BBG's Victor Ashe raises employee morale issues

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In a rare move for a member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), a struggling federal agency which oversees U.S. government-funded news and information broadcasts for foreign audiences, BBG Governor Ambassador Victor Ashe raised the issue of employee morale at the Voice of America (VOA), one of the broadcasting entities managed by the BBG.
Speaking at an open BBG meeting on October 13, 2011, Ambassador Ashe acknowledged that despite a minor improvement in the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey results for the Broadcasting Board of Governors, BBG remains near the very bottom among all federal agencies in terms of employee morale.

Link to the video on YouTube
Ambassador Ashe made his comments after meeting with the Voice of America employees who prepare programs for Africa. He also met with staffers who conduct employee training seminars.
Ambassador Ashe pointed out that 45 percent of all VOA employees are private contractors, whose views about the management are not surveyed by the OPM. He described these contract employees as “generally an unhappy group of people,” who — unlike regular VOA employees — are not entitled to various benefits and do not get regular pay raises. Private contractors working at the Voice of America, also known as POVs (Purchase Order Vendors), cannot even receive flu shots, which are available to other employees.
BBG Watch has learned from reliable sources that some BBG members and their executive staff were unhappy about Ambassador Ashe’s employee morale comments. BBG officials who implemented many of the existing policies have been consistently rated in the OPM surveys as being the worst managers within the Federal workforce.
At the same Broadcasting Board of Governors meeting on October 13, the BBG announced a new mission statement for U.S. international broadcasting operations. It emphasizes engagement with the audiences targeted by the BBG-managed media entities. The BBG also announced a new strategic plan.
The BBG has been criticized in the media and in Congress for proposing, as part of its new strategic plan, to end all Voice of America radio and television broadcasts to China and to rely instead on the Internet, which is heavily censored by the Chinese authorities. The BBG plan has been blocked in Congress for the time being. The Senate Committee on Appropriations has criticized the agency management for lacking transparency.
The independent Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB), which was formed recently to promote journalism in defense of media freedom and human rights, announced that it will be reviewing the BBG strategic plan and asking its Advisory Board for opinions and recommendations to make sure that those who are denied access to news and information can receive it easily and safely from the BBG.

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4 comments

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    Tim Shamble 16 October, 2011 at 02:44 Reply

    Board member Ashe just scratched the surface in regard to the contractors. These people should have been hired into the civil service just like all the other Federal employees who work at the VOA. They sit in the same rooms, use the same equipment, and do the same work as the Federal employees but do not receive the smae civil service rights including access to a retirement plan and health benefits. In addition even though they are working for the same government that guaranties due process in the Constituion receive no due process at work. They are frequently released without any warning, they are just told their contract will not be renewed. Many have been subjected to late payments and some suffered for 6 months without a paycheck. It is shameful the way they are treated. In addition, these are federal jobs that should not have been contracted out. More Board members should walk around and talk with employees and contractors alike without the coterie of high level bureacrats who have every reason to try to insulate the Board from the employees because they have something to hide.

  2. Avatar
    Ted Lipien 16 October, 2011 at 19:10 Reply

    Ambassador Ashe should be applauded for openly raising the issue of the systemic discrimination of contract employees (POVs) at the Broadcasting Board of Governors. When I became VOA acting associate director and raised the issue of contract VOA employees, I was told by BBG executives that they could either close down the Voice of America or employ a large number of contract workers (now 45 percent of VOA’s workforce) at low cost — without health care, vacation time, sick leave, retirement, and being subject to instant dismissal by the management. As Tim Shamble points out in his comment, these contract employees are often not even paid on time. This is truly the 19th century way of treating working men and women.
    The same BBG executives, some of whom collect hundreds of thousands of dollars in salaries and additional benefits, were firing experienced journalists, terminating VOA broadcasts to countries without free media, and expanding their vast bureaucracy. No BBG executive’s job has ever been eliminated to save money. Their numbers and perks have been growing each year. They always get paid on time and receive regular pay raises, and bonuses. All this for being in charge of the agency which is consistenly rated by the Office of Personnel Management employee surveys as one of the worst-managed within the entire Federal government system.
    Ambassador Ashe has shown courage and moral conviction in pointing out some of these inequities. If the BBG is now rated by regular government employees as one of the worst places to work in the Federal government, imagine what that number would look like if 45 percent of the workforce, which is not allowed to participate in the OPM surveys, would have its say. Government workers at VOA see how these contract employees are treated by the BBG management. Everyone knows that they all do the same jobs — there are no differences in what regular employees and contract broadcasters do and how they perform their duties. This situation cannot continue.
    Ambassador Ashe is right, POVs at VOA are “an unhappy group.” The BBG executives responsible for this state of affairs advise BBG members and formulate strategic plans, which are then severely criticized by human rights and media freedom organizations, both in the U.S. and abroad, and rejected by Congress.
    Other BBG members would be wise if they would follow Ambassador Ashe’s example and look closely at how BBG executives manage and treat journalists and other employees, both government workers and contractors. Instead of listening to these career bureaucrats, they should meet with women and men who prepare broadcasts to countries with restricted or undeveloped media environments. They would learn a lot more and perhaps avoid the constant blunders that the Broadcasting Board of Governors has become known for on the Hill and among other key constituencies.

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    VOA contractor 22 December, 2011 at 20:20 Reply

    I am very happy to see the POV director at VOA has posted a survey link to solicit contractors’ concerns ans suggestion yesterday (Dec. 21). I am looking forward to the development. Thank you so much for your insights and efforts!

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