB Director Lobo from giving $7000 and $8000 bonuses again to about 18 SES executives who occupy offices close to him on the 3rd floor of the Cohen Building.”

“I am proud of the prior Board which last year blocked these obscene bonuses to the elite while rank and file got nothing or very little,” Ashe said.

Ashe was the senior Republican on the prior BBG Board. Two Democratic BBG members, Susan McCue and Michael Meehan were reported to have also opposed bonuses for top executives and are deeply displeased with IBB leaders on numerous other management issues.

“Mr Lobo simply does not understand or support the needs of working persons at Voice of America (VOA), Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB – Radio/TV Marti), and IBB when he singles out a few for high raises while others get nothing or very little. This contributes heavily to the low morale in Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Federal Employee Viewpoint Surveys (FEVS),” Ashe added.

“For an Administration which voices support for labor, Mr Lobo is uniquely out of step with organized labor.”

“This attitude is also reflected in his refusal to even try to settle the OCB lawsuit for employees who were terminated in a RIF cutback several years ago and for which the agency now owes over $3.2 million dollars.” Ashe added. “If Congress ever held an inquiry into this situation, the facts revealed would be stunning and newsworthy.”

BBG Watch has been reporting on hardships faced by former OCB employees who according to a federal Arbitrator and the Federal Labor Relations Board (FLRA) were illegally RIFed with the knowledge and support of IBB executives who now refuse to reinstate them.

Salvador’s Story

Roxana’s Story

Some of the RIFed OCB employees have depleted their savings, lost health insurance and their houses, and are experiencing other severe hardships.

While still serving on the BBG Board, Ambassador Ashe made this comment last July about IBB executives and RIFed OCB employees:

VICTOR ASHE “It is apparent that there is no serious interest by Dick Lobo (International Broadcasting Bureau Director) or Paul Kollmer-Dorsey (Acting BBG General Counsel) in solving the Office of Cuba Broadcasting lawsuit which has raked up $3 million plus in taxpayer exposure and may reach $5 million plus.”

“They even declined to consult the Board on whether BBG should accept or decline the court mediation service and proceeded to refuse the offer so the trial proceeds. BBG has lost at every step in the way over 3 years. BBG is getting inadequate legal advice and terrible public relations advice while running the meter for the American taxpayer.”

Other sources confirmed to BBG Watch that IBB officials did not consult BBG Board members on actions taken to refuse mediation and implementation of the Federal Labor Relations Board ruling in favor of RIFed employees. Sources also told BBG Watch that IBB officials failed to carry out requests from Ashe, McCue, and Meehan to hire a chief of staff for the Board to insure that Board decisions and requests are not ignored by the bureaucracy.

Until recently, the Board lacked a quorum, but with the appointment of Jeff Shell, a Democrat, as the new Chairman and Matt Armstrong and Ambassador Ryan Crocker as two Republican members, the Board can again make binding decisions, although it would not be able to fire Director Lobo who is a presidential appointee. Day-to-day IBB operations are overseen by Lobo’s longtime deputy Jeff Trimble. Lobo may, however, automatically lose his job if the U.S. Congress approves Administration-proposed bill to create a position of the CEO in charge of the agency. The CEO might then be able to select her or his management team.

In a statement that may signal a desire to change the anti-employee culture of the IBB executive staff, the new BBG Chairman Jeff Shell said at his first public BBG meeting that “We have a lot of very, very good people and very committed people that work for this organization who are working really hard and doing really good work across a number of fields.” Shell alluded to the problem of low employee morale which has plagued the agency since at least 2007 and indicated that it is one of the issues that needs to be worked on.

At the same time, Shell honored Ambassador Victor Ashe for his service on the BBG Board.

JEFF SHELL “Victor Ashe is somebody with whom during the last 11 months I have talked quite frequently. When we talk about somebody who wanted to be here and did the work, there is nobody probably in the history of the BBG Board who has put in more time and effort than Victor Ashe did for this organization and for this Board. He came in with an illustrious career, a longtime mayor of Knoxville. I know many people from Knoxville where he is beloved there. He went on to be an Ambassador and then joined this Board. I think — I was looking at the annals — that he may be the only member of the Board to have a perfect attendance record. I hope to match him. He came to every meeting, put in the work. He has assured me that he will continue to be interested in U.S. international broadcasting and will be able to help this organization going forward. … I want to thank Victor.”

Shell also announced at an open BBG Board meeting in Washington, DC on August 21, 2013 that Suzie Carroll has been appointed to serve as the Executive Director for the BBG Board. She will step in while the Board waits for the Congress to act on the CEO position. The IBB executive staff apparently did not dare to openly defy Shell on this appointment.

It still remains to be seen, however, whether the new BBG Board will be able to reverse years of employee intimidation and low morale and re-establish control over the IBB executive staff. The BBG employee union, American Federation of Government Employees, AFGE Local 1812, welcomed the appointments of Shell, Armstrong and Crocker to the BBG Board. The union also expressed its thanks to Ambassador Ashe for setting a high standard of decency, transparency and support for the agency’s workforce.