International Broadcasting Bureau – Information War: Lost and Dead – Freedom and Democracy Corrupted
By The Federalist
All governments, good and bad, create a substantial body of law, rule and regulation intended to establish their legitimacy and govern their societies.
How a government acts determines the moral issues of “good” or “bad,” how citizens view the actions of their government and what mechanisms are available to address issues and seek redress when necessary.
Laws can facilitate and support self-determination of peoples. They can also be used to buttress oppression and corruption. Some nations go about the business of maintaining freedoms while others work assiduously to oppress, punish, abuse and harm people.
The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) makes a very big deal about “supporting freedom and democracy.” They have banners and placards in the Cohen Building with this declaration. It is a phrase heard often in BBG press releases and other public pronouncements. It appears on the web in the BBG’s mission statement.
A recent Office of Inspector General (OIG – State Department) report has focused on the use of contract employees by the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB). According to BBG Watch, the report contains allegations of widespread, systemic regulatory abuse by officials of the agency: exceeding the limitations set by regulations on the number of contractors the agency can employ at one time, problems with tax withholding, and other terms and conditions of employment, one of which would be using contractors as full-time employees rather than to supplant the regular workforce on a limited, temporary basis.
A Message Laced With Hypocrisy
With a mission of outreach to global publics, these allegations and revelations of wrongdoing are devastating.
This agency cannot hold itself up to be a paragon of virtue “supporting freedom and democracy” when its internal culture is contemptuous of adhering to law, rule and regulation.
As we have stated before, if true, these allegations and revelations are not aberrational. On its face, they appear to be institutional and intentional by scale and scope.
And in terms of the agency as a whole, they are the tip of the iceberg. The tentacles of this kind of contempt for regulatory order and structure work their way throughout the entire organization and manifest themselves in a number of other ways:
- The establishment and institutionalizing of a hostile work environment, repeatedly observed in the annual Federal employee workplace satisfaction survey in which the agency consistently ranks at/or near the bottom of Federal mid-size agencies.
- The culture of fear and retaliation, most notably in the VOA Newsroom where a “Suggestion Box” is now in place so that employees can comment on the work environment within the Newsroom. It’s a sad commentary on VOA leaders as it shows that managers are incapable of communicating with VOA journalists any other way. Free and open discussion of the implosion of the agency’s primary news operation is an invitation to being targeted for retaliation, retribution.
- Employees being “banned” from the Newsroom as part of a larger battle over the fate of the Newsroom and its intended demise by the demolitions team of David Ensor (Voice of America [VOA] director) and Steve Redisch (VOA executive editor).
- Animosity created by management style and programming policies of top executives that now defines the relationship of the Newsroom to VOA language division chiefs and executive producers.
- The tactics of the Office of the General Counsel and its hostile posture in delaying or ignoring rulings in the area of administrative law, Freedom of Information (FOIA) requests and labor-management relations.
- Millions of dollars spent annually, represented by the agency’s annual budget, which does little more than preserve a failed “strategic plan.”
- The personal and professional character assassination directed against presidential appointees to the BBG, both former and current, and against independent journalists on the outside who expose abuse within this government agency (Gary Thomas), throughout the government, and at the UN (Matthew Russell Lee). IBB officials attacking American journalists shows how low this agency has sunk.
Dysfunctional and Defunct Equates With Corrupt
When viewed in its entirety, what you have is a system designed to preserve a failed agency. Clearly, this is the first order of business insinuated through the agency as a whole.
If you understand this, it comes as no surprise that the agency is incapable of executing its mission and carrying out normal operations. It is a prodigious effort to preserve a failure and everything that the agency is supposed to be doing suffers as a result.
As we have remarked before, the senior levels of this agency can be likened more to the characteristics of a rogue organization in which fear of retribution and actual retaliation dominate the agency’s management profile.
In short, the IBB is not a role model representative of “supporting freedom and democracy.” Indeed it is quite the opposite. It is every bit as oppressive, repressive as one would expect in beleaguered failed nation-states elsewhere in the world.
Institutional Misconduct Without Penalty
How does this happen?
It’s a legitimate question and here’s the answer:
There is no penalty for failure or wrongdoing.
Indeed, failure is often rewarded with cash bonuses among the senior management and profusive praise in resolutions drafted by IBB officials and later adopted by the BBG Board and read at public meetings.
With as many people complicit as there are in the cumulative failure of this agency, these annual cash awards and praise create the symbolic appearance of a form of payoff for keeping critics silent and maintaining its dysfunctional and defunct status.
In the private sector, such widespread failure would likely result in having your employment terminated.
Not so in the Federal Government, but especially not so in this agency, and spectacularly not at the International Broadcasting Bureau.
And that is wrong – especially on the scale represented by the dysfunctional and defunct IBB.
These people continue to hold onto their positions and their salaries. Worse, they continue to operate in a “business as usual” manner, working to maintain their “strategic plan” which is now labeled “neither strategic nor a plan.”
When judgments have been rendered against the agency, the monetary portion of the judgment, including attorney fees, settlements, court costs and interest come from a judgment fund within the Justice Department (which usually defends the agency, along with the agency’s General Counsel). In some cases, if these penalties were to come out of the agency’s operating budget, it could shut the agency down.
Without meaningful penalties, accountability delayed is accountability denied.
With senior agency officials continuing to move on the objectives of the failed “strategic plan,” the agency wastes MILLIONS of dollars annually. When viewed over a longer period, it represents BILLIONS of American taxpayer dollars thrown away in abject dysfunctional and defunct futility.
As long as these individuals are still in the Cohen Building, it is undermining any attempt to salvage the agency from their handiwork.
To outward appearances, no actions by the BBG to date appear to have any penetrative, lasting remedial impact. This does not mean that something more substantive may be in the offing. However, you can be assured that the cabal responsible for the agency’s abysmal status will do everything possible to lessen the impact of decisions the BBG may intend.
To the point, to this time, the agency has never addressed the magnitude of the contractor issue, choosing instead to skirt around the perimeter of the substance of the issue.
These are the questions that need substantive answers:
- How is it that the agency hired 600+ contractors when it was limited to approximately 60?
- Was the agency advised that it was exceeding its contracting authority?
- Did senior officials choose not to follow guidance and instead choose to exceed its authority?
- What administrative controls were ignored in this process?
The bottom line: to all outward appearances, the agency, i.e. top IBB officials, knew what they were doing and may still be doing it.
That raises another issue: what you come to understand is that when the agency is found to be in violation of law, rule and regulation, it is not enough to issue an order that the agency cease the violation and/or lack of compliance: these officials must be forced to comply.
With this agency enforced compliance is necessary in the absence of voluntary compliance.
Accountability delayed is accountability denied
And what comes from the violations is the understanding that senior officials have maneuvered the agency into a position where it cannot operate without a huge number of contractors, having sliced into the rolls of full time staff and/or failed to fill or eliminated encumbered positions that have remained vacant.
One of the things you do is to get your hands on a copy of the agency’s staffing pattern. You look at how many positions are filled, you look at how many positions are vacant, you compare how many employees produce programs and how many are part of the continuously growing IBB empire, where the number of positions between FY2007 and FY2014 has grown by 37 percent.
You then find out where the contractors are working within the agency.
The combination gives you a base point to examine the intentions of senior agency officials about the agency’s operations: what they want to do as opposed to what they are supposed to be doing.
In the end, it comes down to another glaring example of abuse:
- Abuse of American taxpayer money.
- Abuse of law, rule and regulation.
- Abuse of those individuals hired as contractors.
- Abuse of the agency’s stated mission.
All trademarks of a dysfunctional, defunct and corrupted agency.
And agency officials more than happy to keep it that way.
Moving the perpetrators around the Cohen Building does not end the problem. It solves nothing.
These people cannot be rehabilitated.