AFGE Local 1812

HERE WE GO AGAIN: Another Agency Attempt to De-federalize TV and Radio Marti

In its Fiscal Year 2017 budget request for the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the Obama Administration is seeking congressional approval -once again - to de-federalize the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB). Actually, the Union only recently found out that the OCB, as such, does not exist as a legislative entity. It is a creation of the BBG which they concocted as their mechanism to manage TV and Radio Marti. But we digress.

According to BBG CEO John Lansing, “the mission of OCB would not change, but instead of being administered as a federal entity like the Voice of America (VOA), OCB would be turned into a private grantee media organization similar to BBG’s existing grantees, such as Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia (RFA), and Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN)”.

We at AFGE Local1812 strongly believe that this is not only a tired idea but, Plain and simple, a terrible one. It could also be viewed as a retaliatory maneuver in view of the fact that the Radio/TV Marti employees who were illegally RIF'ed in 2009 were returned to their previous Agency positions not too long ago with back pay after a stinging decision by an Arbitrator, in which the employees ultimately prevailed despite constant appeals of that decision by the Agency.

In yet another anti-employee move, the Agency bureaucracy, with this latest attempt to de-federalize Radio/TV Marti, is making its employees' lives miserable. The bloated bureaucracy organizes all kinds of focus groups and workplace engagement projects while neglecting the basics: adequate staffing and resources, the halting of the waste, fraud and abuse rampant throughout the Agency and the biggest enchilada of all: FAIR AND DECENT TREATMENT OF ITS EMPLOYEES. Agency managers are probably elated with the prospect of de-federalizing Radio/TV Marti because then they would be able to hire and fire employees at will with no civil service or union protections. And that is one reason why the Agency is pursuing the de-federalization and eventual destruction of Radio/TV Marti. Another more sinister reason may be that the current dictator of Cuba, Raul Castro, has demanded the demise of Radio/TV Marti and it looks as if the administration is ready to capitulate.

The BBG may think that by de-federalizing the Martis immediately it may protect itself from any further challenge to its authority and increase productivity. But human ingenuity is boundless, economic realities change, and we see a number of risks in that approach:

1. Under the de-federalization proposal, managers would become even more immune to any challenge or congressional oversight and could turn OCB into a personal fiefdom. That's not so far-fetched when we saw what happened under the leadership of an OCB official who acted capriciously – and according to an arbitrator, illegally - when the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) conducted an illegal reduction-in-force (RIF) beginning in late 2009. Should OCB be de-federalized, what will stand between the de-federalized employees and unscrupulous managers?

2. Contractual employees will have no future and will certainly lose their sense of mission. We have reports that numerous contractors at VOA spend a considerable amount of time looking and or applying for permanent positions, inside or outside of the Agency. How motivated and dedicated would a de-federalized work force be at Radio/TV Marti and possibly down the line, at the VOA?

3. In the absence of checks and balances, de-federalized entities could be more prone to abuse. In 2012, a former Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) official was alleged to have destroyed the Russian Service of Radio Liberty by firing dozens of outstanding journalists. The controversy is still not over and the damage done to the service is still felt. RFE/RL is a surrogate staffed by non-federal employees.

4. The Middle East Broadcasting Network, a de-federalized entity, has had its share of controversy and its effectiveness remains challenged to this day.

Abuses at the Voice of America, the Martis and even at the surrogates have come to light largely thanks to employees. It is the strong belief of AFGE Local 1812 that de-federalizing the Martis would not improve their operations, increase audience participation or reinforce the quality of programming. It would just fade away which is exactly what Raul Castro and brother Fidel have wanted for a very long time.

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