Kim's Recent Essays...
US International Broadcasting: Success Requires Independence and Consolidation.
In International Broadcasting, Even the Static Must be Credible.
America Calling China: A Strategy for International Broadcasting.
You can also "obtain" a copy of the report at the State Department Office of Inspector General website. For commentaries on the OIG report, see Critical Distance Weblog, 20 Jan 2013, Jonathan Marks; BBG Watch, 20 Jan 2013; and AFGE Local 1812 (undated).
The OIG report lost me when it stated that "the inspection team takes no position" on whether the proposed CEO for US international broadcasting should be appointed by the Board or nominated by President and confirmed by the Senate. Basically, then, the team is taking no position on whether USIB is to be independent or government-controlled. Whether it is to have credibility or not. Whether it is to have an audience or not.
The present presidentially-appointed IBB director Richard Lobo prudently stays out of content matters. A future presidentially-appointed IBB director could interpret the International Broadcasting Act of 1994 as license to pull rank and direct the VOA and OCB directors to adjust content to the pleasure of a future administration. The CEO could tell the board: I don't have to adhere to your directives. I was appointed by the President.
It's unclear from the OIG report whether the CEO would have authority over all of USIB or just IBB, VOA, and OCB. If the latter, there is no need to create such a position. The CEO will be effective only he he/she can "knock heads" of all the several presidents and directors of all the several entities.
The OIG recommendation to create separate boards for the grantee corporations (RFE/RL, RFA, and MBN) would prolong and exacerbate one of the major flaws of US international broadcasting: that there are multiple entities rather than just one entity. Inevitably, Job One for each of the grantee boards will be to preserve the grantee. As a result, the duplication of effort and the division of scarce resources, which force USIB to be more expensive and less effective than it should be, will persevere.
Furthermore, the establishment of separate boards for the grantees will create more belligerents in the War of the Entities. The BBG and each grantee board will be locked in conflict from the start. Will the grantee board select the president of the corporation? That would undermine the authority of the BBG. Would the BBG continue to name appoint the corporation president? That would reduce the grantee board to a ceremonial (but costly) advisory role.
The grantee boards would be the front line troops in the War of the Entities. VOA would have no such board to protect its front. In future battles of the War of the Entities, VOA would likely be thrashed.
The OIG inspection team laments vacancies and absenteeism in the BBG. The creation of grantee boards would create even more instances of vacancies and absenteeism.
The BBG should remain the board of RFE/RL, RFA, and MBN. Furthermore, the BBG should never meet to consider, in isolation, the matters of any one entity. USIB in its entirety, and the stewardship of the taxpayers' money, should always simultaneously be considered. And even though VOA and OCB do not have boards, the BBG should consider itself the de facto board for those entities no less as for the grantees. But even this would be only a fractional solution. The real solution is consolidation into one entity.
Recommendation 3 of the OIG report addresses meeting attendance. BBG members tend to be senior executives, often of major corporations. How can they possibly have time to attend meetings and oversee USIB affairs? Elsewhere in the report, it is noted that one Governor (obviously Victor Ashe) "is retired and has more time to devote to BBG work," as if that were a problem. Ideally, all the Board members should be retired broadcasting and journalism professionals, so that they, too, would have "more time to devote to BBG work."
Recommendation 4 is about meeting agendas, criticizing the time taken up by "resolutions honoring award winners, service anniversaries, and individual contributions to the organization." But are these public meetings really meetings? I always thought the real work was done in closed session, and that the public meeting is a dog-and-pony show, in which each entity has the opportunity to out-strut the other entities. As an interested citizen, I listen to these public BBG meetings, but in the background while doing something more substantial.
In its lead-up to Recommendation 5, the report states: "To be effective, the Board should speak with one voice -- dissenting opinions should be captured in official meeting records and not aired publicly through the press or other outlets. As a collective agency head, the Board has an even greater responsibility to speak with one voice in representing the views of the agency."
I can understand that the CEO (if there ever is one) and senior management team should speak with one voice. This will be easier to accomplish of there is one senior management team and not, as now, several. The BBG, on the other hand, is the bipartisan board of a government agency. The best way to conduct international broadcasting should be a matter of debate and discussion. Disagreements should be expected as part of the process. Without public avenues for this discussion, how do we know that the Governors are taking an interest in their work, and not simply rubber-stamping the plans drafted by staff? In any case, if there were one entity with one CEO, the BBG could focus on strategic matters and function less as a "collective agency head."
The report singles out Governor Victor Ashe (without naming him) for particular criticism. Governor Ashe can be exasperatingly verbose. He often slows the pace of BBG meetings -- but, on the other hand, he also turns ceremonial meetings into real meetings. It is also true that the meetings (such as they are) are too short. I would rather a Governor err in showing too much interest in USIB than err on the side of "mailing in" his/her participation. Governor Ashe is also (interestingly, given he is a Republican) the voice of labor on the Board, and in USIB, the workers need all the help they can get. Perhaps instead of trying to stifle Governor Ashe, more Governors should join in the fray. Especially useful would be a Governor who interrupts meetings to call for real reform of USIB: consolidation into one entity and an unambiguous commitment to independent journalism.
Update: Washington Post, 22 Jan 2013, Al Kamen: "It’s not often that an inspector general’s report uses the word 'dysfunctional' several times. But the Broadcasting Board of Governors — which oversees the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, Radio and (the un-watched) TV Marti, Radio Free Asia and so on — has managed to earn that. And, after reading the 20-page report, it’s hard not to conclude that the chronically troubled agency desperately needs a top-to-bottom overhaul. The BBG’s 'dysfunction stems from a flawed legislative structure and acute internal dissension,' the report concludes, noting that a part-time board 'cannot effectively supervise' the operations." -- A "top-to-bottom overhaul" is needed, but there is danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. There is no substitute for a multi-partisan board to keep a publicly-funded broadcasting entity independent. If the managers (other than the board members themselves) are presidentially appointed and Senate approved, the broadcasting effort is not really independent.
Washington Post, Joe Davidson, 22 Jan 2013: "'Having spent two years in meetings and discussions with Victor Ashe, I think the OIG gave him a very light going over,' said S. Enders Wimbush, a former member of the board. Ashe quickly came to his own defense. Upon learning the Federal Diary was covering the inspector general’s report, he volunteered a link to a union statement in his support. He also called the report 'unwarranted, unfair and factually incorrect.' 'I feel my membership at BBG plays an important role in these difficult times for employees,' he added. No matter who is correct about Ashe, it is clear that the Broadcasting Board of Governors is a terrible mess and not just because of this latest report. That’s a shame because the employees practice 'journalism of the highest caliber,' according to the report issued by Deputy Inspector General Harold W. Geisel. They do so despite one report after another that, when taken together, can easily lead to the conclusion that the BBG is beyond hope."
Radio World, 22 Jan 2013: "We asked the BBG for a response. It responded: 'The BBG appreciates the work that the Office of the Inspector General has put into this report, and we respect the integrity of the OIG team. We take their findings seriously and have enacted some of the recommended actions, including devising guidelines for travel. We will work to implement others. ... Some of the reforms can come about only through legislation, which the BBG intends to propose for congressional consideration this year, and we will look to Congress to support this effort.'"