BBG Watch Commentary

Capitol HillBBG Watch sources on Capitol Hill are not perturbed by the Broadcasting Board of Governors’ (BBG) announcement last week that it intends to hire respected journalist and media executive Andrew Lack as Chief Executive Officer of the federal agency that oversees the five networks and broadcasting operations of U.S. international media.

One source in the House Foreign Affairs Committee, where the bipartisan bill, H.R. 4490, to reform the BBG originated, told BBG Watch that the BBG announcement of its intention to hire Andy Lack may actually help with the passage of the legislation in the Senate.

Andy Lack
Andy Lack

The BBG announcement clearly stated that the appointment Andrew Lack is not yet finalized.

“I’m not perturbed by the announcement of the BBG’s intention to hire Andy Lacks because it does not obviate the need to pass H.R. 4490; without it Mr. Lack will still not have all the duties a real CEO needs to fix the place,” the source said.

H.R. 4490, the United States International Communications Reform Act “to improve the missions, objectives, and effectiveness of U.S. international broadcasters,” was introduced on April 28, 2014 by Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), Ranking Member. The bill was unanimously passed by the Committee and by the House of Representatives in a voice vote. It now awaits further legislative action in the U.S. Senate.

The Federal part of the agency, which includes the Voice of America (VOA), the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB) has the lowest employee morale among all Federal agencies of similar size. The non-Federal grantee overseen by the BBG, which include Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia (RFA) and Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN) are generally well managed but also suffer under the dysfunctional Federal bureaucracy as it interferes with their operations.

Other sources also point out that without the bipartisan reform legislation, Andrew Lack will not have the legal authority to make decisions that a CEO needs to make. Another source pointed out that “the problems at the agency go much deeper than just hiring one person – the problems are structural, functional, and cultural.”

One source warned that without H.R. 4490, “hiring Andrew potentially opens the agency up to litigation if he tries to push too many reforms – those with vested interests in the status quo will fight his legal authority.” The source added that such a situation would be costly for an agency with little fiscal room to maneuver.

A well-placed Capitol Hill source who does not want to be named told BBG Watch, “I personally don’t see the BBG’s intent to hire Andrew Lack as an ‘end-around’ the legislation.” “Rather, I see it as confirmation that the legislation is on the right track,” the source said.