BBG – USAGM Watch Commentary

The Trump administration’s proposed Budget of the United States Government for Fiscal Year 2020 calls for a significant cut of $180 million in the FY2020 budget of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) which manages the Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), and other U.S. taxpayer-funded media outlets targeting audiences abroad. The budget proposal also calls for management reforms, and proposes limits on activities of dubious effectiveness.

The FY2020 budget proposal still has to be approved by the U.S. Congress which can restore some of the proposed cuts or agree with the White House. This may depend on whether the poorly-managed agency sees a change of leadership and can demonstrate that management reforms are being implemented to cut bureaucratic waste and improve program effectiveness.

The current Obama-era USAGM management team led by CEO John F. Lansing has come under strong bipartisan criticism in the U.S. Congress in recent years. One of the latest scandals, exposed in a report ordered by former chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, now former Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), was related to illegal targeting of Americans by some of USAGM media entities with tax-funded Facebook ads. The agency under its current leadership has also been hit with allegations of anti-Semitism and substandard journalism.

READ: Voice of America was days late in reporting on an anti-Semitic slur, BBG Watch, March 7, 2019.

READ: Allegations of old anti-Semitism part of new scandals at USAGM’s Voice of America and RFE/RL, BBG Watch, March 18, 2019.


A USAGM employee reported:

Last month, I took some time and went to the Institute of World Politics to hear an open lecture by a terrorism analyst and former member of the Trump White House.
He also had some definite opinions about VOA–not good.
When I asked how effective we are in the GWOT (Global War on Terror) today as compared to our effectiveness in Eastern Europe and the USSR during the Cold War he shook his head and said:
“You are not even on the battlefield.”
Now, this ineffectiveness is being reflected in the White House budget request.

Amanda Bennett is currently VOA Director. She was also appointed to her position during the Obama administration.

The U.S. Senate has not yet confirmed Michael Pack who is President Trump’s nominee to lead the agency.

In the past, the agency’s senior management usually responded to budget cuts by protecting their positions and those of their bureaucratic staff while cutting programs and programming jobs of journalists and broadcasters. Agency employees who want management reforms hope that any new CEO will stop this practice and focus instead on greatly reducing and reforming the bloated bureaucracy.

The rest of the information comes from the White House document, FISCAL YEAR 2020 BUDGET OF THE UNITED STATES.




Other Independent Agencies

The Budget proposes to significantly reduce Federal funding for the U.S. Agency for Global Media’s (USAGM) international broadcasting programs. Federal support for media programs will be refocused to improve efficiencies in program delivery, reduce duplication, strengthen grants management, and continue to modernize its research methodology. USAGM’s shift to digital platforms has contributed to a significant increase in audience, yet its strategy needs to strengthen the link between this expanded reach and the agency’s primary goals to inform, engage, and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy.

Funding Summary

(In millions of dollars) Budget Authority……………………………………………………………………………………………………


2020 Change from 2019

2019 Enacted

2020 Request




Change -180




As stated in the President’s National Security Strategy, legacy delivery platforms for communicating U.S. messages overseas need to be reexamined, and more cost-effective and efficient ways to deliver and evaluate content consistent with U.S. national security interests must be considered. The Budget reduction would focus USAGM (previously the Broadcasting Board of Governors or BBG) programs on a more limited set of activities and priorities.

The President’s National Security Strategy also determined that information statecraft and public diplomacy programs by the U.S. Government have been tepid, fragmented, and not fully effective in countering the exploitation of information by U.S. rivals. The Administration does not support continued appropriation by the Congress of amounts far in excess of the Administration’s request for information statecraft efforts whose effectiveness is unknown and that are not coordinated within and across Federal agencies.

Significant recently enacted reforms to the management structure of the USAGM offer promise to tailor and innovate efforts. While activation of these reforms is still in progress, the Budget anticipates that an empowered Chief Executive Officer can improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the agency and its programs. Reforms, including in areas of basic oversight of broadcasting grantees and contract management, have been repeatedly called for in reports of the Office of Inspector General1,2 for USAGM. More work needs to be done by USAGM leadership to demonstrate progress in these and other areas.



1 Office of Inspector General, Inspector General Statement on the U.S. Agency for Global Media’s Major Management and Performance Challenges Fiscal Year 2018, OIG-EX-19-02.

2 Office of Inspector General, Inspector General Statement on the Broadcasting Board of Governor’s Major Management and Performance Challenges Fiscal Year 2017, OIG-EX-18-03.




USAGM budget request supports modernization and strategic priorities

March 18, 2019

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States Agency for Global Media (USAGM) today released its detailed Fiscal Year 2020 budget request, seeking $628 million to support key U.S. foreign policy goals, maximize impact and continue modernization initiatives while accommodating current spending constraints.

“Through unprecedented collaboration between the five USAGM networks and a strategic focus on language-based programming rather than national boundaries, we successfully meet the demand for accurate, compelling journalism that impacts lives and communicates America’s democratic values to our growing global audience,” said USAGM CEO and Director John F. Lansing, adding, “Our work is more important than ever.”

USAGM is in the midst of a significant multi-year transformation effort designed to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the agency and to increase its impact on the audiences it serves worldwide. This undertaking aligns with the Administration’s National Security Strategy and the President’s management priorities of effectiveness, efficiency, and accountability, and advances USAGM’s 2018-2022 Strategic Plan.

The agency’s portion of the President’s FY 2020 Budget request will build on recent strategic investments, including:

Continuing to build VOA365, the new 24/7 Persian-language global network led by Voice of America (VOA) in cooperation with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL) Radio Farda;

Creating a global Mandarin-language digital network, with collaboration between VOA and Radio Free Asia (RFA);

Expanding Russian-language content through Current Time;

Reaching critical audiences in Central and South America, particularly Venezuela;

Developing refugee-focused programming and broadcasts; and

Continuing the dynamic transformation and modernization of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (Television and Radio Martí) and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN).

In FY 2018, USAGM reached a record weekly audience of 345 million across radio, television and the internet—a 24 percent increase from the FY 2017 audience of 278 million. This growth continues the agency’s upward trend in audience reach in recent years, reflecting both the quality of USAGM content and its duty as a trusted source of news and information in a complex global media environment.

Additional information regarding USAGM’s budget submission can be found in the Fiscal Year 2020 Congressional Budget Request.






1 comment
  1. If Congress does the same as it did in FY 2019 and actually increases USAGM’s budget into the $800 million range, the administration’s $180 million cut for FY 2020 will have been rendered meaningless. Though they’re quite aware of how broken the agency is, members of Congress have been addicted to spending taxpayer dollars on USAGM (BBG) for decades and just can’t seem kick the habit.

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