Architects of BBG's failed China plan rewarded with new positions

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Two Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) officials described by BBG Watch sources as chief architects of the failed BBG plan to end Voice of America (VOA) radio and TV broadcasts to China have been rewarded with new positions. The International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) Director Richard Lobo named Bruce Sherman as director of a newly-formed Office of Strategy and Development. Lobo also named Jeff Trimble as IBB deputy director.
[Update: A comment posted by someone claiming close knowledge of the BBG staff charges that BBG Watch sources are wrong and that neither Mr. Trimble, Mr. Sherman, Mr. Lobo nor even the current members of the BBG had anything to do with the plan to end VOA broadcasts to China, which the current Board did submit to Congress and vigorously defended. (BBG Watch has received a copy of a lengthy memo sent to Congress by one of the current BBG members who strongly defends the decision to end VOA broadcasts to China and cites research and analysis from the BBG staff.) The author of the comment to this story, however, puts the entire blame on former VOA Director Dan Austin and one other VOA manager and claims that the BBG staff, presumably that includes Mr. Trimble and Mr. Sherman, had opposed this plan. BBG Watch sources tell a different story and point out that the same two individuals were also responsible for arguing in favor of ending VOA radio and TV broadcasts to Russia in 2008 and for supporting eliminations or reductions in other broadcasting services to countries without free media. BBG Watch sources do concede, however, that former VOA Director Austin did support the China plan.]
[Correction from IBB Director Lobo: BBG Watch has learned that IBB Director Richard Lobo has corrected a mistake in his memo. Paul Kollmer-Dorsey does not have the tile of General Counsel. He is Deputy General Counsel. The General Counsel position has been vacant for some time.]

Jeff Trimble


Sources describe Sherman and Trimble as being primarily responsible for formulating the plan to end VOA broadcasts to China. The plan had generated strong bipartisan opposition in Congress, which forced the BBG to give up its intention to end VOA radio and TV broadcasts in Mandarin and Cantonese and to fire 45 VOA Chinese Branch journalists, most of whom specialize in human rights reporting.
According to BBG Watch sources, Trimble and Sherman are protected by the BBG Chairman Walter Isaacson who wants to de-federalize VOA and Radio and TV Marti and to limit the independence of the BBG-managed surrogate broadcasters: the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (Alhurra TV and Radio Sawa), Radio Free Asia (RFA) and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). Lobo had been appointed to his position by President Obama.
BBG Watch sources describe Trimble and Sherman as the chief authors of the BBG strategic plan which calls for these changes. One source told BBG Watch that not all BBG members supported Sherman’s promotion. BBG Governor Victor Ashe, who has become an outspoken critic of the BBG/IBB management team, was — according to BBG Watch sources — opposed to rewarding Sherman and Trimble with these new positions.

Steven Korn


BBG Watch has also received reliable information that the heads of the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN) and of Radio Free Asia (RFA), Brian Conniff and Libby Liu, have raised serious reservations about the Sherman-Trimble plan to merge MBN and RFA together with RFE/RL into a large corporate bureaucracy. Critics of the BBG strategic plan point out that the main feature that makes these surrogate broadcasters successful is their administrative and editorial independence, while the BBG strategic plan calls for administrative and editorial centralization and creating a BBG global news network.
The head of RFE/RL Steven Korn, an old friend of Walter Isaacson (they both worked at CNN), is described as the only one supporting the merger without any objections. Sources tell us that Korn has been making controversial personnel changes at RFE/RL designed to protect careers of his favorite subordinates after the proposed merger.
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From an official IBB announcement:
From: IBB Notices Administration [notices@bbg.gov]
Sent: Tuesday, January 10, 2012 5:58 PM
To: IBB Staff
Subject: Message from the IBB Director
Colleagues:
The merger of the IBB and BBG staffs will become effective on January 15, 2012.
This action reflects the Board’s commitment to streamline and increase the efficiency of agency operations, as called for in the newly adopted 2012-2016 Strategic Plan. The merger will facilitate the development of BBG-wide strategies and objectives, strengthen oversight of program and organizational performance, and enhance collaboration among our Federal and non-Federal entities.
An organizational chart showing the restructured, merged IBB/BBG operation is attached. Here are the key changes:
A new Office of Strategy and Development will lead development and implementation of strategy through coordinated planning, agency-level audience research and impact assessment, program placement, development, and international media training. The Office will work with the broadcast services to align strategy at the Agency and language service levels as well as across entities to enhance performance and meet the goals set by the Strategic Plan. It will incorporate the former BBG Office of Strategic Planning and Performance Measurement, the IBB Office of Marketing and Program Placement, and VOA Business Development. Bruce Sherman will serve as director.
The Office of Performance Review takes on enhanced responsibilities under the continued leadership of Kelu Chao. The Office will continue to conduct VOA and OCB language service research and programming reviews. It will now also be responsible for conducting management analyses of the operational effectiveness of all BBG elements and for coordinating inspections and reviews by the Office of Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office. The Office, together with the performance review elements of the non-Federal entities, will also provide feedback to help shape strategy.
The Office of Communications and External Relations is responsible for communications and outreach activities for the Board and will serve as the Board’s chief advisor for Congressional and external relations. The Office also coordinates communications operations of the BBG’s media networks — VOA, RFE, RFA, MBN, and OCB. The Graphics Unit, under the continued supervision of Tuleda Johnson, will move from the Marketing and Program Placement office to the Communications office. The position of Director of the Office of Communications and External Relations was recently advertised, and I hope shortly to be able to announce the selection of the Director of this office.
The Office of New Media has been renamed the Office of Digital and Design Innovation to better reflect its role in the development and implementation of innovative projects, programs, and services across U.S. international media. The Office will continue to play a key role in expanding the use of the best core technology platforms, as well as assisting entities in executing global digital and brand strategies, but also build out the next generation of digital products that present our content in an increasingly complex media landscape. Rob Bole continues as the Director of this Office.
A Board Operations Staff will be formalized under the direction of the Board Secretary and General Counsel, Paul Kollmer-Dorsey, and will continue to support the Board in its meetings and other operations.
The Secretariat staff and the Analysis and Administration Division will be combined as the Administrative and Secretariat Operations Unit. The Unit will coordinate the development, approval and codification of Agency administrative policies in the form of the Broadcasting Administrative Manual and provide Secretariat services to the BBG, along with the Division’s current functions. Doris Garay-Nellius will head this Unit.
I have designated Jeff Trimble as IBB Deputy Director. Jeff will assist me in overseeing IBB operations, and will carry out special projects at my direction, including the ongoing work to create a BBG global news network, a core element of the new Strategic Plan.
While this merger is a significant step, it is only a part of an ongoing, longer-term restructuring process. In coming months we will continue to study and evaluate this new organization, with an eye toward making further changes to achieve greater efficiencies and otherwise improve our performance. I look forward to your continued cooperation and assistance as we move forward.
Regards,
Dick Lobo
IBB Director

New BBG Organizational Chart

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6 comments

  1. Avatar
    justafewfacts 11 January, 2012 at 19:24 Reply

    Just a few facts, in case anyone who reads this is actually a journalist who actually cares about facts.
    The VOA China plan to eliminate shortwave in favor of a “new media only” plan was hatched and supported by VOA management — former director Dan Austin and Office of New Media Director Rebecca McMenamin.
    When proposed, BBG staff lobbied AGAINST the plan, suggesting it to be untenable, unsupported by research, and probably a political disaster. To repeat: BBG staff warned the Board, which was essentially in transition at the time, against the plan.
    VOA management won the day, however, and the predicted results followed.
    Note that neither Mr. Austin nor Mrs. McMenamin remain in their respective positions, replaced by the new Board and Dick Lobo, respectively.

  2. Avatar
    BBGWatcher 11 January, 2012 at 19:42 Reply

    BBG Watch knows about former VOA Director Dan Austin. He is history. We concede that some BBG staffers may have had reservations about the China plan. But what about ending VOA radio and TV broadcasts to Russia in 2008? Were Mr. Sherman and Mr. Trimble not at all responsible for that decision either? If they were so strongly opposed to broadcasting cuts to China and Russia, then how effective are they? That’s not what our sources tell us. We stand by our story.

  3. Avatar
    justafewfacts 11 January, 2012 at 20:02 Reply

    You reported in a headline that Trimble and Sherman were the architects of a failed China plan.
    They were not. Your source is wrong.
    Readers of this blog know that BBGWatch is not a journalistic enterprise and therefore need not abide by generally accepted journalism practices. But it sure is fun to smear people, isn’t it?
    Somebody told me Ted Lipien used to be a journalist. Seems impossible to me. If your source is also a journalist, then indeed VOA is truly in trouble.

  4. Avatar
    BBGWatcher 11 January, 2012 at 22:21 Reply

    Well, BBG Watch concedes that you know how to spin. So they were not the architects of the failed China plan, they had nothing to do with it, and the CURRENT Board had nothing to do with it either. It was somebody else’s fault, right? The last time we checked, one of the persons mentioned was “The Executive Director [who] advises the Board on developments in international broadcasting and manages the BBG staff, which provides the Board with technical, professional and administrative support as well as strategic guidance and program oversight.” The other person was “Director, Office of Strategic Planning and Performance Measurement.”
    In looking through our files we found a copy of a memo sent to Congress by a CURRENT BBG member citing BBG staff research to justify the decision to end VOA radio and TV programs to China as of October 1, 2011. The memo did not imply that it was only Dan Austin’s idea with which the BBG staff and the CURRENT BBG members disagreed. Quite the contrary. Since when, under the current BBG structure, a VOA Director decides about anything of significance? And picking October 1 to end the broadcasts was another great idea — the anniversary of the founding of communist China. We’re sure the BBG executive staff realized the significance of that date and warned the Board about it, but the Board went with it anyway, right? We will be happy to publish the “Don’t Do It” memo if it exists. And, of course, the BBG Staff was strongly opposed to ending VOA radio and TV broadcasts to Russia in 2008, right? We will publish that memo, as well. Something tells us though that they don’t exist.

  5. Avatar
    a girl who knows 12 January, 2012 at 03:37 Reply

    justafewfacts basically has this right. BBG staff pushed for a reduction in shortwave, but not elimination of all of it or of the TV.
    VOA and RFA put a deal together (yes, together) where RFA would stay on shortwave, and VOA would be a new media service. That was their recommendation. Remember, this plan was accepted over BBG staff recommendations.
    Once this plan went forward — and was criticized, the new Board did attempt to defend it.
    It really is that simple. It went badly, but that’s the way it went.
    You should publish the memo you mention above because it will probably demonstrate to many just how wrong it is to continue to spend so much money on shortwave to China.

  6. Avatar
    BBGWatcher 12 January, 2012 at 05:39 Reply

    Thank you a girl who knows. The beauty of new media is that we can learn more how our officials think and make decisions. I’m sure these officials would now like to distance themselves from the failed plan, but the truth is that they supported it, as did the BBG.
    We don’t agree that spending money on shortwave is wasteful. Check what human rights activists in China have been telling us. They are monitored by the secret police as is their Internet use.

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