The recent layoff of Voice of America (VOA) employees in Russia comes at a time when U.S. international broadcasting is also losing ground to bureaucratic overkill.
Despite a continually expanding budget, many mission-critical broadcasting services are being cut, personnel are being let go, and broadcasters are being required to do more with less. Low job satisfaction within the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) has become a growing trend in recent years. Many employees attribute their dissatisfaction to accepted behaviors of underperformance from managers. Mere awareness of these and other problems has failed to bring about much-needed changes.
But perhaps the biggest problem facing U.S. international broadcasting is its very own leadership. The BBG’s nine-person board, which oversees all government civilian broadcasting, was created to serve as a firewall between policymakers and broadcasters. However, as one VOA employee puts it, broadcasters “need more protection from the firewall than they need the firewall itself.”
Many of the BBG members exercise little meaningful guidance to the group (if they even attend the meetings at all). The board has also been criticized for cracking down on the disclosure of “deliberative information” circulating internally. With its core mission being the promotion of America’s policy positions abroad, it seems counterproductive to stifle internal communications, especially when collaboration and exchange are essential for success.
The inefficiencies highlighted above are in need of real solutions. In order for the U.S. to effectively promote its policies abroad, Congress should consider rewriting the legislation that created the BBG in a way that ensures professional management and a transparent structure. It should also include an independent strategic overview of all broadcasting entities of the U.S. government.
A much-needed review of the BBG is underway at the State Department Office of the Inspector General, which will most likely find these solutions necessary to correcting the internal problems of U.S. international broadcasting.
In a time when the promotion of U.S. policies is sorely needed to combat a growing anti-American sentiment around the world, the U.S. should undertake reforms to improve the management practices and structures of the BBG. If not, the organization is in danger of remaining, in the words of Senator Tom Coburn (R–OK), the “most worthless organization in the federal government.”
Caitlin Duvall is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm.