BBG Watch Commentary

SES Bonuses

A list of cash bonuses given to the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB), the Voice of America (VOA), and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB) employees in FY 2012 shows that nearly 100% percent of already highly-paid SES executives at these federal entities have received bonuses that were thousands of dollars higher than cash awards given out to rank and file employees, only some of whom received bonuses.

Surprised and upset by poor judgment and insensitivity on the part of the agency’s top executives, members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) have halted all bonuses for SES positions during the current fiscal cutbacks. IBB, VOA and OCB have some of the lowest employee morale in the federal government. The BBG also includes Radio Free Asia (RFA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), and Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN) which are private entities and have different rules for rewarding superior performance of their managers and employees.

The Board has ordered IBB, VOA and OCB executives not to furlough any federal employees in response to the sequestration budget cut. They have responded by cutting assignments for contract employees who are already poorly paid, exploited, and denied benefits and legal protections at the federal entities within the BBG. This kind of behavior on the part of the agency’s senior executives has earned them some of the lowest possible ratings in management skills from their own federal employees at IBB, VOA and OCB. (Contract employees at the federal entities are not surveyed, but if they were, these ratings would have been even lower.)

“I never knew that nearly every single SES executive at IBB and VOA received a bonus until the Board asked for the information,” said the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) member Ambassador Victor Ashe. The BBG Board has the overall control over the agency, but cash bonuses are approved by the senior executive staff. The Board did not know that the agency’s SES executives, who in the latest Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Employee Viewpoint Survey were once again rated as some of the worst managers in the federal government, would nearly all receive from $5,000 to $9,500 each for their dismal performance. Most received $8,000. Some bonuses for rank and file employees were as low as $150.

“The Board never approved it and I fully disagree with it. These awards are not meant to be handed out 100 percent to every single SES in VOA and IBB,” Ashe added.

Ashe announced that the Board has halted all bonuses for SES positions during the current fiscal cutbacks. “I find the handling of these awards to be unfortunate and contrary to intent,” Victor Ashe said. “I know several of my colleagues on the Board concur with my views and regret we were not even consulted on this.”

BBG Watch has learned that the bonuses for SES executives at the International Broadcasting Bureau were approved by IBB Director Richard Lobo and for Voice of America SESs by VOA Director David Ensor.

Sources also told BBG Watch that most BBG members are highly frustrated with senior staffers at the federal entities who fail to provide them with critical information and ignore their requests.

BBG members have been more successful in encouraging reforms at the private entities like Middle East Broadcasting Networks. Some, particularly Radio Free Asia, have been well managed and have good labor-management relations. Some, like Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, are now undergoing reforms supported by BBG members. Sources say that BBG members are looking for ways to reform the International Broadcasting Bureau but are encountering major difficulties and resistance from the senior staff.