BBG Watch Commentary

During his few short months on the job, new Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) CEO John Lansing has seen a number of major management failures caused by managers he had inherited and is trying to do something about it. He’s attempting to get longtime BBG executives to do their jobs for the first time in years. They created these problems, so may be they can solve them. This may be a false hope, but for the time being Lansing in his new CEO position has very few other options. In the long run, he may be able to hire competent new managers after persuading the current ones to leave, but being new to the government, he has a lot to learn about the federal bureaucracy and may not be able to do this quickly, if that is his plan. We wish him luck if it is.

Today, Lansing issued the following announcement in response to recent technical failures and devastating assessment of the agency’s cyber security by the Office of Inspector General (OIG).

From: IBB Notices Admin
Sent: Monday, February 8, 2016 6:21 PM
To: IBB Notices Administration
Subject: From CEO Lansing – Mark Prahl’s Business Continuity Detail
Dear colleagues:

Within the last two months, BBG has been impacted by two serious emergencies: the GSA-caused power failure in December that disrupted our transmissions worldwide, and the recent snowstorm that hit Washington and forced many of you to brave terrible weather or sleep on cots so that programming and transmissions could continue.
These events remind us how vulnerable we can be in time of emergency, and they have convinced me of the need for our agency to dedicate additional resources to develop contingency plans to ensure our work can continue under such circumstances.
BBG’s infrastructure is increasingly interconnected. Technical problems in one part of the world ripple through to affect other parts of BBG. The federal government expects us to develop continuity of operations plans (COOP) to implement in times of emergency ( But our extensive requirements as a 24 by 7 broadcaster have never been properly funded or resourced, and I want to use the memory of the recent problems we experienced throughout BBG as impetus for a new focus on emergency planning and preparedness.
As such, I have asked Mark Prahl, VOA’s Associate Director of Broadcast Operations, to accept a four month detail, beginning from Feb 9th. Reporting to André Mendes, Mark will lead the effort to analyze existing continuity of operations plans at all our entities, to assess whether they are up to date in light of continued expansion of our content creation and distribution infrastructures, and to recommend changes that will reduce our vulnerability to disruption in Washington and any of our other facilities around the world. He and André will deliver their report to me and the Board at the end of the detail.
Mark is an excellent choice to lead this project. A civil engineer by training, Mark has been in charge of VOA’s television and radio technical operations and engineering since 2004, and before that was senior project manager for TSI’s predecessor, the IBB Office of Engineering, where he led the first build-out to launch MBN, and was heavily involved in the consolidation of the RFE/RL transmission assets into the IBB network.
During Mark’s assignment, Andrew Cassells, will temporarily lead VOA Broadcast Operations, working with the existing team’s structure.
Best regards,
John Lansing
CEO & Director

At this point, CEO Lansing has no choice but to rely on BBG’s International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) executives who have either created and/or ignored these problems for years, while engaging in shameless self-promotion.

One former VOA broadcaster observed:


“So, here’s the thing, or things. How embarrassing is it for Lansing to have to put out this note, which does not mention the server faiure issue? Where is the Mendes report on events leading to that separate event? How could the agency go year after year, decade after decade, dependent on decaying and inadequate infrastructures? How many GS-15s and SES allowed all of these to continue? Where is the accountability?”

Several current VOA broadcasters also noted that the Lansing email does not address the multi-day failure in December of Voice of America’s digital video storage system.


“I was wondering where the server issues disappeared to!
I also noted that Lansing blamed the problems on funding.”


At least Lansing is trying to do something, which no one before him did: he’s trying to get these IBB executives to do their jobs instead of allowing them to brag about their non-existing accomplishments with worn-out jargon and meaningless and misleading audience data. A BBG source who knows him told BBG Watch that he is no fool.

As someone who has never worked for the federal government before, Mr. Lansing may, however, be susceptible to IBB executives’ argument that they had no funding for proper emergency planning. That is simply not true. IBB, under former Director Dick Lobo, current IBB Deputy Director Jeff Trimble and many of the other senior staffers had plenty of money — more money than any individual BBG media entity that actually produces programs.

Where did that IBB money go? As we have mentioned earlier, senior staffers expanded the number of IBB offices and bureaucratic positions. They created a monstrous bureaucracy that Mr. Lansing should proceed to dismantle rather than trying to ask U.S. taxpayers for more money so that these bureaucrats could continue to operate in the style to which they have become accustomed. If nothing else, Mr. Lansing should make them work and replace them one by one if they don’t perform to his expectations.

This chart shows where IBB’s taxpayers’ money has gone in recent years. It went to create new bureaucratic jobs — a 37% growth from FY2006 to FY2014. As these high-paying IBB jobs were being filled, IBB executives promoted hiring poorly-paid and exploited employee-contractors to do Voice of America’s work. Some of these contract employees have filed a $400 million class action discrimination lawsuit against the agency. Mismanagement by IBB executives is likely to cost U.S. Treasury hundreds of millions of dollars. Of course, the BBG has no money for emergency planning. The money is tied-up in bureaucratic salaries and IBB bureaucracy.

IBB Positions Growth FY2007-2014. During the same period, IBB executives proposed and carried out numerous program cuts and reductions of programming positions.
IBB Positions Growth FY2007-2014. During the same period, IBB executives proposed and carried out numerous program cuts and reductions of programming positions.

FY2016 BBG Budget


BBG Budget FY2016