BBG Watch Commentary

BBG Watch is republishing as a public service an editorial posted on the website of the American Federation of Government Employees, AFGE Local 1812, a union representing federal employees at the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).



by AFGE Local 1812

It’s not the first time, and not the last, that we ask: who’s in charge of this Agency?
As the new Broadcasting Board of Governors members get down to business, we recognize their role of being in charge of ensuring that the broadcasting arm of the United States government carries out its mission for the 21st century. However, we get the feeling that some in top and mid-level management take the position that the bureaucracy is still in charge, will remain in charge, and will make sure the BBG understands who is really in charge.

Why should there be any concern? Flash back to the arrival at the Agency several years ago of a former BBG Governor, the Honorable U.S. Ambassador Victor Ashe. A politician, in addition to a diplomat, with extensive managerial experience, he engaged in behavior any official on the BBG should feel comfortable engaging in: he met with the staff, listened to their concerns, opened a communication channel by providing his personal e-mail and started asking questions of management.

The backlash was swift and fierce. Ambassador Ashe was warned in private, then warned again more forcefully in public, against assuming his full role as Governor. Apparently he did not get the message. The General Counsel’s office — whose main purpose sometimes seems to be not to assist management in respecting the law, but rather in how to circumvent it — drafted new rules that essentially tried to muzzle BBG members, trying to prevent them from freely discussing Agency business.

But that did not silence Ambassador Ashe. He had the courage to publicly deplore the diplomatic mess created by the firing of most of the staff at the Russian Service of Radio Liberty. Payback time came in many forms including a rather silly and spiteful incident, when Governor Ashe was refused entry to an event to which he was invited. Other blockades were erected by the resident bureaucracy to thwart any attempts by Governor Ashe to find out what was going on in the Agency including a scandalous contracting-out process. Even the OIG, in its January 2013 report, characterized Governor Ashe’s actions as somewhat of a transgression when it wrote: “He visits widely throughout the agency, offering to bypass IBB management to assure Board attention to employee concerns.”

And yet, Ambassador Ashe did not budge. He continued his fight. So, he was disposed of thanks to a blistering and factually-challenged OIG report that the Union described, and still does, as a ‘hatchet job’. He could have stayed in his position as a Republican Governor on the BBG. There was no need to push out the only BBG member who had a perfect attendance record at all meetings and seemed to genuinely care, and was competent as well. The Agency would not stand for that and the White House somehow found time to name someone to replace him.

AFGE Local 1812 will always be grateful to former Governor Ashe for his intrepid efforts to try to find out what was wrong in the Agency and to fix it. We are also grateful that he did not look at the Union as a pariah. For its part, the Union has arranged with the Knoxville, TN, city administration to have a tree planted in one of its parks in honor of Governor Ashe where he served five terms as mayor. We are considering another project in his honor as well.

So, as our new BBG members settle in we ask: Who’s in charge, really?? Will it be the new CEO, if and when he or she is chosen or will our bloated bureaucracy again be in charge? For the time being, that responsibility will be handled by a triumvirate which is in the unenviable position of trying to sort out the dysfunction rampant throughout the Agency. It will be a tough job and we wish them well.