Union alleges misuse of OIG by International Broadcasting Bureau executives, calls for investigation

AFGE Local 1812The union representing employees of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) alleges that officials in charge of the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) may have tried to influence investigators of the Office of Inspector General (OIG) to expand their power, limit the authority of the BBG Board and to smear the reputation of a BBG member who tried to hold them accountable and exposed waste and abuse.

The union has called for a congressional investigation to determine whether IBB executives have interfered with the Office of the Inspector General.

“It is incomprehensible to us and to many employees in the Agency that the OIG was apparently able to be used in this way by persons unknown. It seems that the bureaucracy of one Agency has attempted to protect, with questionable motives, the entrenched bureaucracy of another. Is that not in itself possible waste and abuse?
We believe that a congressional investigation into this misuse of government resources should be conducted.”

The following article by the American Federation of Government Employees, AFGE Local 1812, was published recently on the union’s website.

AFGE Local 1812 Remains Concerned About OIG Report

AFGE Local 1812 remains concerned over an OIG investigation that was recently conducted at the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). The investigation and subsequent report seemed intent on limiting the BBG’s role and strengthening that of the IBB Executive Staff. The report spent a great deal of time defining the Board’s role as merely “strategic oversight” (whatever that means) in an apparent attempt to keep the Board from interfering in the Executive Staff’s plans or exercising oversight into how the Agency is run. In some cases the report amounted to cheerleading for a questionable strategic plan and a personal attack on one Governor in particular. The report attempted to draw the line over what the Board could oversee and what it could not, to prevent Board members’ dissenting opinions from being made public, and demanding that Board members show proper deference to the Executive Staff.

Who called for this investigation and for what purpose? Was the real problem that the Governors had decided to take their role seriously and had begun to ask uncomfortable questions of the IBB Executives?

Maybe this is not a unique situation. Perhaps, it’s a common malady in most government agencies which become subject to entrenched bureaucrats who know how to use other government entities to keep themselves unaccountable and permanently in their positions.

It is our opinion that there were many other more pressing issues at this Agency that the OIG could have addressed such as:

• A flawed strategic plan which apparently calls for the continued elimination of radio broadcasts despite the requirement to broadcast via that medium in the Voice of America (VOA) Charter. The plan also apparently assures that there is no difference in the missions of the VOA and the surrogates (RFE/RL, RFA, & MBN) when in reality there is a definite difference.

• The illegal hiring of non-citizens despite the presence of qualified U.S. citizens. There have even been reports of Service Chiefs or Division Directors taking overseas recruiting trips to bring in non-citizens which amounts to a huge waste of taxpayers’ money especially when the recruiters stay in luxurious hotels in their efforts to provide jobs to foreign nationals. This is happening at a time when in a depressed economy, U.S. citizens with the requisite broadcasting qualifications are not given the priority in hiring they are due.

• The alleged illegal and ongoing conversion of work performed by federal employees to private contractors when vacancies occur.

• The high costs in transmitting or placing television products including paying broadcasters of other countries to air the material. Surely this is something to examine for possible waste.

• The high cost of the Middle East Broadcasting Network (Radio Sawa and Al Hurra TV). For reasons unknown, the VOA Arabic Service was eliminated and an entirely new broadcast entity was created to replace it. The former VOA Arabic Service cost, at most, $9 million a year. The MBN is now costing the American taxpayers over $110 million a year (the request for FY 2014 is over $111 million) and has failed to attract a significant audience.

• The decimation of the VOA Central News Division resulting in a dearth of news stories being produced. VOA has been forced to use Reuters’ news stories verbatim thus violating the long-time VOA two-source policy.

• And of course there is the ever present problem of horrendous morale. Numerous studies have shown that poor employee morale results in inferior production. Certainly this would be an area the OIG could have examined – focusing both on abuse and waste.

Instead, it appears that the OIG was brought in to investigate how the BBG had overstepped its oversight role, how BBG meetings are conducted and how IBB Executive Staff were being offended by a Board member who had the audacity to ask them pertinent questions about how resources are allocated, how decisions are made and whether U.S. international broadcasting is being conducted in the most efficient way.

It is incomprehensible to us and to many employees in the Agency that the OIG was apparently able to be used in this way by persons unknown. It seems that the bureaucracy of one Agency has attempted to protect, with questionable motives, the entrenched bureaucracy of another. Is that not in itself possible waste and abuse?

We believe that a congressional investigation into this misuse of government resources should be conducted.

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