The “New” BBG Strategic Plan
by The Federalist
On Friday, October 14, the Broadcasting Board of Governors put out a press release heralding its “new” alleged “strategic plan.”
Well, really, this isn’t something “new.” It’s more a case of something being recycled and repackaged. The goals are the same: the destruction of effective US international broadcasting. Someone inside the Cohen Building must think they are being clever. It’s the same stuff, different day.
Granted, this is a press release. However, it is revealing in how the BBG sees some of the things it is doing. For example, you see words like “evaluate,” “develop” and “explore.” None of these things are synonymous with planning. They are synonymous with conceptualizing, testing ideas. So what you see is more of a concept, an idea and less of a meticulous, detailed process of moving ideas into actual actions.
If it hasn’t done so already, the BBG is going to hire a consultant to translate the idea into a plan. There are two things of importance here: (1) the requisite brain power does not reside in the Cohen Building to formulate the plan and (2) down the road, the same requisite brain power does not reside in the Cohen Building to execute the plan. They’re both bad omens, the latter perhaps being the worst of the two. Can or will the BBG follow the “instructions in the box” provided by the consultant? Past experience says they can’t or they won’t, especially if the “instructions” do not comport with the dreamscape of their concept/idea. The “new” strategic plan is much the same as the “old” strategic plan: it’s too big for the careerists in the Cohen Building to get their arms around.
In the private sector, when something this ambitious is attempted, press releases announcing what is coming often put price tags as to the cost. Nowhere in the BBG press release is there any mention of the cost of this concept/idea. That tells the reader of the press release that either the Board doesn’t know how much this is going to cost or that it is afraid to spell it out. The Board doesn’t even offer an estimated price tag for its pie-in-the-sky concept. This is lack of transparency. American taxpayers are entitled to know and to decide, through their elected representatives, whether this particular BBG boondoggle is worth the cost.
Let’s consider at least one item that appears to be at least in the “thinking about it” aspect of the concept:
Right off the bat, we know that the BBG wants to relocate from the Cohen Building. Most often mentioned is acquiring space in the Dulles Town Center in Virginia, west of DC – as in way west of DC, without access to mass transit in the near to foreseeable future. This aspect of the “strategic idea” has enormous costs attached to it, both in terms of exiting the Cohen Building and developing the infrastructure and space requirements in the new location. There may be other similar issues with regard to sites elsewhere in the United States and/or abroad that would be affected by the BBG “strategic idea.”
Someone has to pay for this. That “someone” happens to be the US taxpayer.
Once again: how much is this going to cost? It may have escaped the attention of the BBG or its IBB staff that the US Government isn’t exactly awash in surplus cash these days.
There are other considerations:
A plan has timelines. It has cost estimates for each incremental aspect of the plan along these timelines. None of this is spelled out in the press release.
By contrast, consider the expansion of the METRO system in the greater DC area. Aspects of that plan are constantly being addressed in public statements, estimating the cost and the delivery date of new extensions and new equipment to the existing system. None of that is visible in the BBG’s press release.
Some experience with agency projects has been that projects don’t get completed on time. That’s more cost.
The BBG has already demonstrated another aspect of its “plan:” it will terminate certain services before the plan is fully developed.
For example, in 2008 the BBG ended its direct broadcasts to Russia via the Voice of America (VOA). The agency’s own research shows that its audience fell off a cliff when that happened. In addition, it wants to terminate VOA Mandarin and Cantonese broadcasts, supposedly relying on Radio Free Asia (RFA) to maintain a token radio presence until the Board kills that off, too.
The true “genius” of this approach is what is called “the consequence of unexpected events.” In other words, setting something in motion with either no or limited ability to respond to events unforeseen. Remember, not long after the BBG ended its VOA Russian broadcasts, the Russian Republic invaded the Republic of Georgia. Not having effective reporting via radio broadcasts of the VOA Russian service was a huge victory for the Russians all by itself.
The press release also talks about “developing” cyber countermeasures. This means the radio broadcasts will be dead before the cyber countermeasures are in place.
There should be no doubt whatsoever that the BBG is behind the curve in this critical area. The situation in cyber warfare is not static. It is evolving constantly. We already know that the Chinese and the Iranians are well ahead of the curve in this regard and are no doubt continuing to advance and refine the programs they use to block Internet content and/or to attack websites they view as hostile to their national interests.
Another cost issue regards running parallel operations while transitioning to new physical plants (the Cohen Building to the Dulles Town Center scenario). It is not going to be a situation in which operations end on a Friday at the old location and resume at the new location on Monday. It doesn’t work that way. Anyone with broadcasting experience knows that.
One of the things the BBG likes to hawk is that it will save money by ending duplication of language services. This is a bogus argument. There is no language duplication. There are entities with the same language services. But as the Board fully knows, different entities have different missions. The language services facilitate the mission of the specific entity.
There is a very legitimate question of what the intended mission of a reorganized entity is going to be. The press release makes clear that the BBG intends to attempt to comingle the three grantees, which have separate audiences, missions, etc. That can’t be something that will go smoothly. As already noted, the BBG intends to usurp VOA Mandarin and Cantonese and plant it under the flag of RFA which has an entirely different mission. That can’t be good, in part because the institutional identity of VOA will be destroyed. It would be analogous to the BBC taking a broadcast language service of longstanding BBC identity and handing it over to a lesser known enterprise as an “XYZ” entity, for example.
Particularly troubling is the idea of taking listener/viewer content and using it on-the-air. How does one verify that the content is legitimate and is not doctored or planted by individuals with ulterior motives or other “masters?” It happens all the time on the Internet and one should expect the BBG to be just as vulnerable under this strategic “idea.” In order to validate itself in its “global news network” posture, and to demonstrate that it has superior timely news reporting, one can expect things to get on the air with less than complete scrutiny in the attempt to be a step ahead of more experienced networks.
Once again the American taxpayer is being called upon to write a blank check and turn it over to the BBG. That is a big mistake. The agency’s track record is suspect up to this point (in places like Russia and the Middle East). One should not throw good money after bad.
Last but not least, Secretary of State Clinton has made it clear, “We are losing the information war.” The agency responsible for losing it is the BBG. Nothing in the BBG’s “new strategic plan” is demonstrative of a turnaround in this misfortune.
Memo to Secretary Clinton: the BBG “strategy of defeat” continues.
October 15, 2011