An example of government waste and bad planning—the exorbitantly expensive Gallup Organization contract with the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG)—is finally coming under a long-overdue review.
At a time when language service after language service of Voice of America, this country’s primary public diplomacy tool, is under threat of being shut down for lack of funding, the BBG incomprehensibly in December awarded Gallup a contract worth $50 million over five years for audience research.
This is a huge contract for an agency whose budget is already under strain. Transparency in government dictates that the circumstances under which it was signed come under severe scrutiny and the parties involved held to account.
Spurred by a lawsuit by the Department of Justice against Gallup for filing false claims, BBG member Victor Ashe has demanded that the BBG contract be suspended. Ashe is the board’s most outspoken member in favor of government accountability. He is responsible for, among other things, the idea of broadcasting BBG meetings on the agency’s website.
As someone who has previously questioned the rationale for the over-the-top agreement with Gallup, Ashe has now demanded that the BBG learn from the unfortunate experience of other government departments:
In light of the Department of Justice joining the lawsuit against Gallup, I think prudence suggests BBG disengage from our current up to $50 million contract for polling. I have always had misgivings about this huge contract. And have urged its reduction. Now it is time to call it off and look elsewhere for our research.
The Justice Department recently joined a lawsuit against the Gallup Organization, considered one of the most trusted pollsters in the U.S., which claims that Gallup overcharged various government agencies, including FEMA, the U.S. Mint, and the U.S. State Department.
An ex-Gallup employee, Michael Lindley, turned whistleblower after he was fired, he claims, for complaining to his supervisors about False Claims Act violations. Lindley alleges that Gallup violated the act by inflating estimates of the number of hours it would take to provide polling services. Lindley’s complaint claims that the “sole-source” nature of the contracts made it difficult for the government to assess the cost of polling work.
The mandate of U.S. international broadcasting is to bring reliable news and information about the U.S. to audiences in countries where a free media does not exist. Do we really need $50 million worth of Gallup audience research to tell our veteran broadcasters how to do their jobs? Was there no cheaper way of gathering the relevant information?
Sole-source contracting should always raise red flags, and Ashe is to be greatly commended for demanding light on the murky decision-making process at the BBG.