BBG Watch Commentary
Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) employees received on Thursday, June 2, an e-mail with “Message from BBG CEO and Director John Lansing Regarding Thornberry Amendment,” but many Voice of America (VOA) employees wondered why it took the CEO so long to communicate with them on such a vital issue after the amendment was introduced in the House of Representatives on May 18. Congressman Thornberry proposed the amendment to the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). It was passed by a voice vote by the House.
John Lansing said in his e-mail to staff that he understands and appreciates that “many of our team members have questions and concerns about this amendment.” “I can assure you that the Board and I are taking it very seriously and that we will provide you with as much information as possible as it unfolds,” he added.
John Lansing also stated in his message that “the House amendment as written would NOT require that VOA be de-federalized or abolished, or require the loss of any jobs or positions.” He did not say specifically whether he would or would not de-federalize the Voice of America if the Thornberry Amendment becomes law.
John Lansing wrote in his June 2 e-mail to BBG employees:
JOHN LANSING: “It is worth stating that there is a long journey from the passage of an amendment to it becoming law. The Senate has yet to taken up debate on their version of the NDAA and it is not clear what will be included. If a Senate bill passes, it is exceedingly likely that the two chambers will need to meet to resolve differences between their bills, and certain portions could fall out as a result.”
Here are some of the comments BBG Watch received from Voice of America employees and others:
FORMER VOA EMPLOYEE: “Why was John Lansing and the BBG congressional liaison team apparently surprised by the Thornberry Amendment?” What does this say about the BBG’s relevance in Washington?
CURRENT VOA EMPLOYEE: “The bigger issue, of course, is that it is reactive; he should have anticipated these questions.”
CURRENT VOA EMPLOYEE: “The memo is too little, too late, and Lansing has not established enough of a track record for anyone to believe anything he says.”
CURRENT VOA EMPLOYEE: “The Lansing memo went to union (obviously) as it was an internal communication, and the AFGE reaction was somewhat incredulous, because obviously the amendment does ALLOW de-federalization, though it does not REQUIRE it.”
CURRENT VOA EMPLOYEE: “Lansing could have been honest with everyone and say that this is a reflection of how unhappy Congress has been and still is with the agency and its performance.”
FORMER VOA EMPLOYEE: “They can’t even get a memo out under Lansing’s name without a typo”:
CEO: “The Senate has yet to taken up debate on their version of the NDAA and it is not clear what will be included. If a Senate bill passes, it is exceedingly likely that the two chambers will need to meet to resolve differences between their bills, and certain portions could fall out as a result.”
FORMER VOA REPORTER:
“‘Amongst this flurry of activity…..’ How about ‘Amid this flurry of activity’….. ????????”
He’s got two usage/typo issues in this note. “Amongst” this flurry of activity…..” ???????
And “The Senate has yet to taken up debate…..”
Jeez — even the CEO can’t get his memos proof read???? Did he write this?
John Lansing ended his message by praising BBG journalists and their work:
JOHN LANSING: “In the past ten months since joining as CEO, I have seen the best of what our team can produce. Each and every day I count myself honored to work alongside such dedicated public servants and journalists. And I know that our team will continue to carry out our vital mission with commitment, professionalism, and patience as we work through this new development. The BBG mission remains critical, and I thank each and every one of you for your important contributions to it.”
On May 18, the House of Representatives voted to include in the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act an amendment, crafted by Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-TX) and Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Rep Ed Royce (R-CA), to establish a Global Engagement Center and reform the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).
The Global Engagement Center would lead and coordinate efforts to tracks foreign propaganda and disinformation efforts intended to undermine U.S. national security interests, and to develop strategies for countering such campaigns. It would also create a fund that could be used to support outside groups in analyzing, reporting on, and refuting foreign disinformation efforts, and implements reforms to the Broadcasting Board of Governors.
Major items in the amendment:
1. Codifies the CEO position;
2. Devolves all of the Board’s authorities to the CEO;
3. Eliminates the Board (existing Board members can complete their current terms);
4. Authorizes the CEO to make grants to RFE/RL, MBN, and RFA contingent upon their consolidating into a single organization;
5. Makes it clear that RFE/RL, MBN, and RFA (or their consolidated organization) report to the CEO;
6. Authorizes the CEO to change the name of the BBG pursuant to Congressional notification; and
7. Authorizes the CEO to establish a non-profit organization to carry out the mission of the Voice of America and includes a Sense of the Congress that the VOA mission should remain unchanged from that articulated in H.R.2323.
The amendment as passed will go to the Senate which can either accept it, or give their own version which would necessitate the House and the Senate going into conference where its points can still be argued.
The amendment does not specify what establishing “a non-profit organization to carry out the mission of the Voice of America” would mean for current VOA journalists and other staffers who are federal government employees.
HOUSE COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS PRESS RELEASE
Media Contact 202-225-5021
MAY 19, 2016
Washington, D.C. – Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) issued the following statement after the House voted to include in the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act an amendment, crafted by Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-TX) and Chairman Royce, to establish a Global Engagement Center and reform the Broadcasting Board of Governors:
“One of the big reasons Russia and ISIS have been winning the information war is that our international broadcasting has been crippled by bureaucracy. Real, meaningful reform to the systemically broken Broadcasting Board of Governors and its unwieldy management structure has long been a priority of mine. This amendment to replace the part-time board with an empowered and permanent CEO is an important step forward.
“Obviously, our work is far from done. U.S. broadcasters helped take down the Iron Curtain by countering propaganda with accurate news and information in real time. They can win today’s fight – over the airwaves and on the internet – but they must have a clear mission and necessary support.”
NOTE: For more on Chairman Royce’s long push for reforms to U.S. international broadcasting, click HERE.