Why are senior BBG executives taking extended European vacations while important agency business on Capitol Hill needs attention? — is our first question in BBG Watch’s new “Just Asking” feature. The surprising answer is: it may not be a bad thing.
It seems that the BBG meeting in Prague gave some senior BBG officials an opportunity to take a few weeks of vacation in Europe afterwards. Does that mean that BBG staff’s plans to get Congress to modify the Smith-Mundt Act and to get approval for a CEO position that would not require a Senate confirmation are dead?
We hope so. These actions, if successful, would diminish transparency, accountability and public and Congressional scrutiny.
We’ve heard reports that following some kind of a directive from the Board in January to pursue the creation of a CEO position via legislation that would eliminate the requirement that the person selected for the job be nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate — thus limiting Congressional and public oversight — the BBG senior executive team identified “a short-fuse opportunity” to include this proposal in a “legislative vehicle” that is about to move through the House, a foreign affairs bill expected to pass both houses of Congress in some form. We were told that the House Foreign Affairs Committee staff is looking at the legislation now.
We are wondering who on the BBG senior executive staff is now looking after this really bad piece of legislation on Capitol Hill? What is the status of the International Broadcasting Innovation Act?
We were also told that prior to the start of the vacation season, BBG Public Relations and the General Counsel’s office worked with the office of Rep. Mac Thornberry on his proposal to ease the legal restrictions on domestic dissemination of materials produced with public diplomacy funding — known as the Smith-Mundt Act. We learned that the BBG executive staff has been working on this project and coordinating it with the State Department for nearly two years. They could not have done a worse job.
BBG executives gave the Board an glowingly optimistic report: Their activities picked up in April as Mr. Thornberry finalized the bill. The amendment was attached to legislation that passed the House in May.
Were BBG Governors told in any detail about a firestorm of media and other public protests over this proposal?
Were they informed, we wonder, that the version of the defense appropriations bill that passed through markup in the Senate Armed Services Committee DID NOT include an amendment to “strike the current ban on domestic dissemination” of propaganda?
Buzz Feed quoted Glen Caplin, Communications Director for Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D – NY), who is a member of the committee: “Senator Gillibrand is hopeful this troubling language will remain out of the Senate bill and stripped out in conference committee when the House and Senate bills are reconciled,” Caplin said. BuzzFeed – Senate Bill Drops “Propaganda” Amendment
BBG Governors were apparently only told that one of them has led the effort in contacts with the Senate, which is now considering the legislation.
Does the BBG’s International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) senior executive staff perhaps have a tendency to keep bad news from reaching BBG Governors? Let’s hope BBG members read the papers and surf the web.