Chaos at the Broadcasting Board of Governors

Chaos at the Broadcasting Board of Governors

The Obama administration’s eight nominees for the Broadcasting Board of Governors aren’t getting waived through any time soon. Republican senators are seeking to use their appointments as an opportunity to shed light on problems they see at the organization.

"The BBG is the most worthless organization in the federal government," Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK, told The Cable in an interview. "It’s full of people who know nothing about media or foreign policy. All they are doing is spending money and somebody’s got to look into it."

The BBG, an independent federal agency with a budget of more than $750 million, is tasked with overseeing U.S. government information services including Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and Radio Free Asia.

The board should have eight full time governors, but there are only four at the present time (in addition to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who serves in an ex-officio capacity) and the eight new nominees are all being held up by Coburn, who wants to meet with each of them individually before he will allow their nominations to go forward. That could take a while.

In an Aug. 29 letter to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, Coburn said he has had "longstanding concerns regarding transparency and effectiveness of our taxpayer funded international broadcasting agencies under the purview of the Broadcasting Board of Governors," especially at VOA.

The most recent two nominees for the BBG, Michael Meehan and Dana Perino, are the latest to be caught up in the overall dissatisfaction with the organization on Capitol Hill. Meehan is a Democratic political operative most famous for allegedly shoving Weekly Standard blogger John McCormack to keep him from asking questions to former Massachusetts Senate candidate Martha Coakley.  

Perino is a former press secretary for President George W. Bush. Her foreign policy expertise was called into question when she admitted she had never heard of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Meehan and Perino were supposed to be approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at its business meeting this week, but were held over because of an objection from Republican committee member Sen. Jim DeMint, R-SC.

DeMint wanted to use the nominations as leverage to force a hearing on the BBG. And even though he is expected to let their nominations pass out of the committee at the next business meeting next month, they still won’t get a floor vote until Coburn is satisfied.

Our sources say that senators like DeMint and Coburn are fed up with the lack of congressional oversight of the BBG and also with the well-established custom of doling out the board’s positions to political types like Meehan and Perino, who in Coburn’s view don’t have the experience or expertise to sit atop an organization crucial to America’s international diplomacy.

Meanwhile, in February executive director Jeff Trimble came under fire when it was revealed he had collaborated with the National Security Council over a VOA statement criticizing Iran’s jamming of international satellites.

Critics said Trimble violated the "firewall" that’s supposed to exist between the BBG’s decision-making process and the rest of the U.S. government, although the NSC defended the cooperation as proper.

In May 2009, the Government Accountability Office issued a report (pdf) criticizing U.S. public diplomacy efforts, including those by the BBG. The BBG shares a "strategic communications budget" with the State Department, which conducts various public diplomacy programs under the auspices of the under secretary for public diplomacy and public affairs.

The BBG did not respond to requests for comment by deadline.

UPDATE: BBG’s Director of Public Affairs Letitia King e-mails in with this response.

The current BBG Board is actively engaged in the management and oversight of the agency. The Board will hold a meeting in May.

The February statement by international broadcasters was the fourth time since last June that the BBG has publicly condemned Iranian jamming. The BBG continues to take aggressive measures to counter Iranian Internet blockage and jamming of radio and satellite frequencies on which BBG programs are carried to Iran.

The BBG "firewall" serves to protect the integrity and credibility of our journalistic products. An official policy statement by a senior management official of the agency is not a journalistic product. BBG appropriately consulted within the U.S. Government concerning the content of the proposed joint statement to make sure it was accurate.