The Cable

The Cable goes inside the foreign policy machine, from Foggy Bottom to Turtle Bay, the White House to Embassy Row.

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 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 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.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

More from Foreign Policy

A worker cuts the nose off the last Ukraine's Tupolev-22M3, the Soviet-made strategic aircraft able to carry nuclear weapons at a military base in Poltava, Ukraine on Jan. 27, 2006. A total of 60 aircraft were destroyed  according to the USA-Ukrainian disarmament agreement.
A worker cuts the nose off the last Ukraine's Tupolev-22M3, the Soviet-made strategic aircraft able to carry nuclear weapons at a military base in Poltava, Ukraine on Jan. 27, 2006. A total of 60 aircraft were destroyed according to the USA-Ukrainian disarmament agreement.

Why Do People Hate Realism So Much?

The school of thought doesn’t explain everything—but its proponents foresaw the potential for conflict over Ukraine long before it erupted.

Employees watch a cargo ship at a port in China, which is experiencing an economic downturn.
Employees watch a cargo ship at a port in China, which is experiencing an economic downturn.

China’s Crisis of Confidence

What if, instead of being a competitor, China can no longer afford to compete at all?

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell testifies in the U.S. Senate in Washington on Sept. 24, 2020.
Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell testifies in the U.S. Senate in Washington on Sept. 24, 2020.

Why This Global Economic Crisis Is Different

This is the first time since World War II that there may be no cooperative way out.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and Premier Li Keqiang applaud at the closing session of the National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 11.
Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and Premier Li Keqiang applaud at the closing session of the National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 11.

China Is Hardening Itself for Economic War

Beijing is trying to close economic vulnerabilities out of fear of U.S. containment.