An untimely rush is on in the Senate to fill board positions in one of the government’s most dysfunctional agencies, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).
Perpetuating non-functioning government structures is never the answer, though it admittedly is standard Washington practice. What’s more, rushing through the nominations will create a political imbalance on the bipartisan board, weighted in favor of the Democrats.
At a scheduled business meeting on July 29, squeezed in before the August recess, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is planning to move on nominations for three new board members: former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker, executive director of the Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy Matt Armstrong, and Jeffrey Schell, president of NBCUniversal.
A hearing in the House Foreign Affairs Committee in June exposed the deep and pervasive problems of managing the U.S. government’s broadcasting complex. The Senate should follow up with probing investigations of its own and not simply rubberstamp the Obama Administration’s choices.
Among the issues that need to be aired:
- Is the Smith–Mundt Modernization Act working as intended, allowing U.S. broadcasters to access programming produced by BBG entities such as Voice of America? The modernization took effect on July 2 and has been the center of controversy, as some suspect the government of trying to propagandize Americans.
- Should Voice of America be de-federalized, as is currently under legislative consideration in the House? What would be the consequences for production quality and current staff?
- Is the trend away from radio (specifically shortwave) toward satellite television and social media appropriate or premature, given the global digital divide?
- Should the BBG itself be replaced with a more efficient management structure to oversee the $730 million broadcasting complex of the U.S. government?
As the broadcasting agency is the center of a number of controversies and potential legislative reform, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee should hold off on confirmations and seek thorough hearings to question the proposed members on where they stand on the future of international broadcasting, a critical tool of U.S. outreach to the world.