The Obama Administration’s “culture of intimidation,” as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R–KY) has called it, has affected the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). In a power grab that is as outrageous as it is brazen, the Obama Administration is proposing to replace the only remaining Republican and one of the few members of the BBG who cares enough to take an active role on the BBG, Victor Ashe.
The consequence, for one thing, will be a severe imbalance on the bipartisan board in favor of the Democrats. Secondly, employees of Voice of America and the other U.S. international broadcasting organizations (which the BBG oversees) could lose one of their few remaining and most effective champions. The Senate has confirmation power over these BBG appointments and must block this plan.
The BBG, which was established legislatively in 1994, is supposed to be bipartisan with nine members, four Democrats and four Republicans with the last seat being held by the Secretary of State or his designee. It has the executive power to oversee the running of Voice of America, Radio/TV Marti, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, and other parts of U.S. international broadcasting.
With all these responsibilities, the BBG meets just once a month and often with less than a quorum to make decisions. The BBG’s current state, in other words, is dysfunctional, as demonstrated by the State Department’s Inspector General’s (IG) report published in February.
The Chairman of the Board, Democrat Michael Lynton, CEO of Sony Entertainment, has not attended a board meeting since December 14. Other Democrats are former Secretary of State John Kerry staffer Michael Meehan and former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D–NV) staffer Susan McCue. One more Democrat has been nominated—Jeff Shell, chairman of NBC Universal.
The Republican side is being help up by one man right now, Victor Ashe, who has served since 2010. One other Republican has been nominated, Matt Armstrong, director of the Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy. That means there are two Republican vacant slots to be filled.
Even so—with two empty Republican slots—the Obama Administration is planning to replace Victor Ashe with Republican Ambassador Ryan Crocker, who recently served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and last week was nominated by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Crocker is an excellent choice, but should join Ashe, not replace him. This gambit would leave the board with a four–two imbalance in favor of the Democrats, and what should be a bipartisan foreign policy endeavor, a centerpiece of U.S. public diplomacy, could be accused of becoming a political tool.
In addition, terminating Victor Ashe’s appointment would be a real loss for the agency’s mission and its employees. Despite being singled out as a troublemaker by the State Department’s IG, he has been an outspoken activist determined to resolve long-term problems, improve morale, and obtain necessary resources. Thanks to Ashe, who has advocated transparency, BBG meetings are now shown on the BBG website. He was highly instrumental in reversing the unjust firing of Radio Liberty’s Moscow employees last September.
Senators must take action to remedy the loss of credibility and effectiveness that the termination of Ashe would cause the BBG. A hold on other nominees until bipartisan balance is restored would be one way.