BBG Watch Commentary
The Senate Appropriations Committee recommended to the full Senate that the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) proposal to reduce various Voice of America (VOA) broadcasting services should not be approved in the FY 2014 budget.
In a rebuke to the BBG’s International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) and VOA officials who have recommended most if not all of these reductions to the BBG, the Senate Appropriations Committee specifically opposed “reductions to staffing of RFA Khmer service; the consolidation and reorganization of VOA Central News and English Division; reductions to staffing and radio broadcasts of VOA Georgian; or closing of the BBG Poro medium wave transmitting station.”
IBB and VOA officials may, however, be able to achieve some of the reductions by not filling vacant positions. Such passive resistance and sometimes active resistance to Congressional directives has been their practice in the past. IBB officials, according to sources, have also been resisting various orders and request from their oversight BBG board. The board currently lacks a quorum and cannot make binding decisions.
In another rebuke to the IBB, the BBG’s central management unit, the Senate Appropriations Committee expressed concern “with the dysfunction and poor management of the BBG” and expressed support for giving “authority to the Board to hire a Chief Executive Officer for International Broadcasting who will have management and oversight responsibilities for all BBG entities.”
BBG Watch reported earlier, quoting sources, that IBB executive staff failed to carry out the board’s request to hire a temporary BBG chief of staff while the CEO legislation is pending in Congress. Sources also told BBG Watch that IBB executives resist most efforts by BBG members to reform the bureaucracy.
The proposed CEO legislation, if approved, would abolish the position of the IBB Director currently held by Richard Lobo, a presidential appointee. The BBG board would then be able to select its own CEO. It is not known whether Lobo would even apply, but sources told BBG Watch that most if not all current BBG members have been so dissatisfied with his performance at the IBB that they would not vote to hire him as CEO.
The Senate Appropriations Committee report was submitted by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who in the past has expressed strong criticism of the agency’s management. The Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman is Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland). The Committee’s Vice Chairman is Senator Richard Shelby (R-Alabama).
Aware of the previous IBB attempts to reduce Voice of America broadcasts to Tibet and China, the Senate Appropriations Committee said that “the Committee supports the President’s budget request for VOA and RFA Tibetan services and expects the BBG to continue broadcast programs at not less than fiscal year 2013 levels.”
IBB and VOA officials have reduced but not completely eliminated some of VOA Chinese radio newscasts in FY 2013.
The Senate Appropriations Committee also expressed concern with effectiveness of broadcasting to Iran.
“The Committee directs the BBG to consult with the appropriate congressional committees regarding the audience share of U.S. broadcasting to Iran as compared to other international broad- casters, and whether U.S. policies toward Iran are presented clearly and effectively in such broadcasts, and in a balanced manner.”
“Proposed Reductions.—The Committee does not support the following reductions and terminations proposed by BBG and includes adequate funding to sustain current levels: reductions to staffing of RFA Khmer service; the consolidation and reorganization of VOA Central News and English Division; reductions to staffing and radio broadcasts of VOA Georgian; or closing of the BBG Poro medium wave transmitting station.”
“VOA and RFA Tibetan Language Services.—The Committee sup- ports the President’s budget request for VOA and RFA Tibetan services and expects the BBG to continue broadcast programs at not less than fiscal year 2013 levels.”
“New Program Initiatives.—The Committee recommends funding to launch new programming to counter extremism in Africa, engage new audiences in the Middle East and Burma, and to improve shortwave service to key audiences around the world.”
“North Korea.—The Committee recommends the President’s budget request for international broadcasting to North Korea.”
“Chief Executive Officer for International Broadcasting and Board Quorum Requirement.—The Committee is concerned with the dysfunction and poor management of the BBG as identified by the OIG, and includes section 7082 of this act providing authority to the Board to hire a Chief Executive Officer for International Broadcasting who will have management and oversight responsibilities for all BBG entities. The Committee also recommends revising the Board quorum requirement to a majority of Board members serving.”
The $4.4 million allocation from OCO (Overseas Contingency Operations also known as GWOT, Global War on Terror) may bring total BBG appropriations up to $721 million. The Senate version offers less for OCB ($23 million) in contrast to the House bill which gives $28 million.
The House of Representatives’ version of the budget bill is different. The House Committee on Appropriations proposed $698.5 million for BBG in FY 2014. But the House bill added $32.5 million in Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO). This brings the total of the House bill to $724,080,000 or $1.5 million more than $722,580,000 the administration requested. The administration did not request this temporary funding which can only be used by the BBG for broadcasting to Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Middle East. The Senate and the House versions have to be reconciled later.
The House Appropriations Committee Chairman is Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Kentucky). The Ranking Democratic Member is Rep. Nita Lowey (D-New York). The report was presented by Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas).
The House of Representatives’ bill contained the following recommendations:
“Inspector General report.—The Committee directs the BBG to ex- peditiously implement the recommendations contained in the Office of Inspector General report entitled ‘‘Inspection of the Broadcasting Board of Governors’’ (ISP–IB–13–07) where the BBG has existing authority to make such changes and to work with the Congres- sional committees of jurisdiction on the authorities needed to im- plement the remaining recommendations, including the rec- ommendation to establish a Chief Executive Officer of the BBG.
Belarus.—The Committee recognizes the effectiveness of Polish- based Belsat in bringing independent, outside information to the Belarusian people. Consistent with the sense of Congress expressed in section 5 of Public Law 109–480, as amended by section 3 of Public Law 112–82, the Committee urges the BBG and the Depart- ment of State to expand the partnership with Belsat in furtherance of the commitment of the United States to democracy and key for- eign policy objectives in Europe.
Broadcasting to Asia.—The Committee continues support to maintain a diversified broadcasting program to China that includes the continuation of short wave broadcast services.
Somali Service.—The Committee supports the work of VOA’s So- mali Service, including the continued leveraging of new technology, expansion of radio outlets, and the development of more partner- ships with local FM stations.
Pakistan.—The Committee encourages VOA to examine the feasi- bility and cost of initiating broadcasting in the Sindhi language in Pakistan and be prepared to report on its findings during the Com- mittee’s hearings on the fiscal year 2015 budget request.
Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB).—The Committee recommendation includes $28,266,000 for OCB, Radio and TV Marti, pursuant to the Radio Broadcasting to Cuba Act of 1983 and the Television Broadcasting to Cuba Act of 1990.”