BBG’s call for public comments does not eliminate need for Congressional hearings on plan to merge broadcasters

BBG Watch Commentary

Ordered by the nine-member Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the Broadcasting Board of Governors and the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) executive staff reluctantly published a draft of the controversial plan to merge administrative functions of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia (RFA), and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN). The executive staff omitted two charts which compared average compensation for various positions and categories of employees.

Sources told BBG Watch that BBG and IBB staffers were discussing among themselves whether these two charts should be included since they did not appear in the version of the plan already leaked and available online. In the end, they decided not to release the charts by claiming that they contain sensitive information. One top executive was quoted as saying that none of the plan should have been made public.

The BBG/IBB staff was also forced by BBG members to ask for public comments on its newly-released but censored plan. But even with this reluctant call for public input, the proposed merger of the surrogate broadcasters — whose effectiveness depends on their editorial and administrative independence — is far too risky and controversial to be left in the hands of the BBG and IBB bureaucrats who devised the plan in the first place to expand their power and to limit public and Congressional scrutiny.

The surrogate broadcasters play a vital role in the area of news and ideas that contributes to national security of the United States. Considering the fact that the same bureaucrats wanted to end Voice of America (VOA) radio broadcasts to Tibet and VOA radio and television broadcasts in Mandarin and Cantonese to China, the U.S. Congress should definitely hold hearings to examine the merger proposal and other questionable actions of the BBG and IBB executive staff.

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The official BBG announcement:

BBG Seeks Views On Draft Consolidation Plan For RFE/RL, RFA, MBN

The Broadcasting Board of Governors is seeking public comment on its newly-released plan to consolidate several support functions of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks and to create a single, non-profit grantee in an effort to redirect managerial savings into content, programming and newsrooms. The grantees’ support functions, such as payroll, would serve all the people working at RFE/RL, RFA and MBN, but each of these grantees would retain its unique brand and mission.

Read the Plan

In January, the Board tasked MBN President Brian Conniff, reporting to IBB Director Dick Lobo, with leading the effort to produce a grantee consolidation plan to reduce administrative duplication, foster greater communication and connectivity between reporters and use the savings for reporting teams, and to enhance programming and content creation.

Conniff assembled a task force consisting of the heads of the two other grantees and their senior staff and he discussed the resulting draft plan with the Board in April. The draft plan will be reviewed further by all Board members and discussed at a meeting of the Strategy and Budget Committee in late May.

It’s important to note that this document is a draft. Two charts that contain sensitive information were omitted.

The plan:

• Details a new organizational structure and workflows for each primary support function to be shared among the grantees;

• Determines human and financial resource requirements for a consolidated organization of these offices;

• Estimates the savings and costs once these back-office support functions of the three separate grantees are consolidated;

• Provides timelines at the macro and functional levels;

• Reduces administrative duplication and directs the savings for reporting teams, enhanced programming and content creation.

Under this plan, all brands that have been created within RFE/RL, RFA, and MBN over the past five decades would be preserved and one private, non-profit organization would be staffed to provide the administrative and technological support needed for their continued success in pursuit of their mission.

Please submit any comments by 11:59 p.m. EDT on May 22 to ConsolidationReportComment@bbg.gov .

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