The Humpty Dumpty Strategic Plan for U.S. International Broadcasting

VOA building in Washington, D.C.
VOA building in Washington, D.C. Logo. & Free Media Online Blog The Federalist Commentary, July 8, 2009, San Francisco — This commentary is by The Federalist, one of our regular contributors with inside knowledge of US government bureaucracy.

The Humpty Dumpty Strategic Plan at the Broadcasting Board of Governors

by The Federalist

Let us refresh our memories…

Last year, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) made the decision to eliminate all Voice of America (VOA) radio broadcasts to Russia. Not long afterward, Russia invaded the Georgian Republic in a dispute over border provinces. To this day, there are no direct VOA on-air radio broadcasts to all of Russia.

Not long after the initial uproar over this decision, senior VOA officials stopped by the VOA Russian Service to pompously declare that all of VOA would be like the Russian Service in five years…meaning that VOA would be reduced to a collection of Internet websites as part of the Broadcasting Board of Governors/the International Broadcasting Bureau’s glorious “strategic plan.”

Arrogant, pompous and stupid to a fault.

Since then, it has been determined, through BBG’s own research conducted by an independent contractor, that the audience in Russia for VOA programs has been drastically reduced as a result of taking radio and TV programs off the air.

On Wednesday, July 08, 2009 US Government officials announced that a major cyber attack was directed against Federal government websites and others, including those of major financial institutions and multimedia organizations like The Washington Post.

Lo and behold, sources have indicated that many – perhaps – all VOA websites were put out of commission for a substantial period of time. While other Federal agencies and news organizations were quickly able to fend off these cyber attacks, the Voice of America website was out of commission for hours and was still not working late Wednesday afternoon EST.

It is unclear who orchestrated these attacks, although speculation appears to be focused on North Korea.

Let’s speak plainly:

The people in charge of BBG, IBB and VOA represent for American public and taxpayers a dangerous combination of arrogance and incompetence. Those responsible for creating and embracing this porous strategic plan should be fired. Period. It is well known to the agency’s workforce just how inept and incompetent these people are. The seriousness of the problem can be seen in the results of the US Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) Federal Human Capital Survey. The agency (BBG) is dead last among comparable Federal agencies and has been hovering around the bottom for the past five years…seemingly content to be populated by a group of senior managers, protecting their big salaries and completely corrosive in their handling of critical government resources. Because the mission of US international broadcasting is all important at the time of terrorist threats and growing anti-Americanism in countries like Russia, this is a very serious lapse for US national security.

The shortcomings of the BBG strategic plan are painfully obvious. The officials running the agency choose to ignore the threat.

This threat itself is no mystery. The ability to disrupt strategic communications was aptly demonstrated by the Russian security services during the Kremlin’s conflict with the Georgian Republic.

This threat is so significant that both the outgoing Bush Administration and the incoming Obama Administration were both briefed on the subject and its possible consequences to communications systems as well as computer systems. These systems are integrated with various parts of US domestic infrastructure, including power plants, power grids, air traffic control systems and nearly anything that his heavily reliant upon computers.

Be assured that the executive staff of the BBG do not want the public to know just how badly they have mangled this aspect of the US international broadcasting operations. Their primary concern seems to be to protect their bloated salaries. It has been commonly said that the Voice of America and other BBG-managed broadcasting entities run in spite of the bungled decisionmaking of the senior management, but VOA journalists and IBB broadcasting engineers can only so much to limit the damage of the BBG’s Humpty Dumpty strategic plan.

It is reckless and irresponsible for a Federal agency to leave itself extremely vulnerable to these cyber attacks and not have a real strategic plan built on the redundancies found in the right combination of radio, television and the Internet.

To be certain, the self-aggrandizers of the BBG/IBB/VOA will try to make the argument that they are saving enormous sums of money by going all-Internet, all the time. On the other hand, since the decisions of these officials have caused substantial reductions in the audiences for these programs, to the extent that VOA no longer has a substantial audience penetration in places like Russia, the argument can then be turned around and the case made to close the agency altogether.

These cyber attacks seems to be beyond the comprehension of the less-than-competent self-promoters of the BBG/IBB. The hackers probe for weakness and vulnerabilities and they found them in the VOA website. They are precursors of worse things to come. And all the while, the senior IBB/VOA management appears to be sitting back hoping that no one will notice.

Well, we did.

And now that you know, it is incumbent upon the Obama administration to do some serious housecleaning of the BBG/IBB/VOA management structure.

Nothing less will do.

The Federalist
July 2009