BBG Watch Commentary

BBG Watch is republishing as a public service an editorial posted on the website of the American Federation of Government Employees, AFGE Local 1812, a union representing federal employees at the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).


AFGE Local 1812Re: The Weakening Of The Rule of Law: An Agency Tragedy?

by AFGE Local 1812

In an editorial recently published by The Washington Post, Gary A. Haugen, President and CEO of International Justice Mission, reflected on the weakening of the rule of law around the world. “Throughout the developing world, public justice systems are being replaced with private systems of security and dispute resolution. The implications for the world’s poorest people are devastating”, writes Mr. Haugen.

We at AFGE Local 1812 raise this issue because we have also noticed that in the past 15 years, the rule of law at the Agency has weakened considerably. We refer here to the fact that hundreds of contractors have been hired to fill positions that should have gone to Federal employees, even though contractors are legally supposed to be a temporary stop gap to the hiring of permanent employees. Yet, some have now occupied, de facto, permanent positions for over 10 years as contractors.

“As elites abandon the public security system, their impoverished neighbors, especially women and girls, are left relying on underpaid, under-trained, undisciplined and frequently corrupt police forces for protection and all-but-paralyzed courts for justice,” continues Mr. Haugen. Well now, we know of language services at the Voice of America where men are promoted more often than women.

Although there are women in supervisory positions in the VOA language services, the record is spotty. In one particular service, only one naturalized female U.S. citizen was ever promoted to a supervisory GS-13 level in the service’s very long history; and in another where not a single woman has qualified for a supervisory position in some 20 years.

“As a U.N. commission found in 2008, a stunning 4 billion poor people live outside the protection of law,” Mr. Haugen further states. We know quite a few people inside the Agency who can’t rely on the protection of law. We refer here to the stunning rebuke issued more than two years ago against the Broadcasting Board of Governor’s Office of Cuba Broadcasting for using a reduction-in-force action to eliminate employees who had been outspoken critics of the agency. Arbitrator S.R. Butler ruled that former OCB Director, Pedro Roig, had ordered an illegal RIF and conducted it in such a way to target employees who had spoken out to the Office of Inspector General and Congress. Ms. Butler ordered the Agency to compensate and/or rehire the illegally fired employees but unfortunately, they’re still waiting, as the Agency refuses to comply with the ruling and has appealed the matter to court.

Another group of Agency employees is still “outside the protection of the law” as the Agency refuses to comply with another ruling. The Federal Labor Relations Authority over two years ago upheld an arbitrator’s ruling that the Broadcasting Board of Governors violated AFGE Local 1812’s collective bargaining agreement by hiring non-U.S. citizens for positions within the Agency when qualified U.S. citizens had applied for those positions. The wronged employees were supposed to be compensated.

They too are still waiting. There is nowhere for the Agency to appeal. They have simply refused to comply with the rulings.

“When a justice system descends into utter dysfunction, those who exploit and abuse vulnerable people may do so without fear of apprehension or prosecution,” continues Mr. Haugen. Indeed, we know of Agency supervisors who have retaliated –against other employees who dared defy them — with impunity, in violation of the law.

“When elites, including government officials, have no stake in professional and reliable public security, it deteriorates, just like libraries and schools do when affluent families opt out of public facilities and pay for such services in the private sector,” argues Mr. Haugen. Indeed, just look at the way the Voice of America has deteriorated, turning into a shadow of its former self, with a dysfunctional newsroom that can’t put out basic news. No amount of Bingo nights, cookie contests, ice-skating outings have sufficed in the past year to improve morale. What ails the VOA is the contempt for the rule of law that eats away at employees’ dignity.

As we mentioned before, in Fiscal Year 2008, the General Counsel’s office had a staff of six. For Fiscal Year 2014, the same office will count 15 employees and that doesn’t include contractors.
Why was it necessary to more than double the staff of lawyers of the General Counsel’s Office? Maybe it takes an increasing number of lawyers to defend the Agency as it continues to bend or break the law.

Using their growing pack of lawyers, the Agency, which trumpets the rule of law to a global audience, continues to flaunt the law at the expense of U.S. taxpayers.
Unfortunately, the result is plain to see: the VOA is losing its voice, while U.S. taxpayers risk having to pay an outrageous amount of money for settlement of the cases because Agency management could not be bothered, for so many years, to respect the law. This is exactly what happened in the Hartman v. Albright case, which saw the U.S. government forced to pay some 500 million dollars to 1,100 women who claimed they were discriminated against by the Agency. That case was settled in 2001. Thirteen years later, it seems the Agency has learned little or nothing from the case and continues to flaunt the law.