AFGE Local 1812


While distracting employees with ice-cream, cake, a fitness center, wine tastings and other social niceties, the IBB has been engaged in a behind-the scenes and not-so-nice project to de-federalize the Voice of America and the OCB. It is evidently trying hard to sell the idea to Capitol Hill as a way to reform the Agency once and for all. But will it? Who stands to profit from such a process? Certainly not the employees.

In practical terms, de-federalizing the VOA will enable the worst-rated managers in the Federal government to hang on to their jobs while setting much higher and perhaps even astronomical salaries for themselves and disposing of almost all congressional oversight. Rank-and-file employees, the ones actually putting out the programming, will be forced to reapply for their jobs with no guarantee that they will be re-hired. If they are deemed not qualified – a very subjective process – they will simply lose their employment. What will happen to those employees who have invested 10-15 years of their professional lives to the Agency and are not eligible for retirement? And, if they are chosen, there is no guarantee their new jobs will offer the advantages and protections they enjoy as Federal Employees: civil service protections, union rights, health insurance, sick leave, annual leave and retirement. The sad truth is that they will serve at the pleasure of the Agency with no protection from abusive managers, firing without cause, unsafe conditions and no recourse through a third party to resolve disputes.

We at AFGE Local 1812 are baffled that Congress could believe that de-federalizing the Agency will actually make the situation better. In the past year, we saw how out-of-control managers with no oversight, caused the quasi-disintegration of the Russian Service of Radio Liberty by capriciously and arbitrarily firing its employees. The fall-out in the arena of international opinion and American prestige is still being felt.

Al-Hurra and Radio Sawa, two other entities that operate outside of Federal rules and regulations as grantees, according to many polls and knowledgeable observers, are known neither for their effectiveness in the target area, nor for saving money. Prime example is the Middle East cauldron and the public diplomacy disasters in Libya, Syria, and, most importantly, Egypt, where it seems that all factions in that country, from the most conservative to the most liberal and everyone in the middle, seem to be joined by one driving principle: their hatred and resentment of all things American.

De-federalizing the VOA and OCB would certainly shut up once and for all any and all criticism on the part of employees, who will serve at the will of their supervisors. That would solve the problem Agency officials have had with the OPM Federal Employee Viewpoint surveys – there won’t be any more to worry about. But wasn’t the problem at RFE/RL the fact that officials had no employee protections to worry about? Wasn’t that why the BBG was left to mop up a public relations disaster caused by the grantee RFE/RL management in tandem with the top management of the IBB?

De-federalizing would also permit IBB management to pursue its dream to fully implement its ill-advised strategic plan: to eliminate most, if not all, radio broadcasts in spite of the fact that the bulk of our audience throughout the world listen on radio and radio is capable of penetrating almost all attempts at interdiction. Haven’t we learned anything from the debacle of the VOA Russian Service that lost 90 per cent of its audience when radio was eliminated in 2008 and it was turned into an Internet-only service?

AFGE Local 1812 understands that Congress is frustrated with the inability of the Agency to reform and that it appears dysfunctional and that it uses the idea of a firewall to avoid complying with the will of the Congress. But why elevate the top management responsible for the debacle and instead punish rank-and-file employees in the Federal service, who have struggled to preserve the VOA Charter by pushing relevant stories, and to save taxpayers money by pushing for proven and cheaper technologies?

What the Voice of America needs is new leadership. A CEO, selected by an advisory board, appointed by the White House and answerable to Congress. A streamlined bureaucracy. Broadcast services that recognize the media in which we can effectively compete and deliver accurate news, and yes, to also communicate the best of our values to the world using technology that will reach those that want to receive the message.

Certainly not defederalization.

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