- By Reid StandishReid Standish is associate editor, digital, at Foreign Policy. Reid writes on Russia, Ukraine, and Central Asia and is the newsroom’s digital point person. He has lived in and reported from Finland, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Ukraine, where he covered everything from Santa Claus to drug trafficking. A native of British Columbia, he holds a B.A. in international studies from Simon Fraser University and an M.A. from the University of Glasgow.
This story has been updated.
Not even a year after its last scandal, the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) is accused of wasting taxpayer money — again. The State Department and BBG’s inspector general revealed mismanagement and abuse of power in a new audit released Tuesday.
The BBG, an independent federal agency responsible for international broadcasting, caught flack last July for its expensive aerial program aimed at Cuba that less than 1 percent of Cubans listen to.
The new audit outlines how the BBG contracts department, which is responsible for planning and managing supplies, services, and construction for BBG’s affiliates, awarded contracts based on personal connections and used contractors without prior approval, thereby violating the Antideficiency Act. The audit goes on to state that the BBG’s use of these contractors resulted in $431,502 that was not certified and $51,140 that was not available when the contractors began working.
The mismanagement did not stop there, though. The audit also details a laundry list of other violations, such as how the BBG failed to make the contract process open and competitive, resulting in $419,020 of funds that were mismanaged through poor planning and a whopping $3.5 million in costs incurred because of unsupported contract pricing. Similarly, the inspector general found that the BBG did not comply with Federal Acquisition Regulation requirements, which led to $24,325 in additional costs from a lack of contract oversight and $475,347 in unauthorized commitments.
The mismanaged amount dwarfs that at the center of the AeroMartí controversy. AeroMartí is broadcast by plane — to the tune of $24 million over six years — but the Cuban government routinely jams the plane’s broadcasts. To its credit, the BBG wants to ground AeroMartí, but anti-Castro lawmakers block legislative attempts to defund it.
The BBG, through its affiliates such as Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Middle East Broadcasting Networks, and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, provides news and information to more than 206 million people in 61 languages with a variety of radio, television, and online programming. The news outlets under the BBG’s purview have evolved in purpose over the years, from countering Nazi and Japanese propaganda during World War II to defusing communist spin. After the Cold War, the outlets took on a more traditional news role. However, a House bill aiming to force the affiliates, most notably Voice of America, to explicitly support the U.S. government and its policies is pending in Congress.
In the audit’s wake, the inspector general made a series of recommendations to prevent repeat incidents and is developing new accountability mechanisms for the BBG.
UPDATE: June 19, 2014
The BBG is taking corrective action to resolve the issues raised by the Office of the Inspector General in the audit. The BBG has proposed a new contracting system and has resolved 34 of the 38 recommendations proposed by the inspector general, pending approval of the new contracting system.
The AeroMarti program is no longer operational after being grounded from the sequestration process.