FreeMediaOnline.org & Free Media Online Blog, May 27, 2009, San Francisco — Friday, May 22, was the last day at the Voice of America (VOA) for Bill Skundrich, one of the most respected and popular U.S. radio and television journalists broadcasting to Russia. He left VOA for a new job at the Department of Homeland Security.
Bill Skundrich’s colleagues describe him as an extraordinarily talented journalist and hard working manager who was holding the Russian Service together in one of the most difficult times in VOA’s history. They told FreemediaOnline.org that he was leaving his job at VOA with great deal of regret.
A native of Pittsburgh, Skundrich studied Russian language and literature in college. His mastery of the language led to his selection as a member of the U.S. debate team that went to the Soviet Union in the 1980s. Later, he worked at VOA for 25 years occupying broadcasting and managerial positions. He produced programs for radio, television, and more recently also for the Internet. His colleagues describe him as a thoughtful and inspiring leader who was able to bring together people with opposing viewpoints to work on common goals.
Bill Skundrich is one of many talented journalists who have left their jobs at the broadcasting entities managed by the BBG, which in 2008 had terminated VOA Russian-language radio programs. The broadcasts went silent just 12 days before the Russian military incursion into Georgia last summer. At the height of the conflict, BBG members had refused urgent requests from VOA journalists to resume radio broadcasts to the war zone and to other traditional VOA audiences in Russia and in many of the former Soviet republics.
BBG officials maintain that their decision was designed to focus limited resources on improving VOA’s Internet presence in Russia, but as a result of the termination of on-air radio and television broadcasts, VOA experienced an unprecedented 98 percent drop in its audience reach in Russia. By effectively barring VOA from airwaves in Russia, the BBG added to the restrictions already imposed by the Russian authorities on Western broadcasters. No other international broadcaster has ever seen such a dramatic decline.
The BBG management practices have resulted in one of the worst employee morale in the entire federal government, as measured by the Federal Human Capital Survey conducted annually by the Office of Personnel Management. The survey, which polls workers at 37 agencies, found the BBG to be last in three categories (leadership and knowledge management, results-oriented performance, and talent management). The BBG is 36th, only one short of being the worst, in job satisfaction.
One of Bill Skundrich’s former VOA colleagues said that the BBG is “incredibly short-sighted not to hold on to him for dear life.” “There’s no one there who can touch him for talent, organization and general know-how,” said a former VOA manager, speaking about Bill Skundrich’s departure from the Voice of America.