Another F for a Bottom Feeder Agency

Original post, October 18, 2016

“The Broadcasting Board of Governors, another regular bottom-feeder that oversees the Voice of America and other government broadcasters, also scored 56. But unlike DHS, BBG is going backward.”

That quote is from Washington Post federal affairs writer, Joe Davidson’s September 20, 2016 article. The story focused on the Department of Homeland Security and that agency’s results in the latest OPM Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS). Yet, it seems that the BBG’s reputation is so bad that Mr. Davidson couldn’t help but take a swipe and add a sentence or two about it.

After a slight uptick in last year’s results, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG)’s results in the latest annual federal OPM employee engagement survey have tanked again. One might have thought that with new Directors, the Voice of America (VOA) and the BBG would pull better, not worse, responses. Why the dismal numbers?

AFGE Local 1812 has some ideas.

But first, some background. About a year ago, a number of controversial managers were pushed out. The Office of Personnel at the Agency got a new leader. An allegedly abusive English-language newsroom higher-up was reassigned. The former General Counsel whose tenure and legal advice were considered by many to be on the cloudy side, had left the Agency. For just a little while, employees dared to dream that perhaps improvements were coming down the pike. That may explain the slight uptick in the Agency’s rating last year.

What happened subsequently was a classic example of the “business as usual” modus operandi. It didn’t take long for the entrenched bureaucracy to swoop in and isolate the new Directors and reaffirm its stranglehold on the Agency. Bureaucrats are renowned experts in sidelining new political appointees and their minions and convincing them to allow “those that know how” to run things and allow the appointees to “concentrate on more important things.” Today, when employees look at the top of the present bureaucratic Valhalla, they see many of the same old tired faces, the same stifling policies, the same hostile workplace, the same resistance to doing things a bit differently. Day after day, in what used to be one of the most challenging and exciting places to work in the federal government, rank-and-file employees trudge in, determined to do the best they can in spite of the dreary, out-of-touch management who seem to be eternally busy at their computers writing endless memos about how great the Agency is while in reality, the OPM Employee Viewpoint Survey tells quite a different story.

Instead of treating the disease, management continues to dip into its bureaucratic band-aid box by treating only the symptoms and not the underlying malaise, while it continues pursuing management strategies that have clearly failed. Why would the new Directors take advice from these people?

So what do we get? Well, there’s more “training” , more “consultation panels”, more investigative committees about what ails the Agency which in no way will help our mission to move forward. By so doing, the Agency spins around in a macabre circular motion like a doomed whirling carousel to Nowhere.

Does AFGE Local 1812 have all the answers? No. But we have heard sound advice from many of our rank-and-file members who tell us that as a starter, 1) the VOA Newsroom, once one of the top ones in the world, needs to regain its global reputation as a solid, reliable source of news. How to do that? A good beginning would be for management to sit down with employees in a good-faith effort to hammer out some practical solutions. 2) Rank-and-file also stress that the VOA Language services should never have been abandoned to their own devices and that there needs to be a radical turn-around so that the VOA will again be one voice speaking in many languages instead of 40 different VOAs babbling in a modern-day broadcasting version of the Tower of Babel. 3) Although highly-advanced technologies that work well in industrialized countries are becoming increasingly important in international communications, employees stress that older technologies like the much-maligned shortwave radio are still important for fast-growing marginal populations with little or no electricity in less developed countries which are efficiently targeted by extremists. 4) Concentrating, as we did in the past, on Americana reports and features that present a balanced picture of what we are as a nation and a society because that’s an important part of our mission.

Following the example of the Harley-Davidson motorcycle company which met with its front-line people when it was facing bankruptcy to find out what went wrong, maybe it’s time for less of the top-down management style in our Agency and more of the “from the bottom-up” open and frank and direct conversations with the rank-and-file without the filter of the entrenched bureaucracy. As the woeful recipients of the “bottom feeder” and “worst place to work in the federal government” monikers, what do the new Directors have to lose?

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