Rep. Rohrabacher – BBG strikes blows against government transparency and Congressional oversight

Rep. Rohrabacher's Letter to the BBGIn a letter to the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) condemned the recently-passed BBG resolution on non-disclosure of internal deliberative information as “a blow to government transparency and a threat to the abilities of Congress to effectively conduct oversight.” Rep. Rohrabacher sent the letter on June 26 to the BBG’s Interim Presiding Governor Michael Lynton, with copies to other BBG members, the BBG executive staff, and Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA), the Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, the main investigative committee in the U.S. House of Representatives.

View PDF file of Rep. Rohrabacher’s letter to the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

Read Rep. Dana Rohrabacher’s earlier letter to members of Congress, in which he called the BBG “opaque in its decision making and incredibility tone deaf to Congressional priorities.”

Read Rep. Zoe Lofgren’s (D-CA) letter describing the BBG plan to combine grantee broadcasters (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, and Middle East Broadcasting Networks) as “contrary to Congressional intent.”

In the most recent letter, Rep. Rohrabacher described the intent and the enactment of the resolution as “very questionable” and accused the BBG of violating its own by-laws for not putting it on the written agenda two weeks before the meeting and not submitting it to proper debate. Rep. Rohrabacher also noted that the content of the resolution was inaccurately reported to BBG employees, leading them to believe that they may face punishment for reporting mismanagement and wrongdoing by agency officials.

The BBG resolution was also condemned by the nonpartisan Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB) in the following statement:

On June 7, 2012, the BBG approved a resolution that would prohibit the disclosure of “deliberative information,” defined as any non-public information, either tangible records or otherwise, exchanged between two or more Board members, or between Agency staff members and Board members. Disturbing in itself, this directive was then communicated to employees in a manner that made it appear more absolute and more oppressive. First, a senior lawyer for the BBG asserted, publicly, that the directive could and did bar disclosures to the media. Then the BBG initially published a version of the directive that omitted any exception for whistleblowing, only substituting the corrected version several days later and without announcement. The effect of these actions can only be intended to chill discussion of BBG decisions.  They are, in CUSIB’s view, profoundly misguided.

Congressman Dana Rohrabacher at VOA to China 70th Anniversary Reception in Dec. 2011

Congressman Dana Rohrabacher at VOA to China 70th Anniversary Reception in Dec. 2011

Congressman Rohrabacher wrote that he is committed to helping the BBG overcome many of its challenges, but he noted that “decisions made in secret, without the chance for public comment and without adequate deliberation by the Governors will not help to fix a single one of the issues faced by the BBG.” Rep. Rohrabacher concluded his letter with an appeal: “I strongly encourage the BBG to revisit and revise its decision to hold ‘deliberative information’ secret.”

The sponsor of the non-disclosure resolution at the BBG meeting at the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) headquarters in Prague, Czech Republic, was BBG Governor Dennis Mulhaupt. A fellow Republican on the BBG Board, Ambassador Victor Ashe, criticized Mulhaupt for not sharing the proposal with him and others ahead of time and for not submitting it to the vetting process by the BBG’s Governance Committee.

Ashe was also critical of the BBG’s Deputy General Counsel Paul Kollmer-Dorsey for the vague legal language of the proposed resolution and the lack of any assurance that it would not affect the rights and protections of whistleblowers.

During the meeting, the Deputy General Counsel wrongly reported that the legal definition of whistleblowing does not cover disclosures of wrongdoing to the media. Ashe managed to get other BBG members to vote for an amendment that the resolution will not negatively affect whistleblowers, but the amendment was omitted from the text of the resolution initially published on the BBG website. Ashe issued the following statement to express his reservations about the resolution, for which he reluctantly voted after two of his proposed amendments were included:

“I appreciate my colleagues on BBG making two significant revisions to the non disclosure protocol which was hastily drafted and ill conceived. It shows that they listened and thru the dialogue which occurred they saw shortcomings in the draft. However, many unanswered questions remain on the wisdom of this as well as its implementation.

Are Board members precluded from talking to members of Congress or their own attorneys about drafting of possible legislation? Will First Amendment rights for all be protected? What are the legal consequences should some Board member not follow this new protocol? How will the BBG determine who has violated the protocol? Will there be a hearing on this and will that be in public? Who will determine what evidence is presented and what is acceptable? These are some of the issues.

What bothers me most is that this protocol was conceived in secrecy so that few would know what was in the document until the BBG Meeting actually opened some 4500 miles from American soil in Prague, Czech Republic. It was not even listed on the first printed agenda sent out and posted on the BBG web site. I only received the actual agenda showing this 14 hours before the meeting. The actual proposal changed with each new e mail sent out. The governance committee was bypassed and never held a meeting on it. A meeting by the governance committee could have heard many of the concerns and allowed them to be corrected. A more thoughtful proposal could have been presented. That process never occurred while some Board members were excluded from the process all together. Deputy legal general counsel Paul Kollmer simply failed to answer several of my e-mails seeking clarification and information. He said later he never received them.

This issue will keep coming back to us for further clarification as to what is covered and not covered. Transparency took a beating. I have stated clearly to my colleagues that I will be guided by my conscience on this. Often this is compared to a private corporation but BBG is a public agency and should be honored to operate fully in the open. BBG should not make efforts to carve out areas of secrecy.”

BBG Watch has learned from several sources that Ashe’s strong reaction to the proposed resolution may have resulted from earlier internal attempts to prevent him from receiving information about possible mismanagement of government resources at the BBG.

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  1. BBG Governor Victor Ashe pushes for more openness at the U.S. international broadcasting agency « BBG Watch
  2. Without substantive change, Broadcasting Board of Governors Governance Committee may soon be smelling mismanagement under a different name « BBG Watch

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