BBG Watch Guest Commentary

As Americans observed Thanksgiving, employees of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) no doubt celebrated the fact that they still have jobs in what remains, according to the latest Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, one of the lowest ranked agencies in the U.S. government.

Many USAGM positions require significant technical and journalistic skills.  The big bonus, of course, is that in federal entities, such as Voice of America, these are government jobs.  Those holding them are pretty much assured of ongoing long-term employment on the taxpayer’s dime, as long as they don’t screw up in a monumental way.

Of course, as BBG Watch has been pointing out for many years, the agency formerly known as the Broadcasting Board of Governors has also been a place recognized for its managerial incompetence and bureaucratic bloat.

GS-15s and SES (Senior Executive Service) employees pulling down six-figure salaries have burrowed in, seemingly unaffected by numerous examples of mismanagement of the news product, as well technical problems that, at times, nearly paralyzed programming.

As many agency employees themselves have frequently observed, if this were a non-government organization heads would have rolled long ago.  

In 2017 and 2018 alone, USAGM faced calls from members of Congress for two investigations (on the ‘Mandarin 5’, and the OCB program on George Soros).  VOA announced an investigation into Hausa Service staffers apparent acceptance of bribes from a Nigerian official.  

As 2019 begins, the agency has provided no known public reports on any of these issues (see the CUSIB statement to the November BBG board meeting).

Every once in a while, there emerge from within USAGM snippets that support a widespread impression outside the agency that, to put it mildly, continues to face managerial challenges.

These snippets also seemingly provide a glimpse of what agency employees REALLY THINK.

Such was the case recently, when Joan Mower, USAGM Director for Development and International Training, posted this on her Linked-in feed (brought to our attention by a source who follows her posts).

Looking for a GREAT U.S. Government job at a tiiny [sic], fun agency — pays up to $174,500 a year with NO HEAVY LIFTING. This SES position is probably the cushiest SES out there — no educational requirements, mainly handholding for a couple of executives. Virtually no supervisory duties, an “advisory” board that rarely meets and international travel!

Wow. Get your six-figure, “no heavy lifting” federal job here!  Cushy!  Main responsibility “handholding” for a couple of executives”!  None of those frustrating supervisory duties!  Under an advisory board that rarely meets!  Global travel!

The post drew 3 responses, one from a former VOA employee who called it a perfect example of why the agency “should be investigated for bloat and dysfunction.”

It should be noted that on her Twitter feed — which contains both official and personal posts — Mower’s description of the job was somewhat different.

7 hours ago

Great USG job @ fun, small agency. Good salary ($176,500), no education needed, no heavy lifting, virtually no supervisory resp., Extremely unusual posting — given the easy duties. & international travel! Apply!

But while that version was toned down, it’s no less embarrassing for an agency with a reputation that, charitably, could be described as one of mismanagement and incompetence.

A successful candidate would be “responsible for coordinating the workflow of the agency internally, and standing up and overseeing an Executive Secretariat staff [and overseeing and leading] all of the agency’s Board operations as well as CEO Office staff.”

He or she would “supervise all CEO Office staff, including Special Assistants and Administrative Assistants [including] all recruitment, hiring, work requirements, and adjusting assigned duties as required by the CEO’s priorities.”

“Coordinating the workflow of the agency internally; serving as the liaison between the agency’s offices and networks and the CEO Office; and handling the agency’s relations with the White House, National Security Council, and other national security agencies” do not seem to support a description of “no heavy lifting”.

On the other hand, Mower’s posts do seem to support an impression that the job is primarily that of an assistant to her boss, the agency’s CEO, who as of this writing remains Obama-era appointee John Lansing.

The job announcement comes at a time when USAGM is attempting to persuade members of Congress and the public at large that the agency is still worth having around.

To that end, agency officials have rolled out the latest claims of huge increases in audience size for key areas of agency programming directed to Asia (principally China), the Middle East, Africa, Russia, and Iran

Critics assert that USAGM statistics are laced with semantic subterfuges embedded in public reports and presentations to Congress on claims of “unduplicated audience”. They point to a lack of independent scrutiny of USAGM’s audience measurement methodologies, online audience in the U.S., which USAGM is banned from targeting, audience from paid Facebook ads (including those targeting Americans), paid program placement because USAGM programs fail to attract an audience without such payments, use of animal click bait videos, and apparent great popularity of Voice of America raw footage videos showing the burning of American and Israeli flags. Critics also note an independent study showing USAGM’s failures in targeting Iran.

An agency press release declaring a surge from 278 million to 345 million in 2018 refers to “impact by weekly audience size along with other quantitative, qualitative, digital, and anecdotal data on a wide range of factors, including program quality and credibility, engagement with the news process, and audience understanding of current events.

But let’s return to what might be called the better of the two descriptions of the ES-00 Senior Executive Service position paying as much as $176,500 (or $174,500 depending on which post one reads).

Exactly what was meant by “extremely unusual posting” we will leave to the reader to determine.  However, Mower on her Twitter feed (with more than 1,600 followers) adds: “given the easy duties”.

What this makes clear is that a key USAGM official, whose experience and roles include “managing multi-million dollar programs” and “handling financial oversight” at an agency costing taxpayers $800 million, is just a wee bit skeptical.

1 comment
  1. There is one glaring inaccuracy in this story; not even a monumental screw-up gets a person removed at USAGM. Think of all the major issues reported here at BBG Watch, not a single person responsible was ever held accountable.

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