BBG Watch Commentary

VOICE OF AMERICA JOURNALIST: “I’ve got some ideas for what they can scavenge for.
I’m just amazed, by the way, at the poor optics here; we’re sinking and instead of an all hands on deck response we get an invite to a scavenger hunt. What are we, 12 years old?”


The Voice of America journalist was referring to what he described as the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) management’s “poor optics” attempt to improve record low employee morale by organizing a “Paddleboat Scavenger Hunt and Races” event for BBG employees at the Jefferson Memorial Tidal Basin on June 18, 2016. The BBG is VOA’s parent federal agency. Many of VOA’s and BBG workers are federal employees, although the agency also employs hundreds of poorly paid full-time contractors who are denied some of the basic job benefits and protections available to federal employees. Some of these contractors have filed in a federal court a $400 million class action lawsuit against the BBG. Employee morale surveys, which are conducted regularly by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), are limited to the agency’s federal employees. They show that the BBG has some of the lowest employee morale rating among all federal agencies of similar size.

While the announcement said that “This event is not sponsored by the BBG…,” it appears to be organized and promoted within the agency by government employees who are sending government e-mails on government time, using government e-mail accounts and servers.

The BBG management is believed to have charged these employees with improving low employee morale. VOA journalists who have contacted BBG Watch say that these efforts don’t appear to be working. What Voice of America and other BBG employees want is real leadership and honest communication, these employees say.

VOA journalists were astounded that it took Broadcasting Board of Governors CEO and Director John Lansing nearly two weeks to communicate with the agency’s staff about the Thornberry Amendment to the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which was passed by the House and could drastically affect VOA’s future and the status of VOA’s federal employees. If passed by the Senate and signed by the President, the amendment might result in the Voice of America being de-federalized.

John Lansing 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.”

In a comment sent to BBG Watch, former VOA senior foreign correspondent Gary Thomas challenged Lansing’s claims with regard to the language of the Thornberry Amendment.


FORMER VOA SENIOR FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT GARY THOMAS: “How can Lansing say ‘the House amendment as written would NOT require that VOA be de-federalized or abolished, or require the loss of any jobs or positions’? The amendment clearly states: ‘STATUS AS A FEDERAL ENTITY.—The Chief Executive Officer is authorized to establish an independent grantee organization, as a private non-profit organization, to carry out all broadcasting and related programs currently performed by the Voice of America. The Chief Executive Officer may make and supervise grants or cooperative agreements to such grantee, including under terms and conditions and in any manner authorized under section 305(a). Such grantee shall not be considered a Federal agency or instrumentality SUCH GRANTEE SHALL NOT BE CONSIDERED A FEDERAL AGENCY OR INSTRUMENTALITY.’ (emphasis added)
It is abundantly clear that VOA would be de-federalized under this language. The status of employees in this new entity is not spelled out. So if VOA is not to be de-federalized or abolished, and jobs and positions are to be preserved, then it is incumbent on Mr. Lansing – who dawdled over this for nearly two weeks – to spell out in detail what WILL happen. For people in the communication business this is lousy communication.
Is it any wonder that employee morale is in the toilet?”



SEE: Voice of America employees question BBG CEO John Lansing e-mail about their future, BBG Watch, June 3, 2016

Some of the past employee morale boosting events organized by the Broadcasting Board of Governors management included a “Bingo Night” held in a government building.

Employee morale boosting  event poster at Broadcasting Board of Governors, October 2014
Employee morale boosting event poster at Broadcasting Board of Governors, October 2014

If the BBG management wants to see the Voice of America de-federalized or abolished, perhaps inviting members of Congress to a paddleboat scavenger hunt and races at the Jefferson Memorial might just do it. “It’s as if they are taunting the Congress and the White House to close the place down, one former VOA staffer observed.” This is not what senior management of the government agency in crisis should be doing for the public image of the Voice of America.

Someone needs to take charge of the “practically defunct” Broadcasting Board of Governors, to use Hillary Clinton’s words, because for the time being there is no adult supervision.