BBG Watch Commentary

Reform or Revolution ChoiceA group of Voice of America (VOA) journalists expressed their disappointment upon learning from a Washington Post article that executives responsible for dismal employee morale at VOA have spent tens of thousands of dollars on a private contractor to address morale issues with gimmicks while ignoring fundamental problems with their own heavy-handed management style and lack of effective leadership.

According to VOA reporters and broadcasters who have contacted BBG Watch, replacing some of the key executives who for years have contributed to poor employee morale is the only way to transform the organization from its current dysfunctional state while saving taxpayers’ money. They describe themselves as working in an intimidating atmosphere.

An outside critic told BBG Watch that while these VOA reporters may still be intimidated, it may very well come down to “a choice between reform or revolution” if the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which has oversight responsibilities, does nothing about abusive and ineffective managers. A revolution may be an action by Congress that will take the initiative away from the BBG, lawsuits by illegally employed full-time contractors exploited and abused for years by senior agency executives even more so than the permanent federal staff, or legal actions by these desperate employees.

Voice of America needs managers who can do an excellent job of managing the organization on their own, these critics say. Bad managers should not be allowed to spend $84,000 on top of their three figure salaries to deal with morale problems they themselves have created and keep making them worse.

VOA reporters have provided BBG Watch with a list of concrete reform recommendations, focusing largely on the VOA news reporting and web posting operations. We will publish them in several parts over the next few days.

Their list begins with a call for personnel changes in VOA executive positions.



Replace [a senior VOA executive] The incumbent […] has presided over a process in which breaking news coverage has frequently suffered, leaving essential hard news stories uncovered and exposing VOA to ridicule by critics [… as well as] in the Washington governmental and media communities. He has also earned a reputation for unnecessary roughness and abusiveness in dealing with staff. Any […] transfer to Central News would be a mistake, given this record, and […] arrogant dismissal of concerns voiced by employees… .

Unambiguous Statement On Morale-Building Efforts Require VOA Director, all IBB and Central News managers, and others in the management chain to make definitive statements in support of [Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) Chairman] Shell’s remarks about the importance of employee morale in the agency. Make a clear statement to Central News staff disowning [senior VOA executive’s] statement in 2010 to newsroom staff that “you are responsible for your own morale.”

The Washington Post article: Agency tries to improve its low employee morale, Joe Davidson, The Federal Diary, Feb. 19, 2014, already has a number of comments, some apparently from Voice of America reporters.

Here is a typical one:


“Moral and low self-esteem are not the problems at VOA and the BBG. Bad management is the problem. Bake sales and yoga classes do not fix bad management. In fact they are the types of events bad management puts in place to hide behind. Management is so disrespectful of its employees that they honestly believe cookies will buy their loyalty. That the face to face meeting with employees is any different than the daily face to face realities experienced each and every day. Mr. Davidson, you have skipped around the edges of the problem and you too have drunk the CoolAid. Bad managers do not change overnight because you wish it so. You must educate them, you must monitor them and if necessary you must remove them. If the same managers for the past 15 years have made the same mistakes why would they change now? They will not. It is time for a clean sweep. From the top down. Mostly from the top. Leadership is inspiring when leadership is inspired. It’s 2014 this is a really odd problem to be having in Government this late in the game. Employees are entitled to a safe, productive and meaningful workplace and if my tax dollars pay for it, I want it to be so.”

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