BBG Takes It on the Chin
Helle Dale /
Two new reports have delivered a one-two punch to the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).
One of the reports, by the State Department’s Inspector General (IG), focused narrowly on the functioning of the BBG itself, which it concluded is failing in its mandated duties, including implementation of key aspects of its own five-year strategic plan. The BBG’s dysfunction stems from a flawed legislative structure and acute internal dissension.
As noted by The Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl on Sunday, the report points to one of the most dedicated BBG members, former Ambassador to Poland Victor Ashe, as the source of the dissention. In fact, Ashe’s efforts to fight bad management at the BBG have helped reverse some truly awful decisions by the board.
The BBG is composed of nine part-time members, including eight private citizens who carry the title of governor. The ninth member is the Secretary of State (ex officio). Not surprisingly, a part-time board cannot effectively supervise all U.S. government-supported civilian international broadcasting, a complex operation with an annual budget of roughly $750 million. The report recommends creating a chief executive officer who could coordinate the operational aspects of the broadcast entities and their support structure.
Another problem is chronic vacancies and absences by BBG members, which threatens the quorum required for the board to act. It also limits the diversity of perspectives brought to discussion and puts at risk the bipartisan nature of the board. The IG recommends establishing specific criteria for board members’ participation.
Meanwhile, a report by the Government Accountability Office finds:
Nearly two-thirds of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) language services—offices that produce content for particular languages and regions—overlap with another BBG service by providing programs to the same countries in the same languages. For example, in 8 instances involving 16 services, a Voice of America service and a Radio Free Asia service overlapped. Almost all overlapping services also broadcast on the same platform (i.e., radio or television).
For an agency chronically short of funding, the BBG could obviously do much more to streamline its products. As different broadcasting entities have different missions, however, the strategy for reducing duplication and inefficiency cannot be a meat-cleaver approach—all of which reaffirms why a new, more rational management structure is needed.
A question sometimes considered in philosophy class is whether something that is worth doing is worth doing badly. That is where the BBG is today. The time has come to aim higher.