USAGM Officials Selling Snake Oil to Employees, Taxpayers, Congress and Media



By The Federalist

Longtime U.S. Agency for Global Media Officials…

Selling The Snake Oil

The ongoing comedy show that is the U.S. Agency for Global Media continues with the latest so-called “town hall meeting.”

This agency is a testament to corruption, dysfunction and incompetence that is now ingrained and institutionalized.

Let’s go over some of the “lowlights” of this latest spectacle in support of what has become an exercise in misleading employees, U.S. taxpayers, members of Congress and media.

It’s All A Crock

Crock #1: It’s All Trump’s Fault

You can always expect longtime agency bureaucrats to try to divert attention from themselves. For example, they are trying to lay blame for the latest abysmal showing in the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) solely on the Trump administration. Who are they kidding? They themselves were in charge for many years and have turned the agency into one of the worst places to work long before Trump arrived and the history of the surveys reflects it from the very beginning. A review of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) records of the survey results will bear this out. In short, any claim that the Trump administration during its very short and distracted presence of a few months is solely to blame for what ails this agency and for record bad morale FEVS results dating back many years is a bald-faced lie.

Senior agency officials who have been there, some of them for decades, are largely responsible for the results the survey reflects. They got record low marks before the Trump administration and during most of the Trump administration when they themselves were in charge, as they are now.

Crock #2: Relocation From the Cohen Building. 

This may be more in the vein of wishful thinking than a crock but that’s the end result. This is something that has been kicked around for years. Here’s the reality:

To relocate from the Cohen Building would cost millions and maybe billions of dollars to clean up and retrofit the Cohen Building into normal Federal workspaces. Miles of cabling alone would have to be removed along with the media studios the agency has created. Space for what the agency does doesn’t come prefabricated. In short, any existing Federal space would have to be retrofitted to take on the new tenant with a substantial technical requirement. If existing space isn’t available, new construction would have to be considered. The price tag climbs ever higher. Given the agency’s horrid track record especially as we get deeper into the 21st century, the only realistic options are downsizing the agency or (more preferably) eliminating its bureaucratic structure altogether.

That’s not the end of it. Another key element is location. The agency sits astride the National Mall. It is several city blocks from the US Capitol well within the view of the Cohen Building. Just a short hop for agency officials to run up to the Hill to apply the snake oil sales pitch of what a great job the agency is doing (when just about everyone in official Washington knows it’s not, albeit not mentioned often publicly).

And then there are the unfortunate agency employees. By virtue of its location, the Cohen Building is easily accessible by the DC area subway system as well as several commuter train routes. Going outside the perimeter of the National Mall or the METRO system can and likely would be problematic. With the pandemic receding, Washington area traffic is starting to return to normal. It would be no easy task to reach a new agency location.

Crock #3: Agency managers are pledging more efforts to reach out to staff “to improve and make it a better place to work.”

Agency managers have been saying this for years. It hasn’t happened. It isn’t going to happen. In simple terms these people are incompetent, inept and only interested in self-promotion. You would have to be in some form of denial to take this claim seriously. There is no credibility attached to it and there shouldn’t be.

Crock #4: Recovering from the turmoil of the last administration.

It has been well documented by BBG Watch and USAGM Watch that the agency has transformed itself into a partisan, agenda-based ideological screed. It is far removed from the non-partisan, bi-partisan and balanced news principles encompassed in the VOA Charter. It must conduct remedial sessions on journalistic practices (and one wonders what those are like with a hardcore group in the VOA newsroom). Scandals abound, including plagiarism and other serious misdeeds and congressional inquiry about the actions of its officials. In its entirety, this goes far beyond the previous administration. The problems of this agency are institutionalized and embedded over decades under its current non-Trump leadership.

Crock #5: “We made sure that the members of the last administration had left the building and had been replaced.”

Read Crock #4 above. 

This is nothing other than a diversionary tactic: demonizing and vilifying Trump appointees as the root of all the agency’s problems when there is a clear record going back ten, fifteen years or longer of institutionalized mismanagement. We know what the root of the agency’s problems are: the embedded bureaucracy and current senior agency officials who have been in charge of the agency for decades.

Crock #6: Refusing to Compromise the agency and its mission

Once again, a diversionary tactic. The agency and its mission have long been compromised by a corrupt and self-aggrandizing bureaucracy trafficking in a narrative of false success, false audience numbers, actual instances of misconduct at the top of a long list.

Crock #7: USAGM is seriously under-funded.

In truth, the agency’s track record of lack of impact and effectiveness shows that it is grossly over-funded. The Congress, successive administrations and the American taxpayer have been lied to regarding the reality of under-performance of this agency. The agency gets more money now than it did during World War II and during much of the Cold War. At least it had a major impact during the Cold War. It has now almost no impact in some of the most important countries: China, Russia and Iran.

Crock #8: A new USAGM Strategic Plan 2022  2026.

This is the real laugher. Some years ago, an agency official was pushing the notion of five-year planning. At the time when this was happening an acquaintance smirked and remarked, “Five-year plans. They didn’t work for the Soviets and they won’t work for this agency either.” Then the chief strategic planner under former pre-Trump USAGM CEO was arrested and spent time in a federal prison for stealing taxpayers’ money. Now new strategic planners, some brought on board by the former disgraced official, will develop a new “strategic plan.”

“Strategic planning” for this agency is an oxymoron. In reality, what the intended outcome likely has to do is with buying time: giving agency bureaucrats time to concoct statements and excuses for the agency’s descent into the lower reaches of international broadcasting, trying to justify getting more funding to be spent chasing some kind of pipe dream of imaginary successes and of course keeping them habituating their offices on the Third Floor of the Cohen Building.

There is one thing coming out of the town hall meeting that isn’t a crock although it represents yet another attempt to lay blame for the agency’s long-established ills on the Trump administration.

What it is, is an admission. It comes in two forms:

Working to restore agency background clearance investigations

Investigations by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) resulted in the agency’s background clearance investigations being yanked from the agency and placed in the Department of Defense. Some would suggest that these investigations precipitated the suspension of several senior agency officials by Michael Pack who were later returned to work by agency officials acting in their stead following Pack’s departure. 

Working to restore the agency’s reputation within the federal government and with Congress, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the State Department.

No doubt this is another attempt to lay the agency’s failures at the feet of the Trump administration.

And this is a total crock.

The agency had long established its reputation as one of the worst agencies in the Federal government. It has been labeled “dysfunctional” by members of Congress. It was also labeled “practically defunct” by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. It has demonstrated abysmal results in the OPM/FEVS surveys for years before the Trump administration was even a thought in anyone’s mind. It has concocted audience figures and apparently has had substantial and devastating audience losses among strategic language services for China, Iran and Russia at a critical juncture in the U.S. interactions with all three countries. It is wracked by one internal scandal after another.

To put it bluntly, there is no “wise and stable direction” at the top of this agency. There is corruption, ineptitude, incompetence, resulting mismanagement and a whole lot of hypocrisy about the true nature of this agency in its present state.

We have said it before: senior officials of this agency should be cashiered wholesale and the agency itself broken up and reformed. The problems are too deep and too profound to be impacted by effective remedial corrective action.

The Federalist

June 2021