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  • Feasibility Study Rubber-Stamps U.S. Broadcasting Merger

    Don’t say the wheels of government always spin slowly. When there is an agenda at work, they can move with considerable speed, and in the deconstruction of American overseas broadcasting, things are moving fast.

    Consider a new feasibility study completed on November 10 regarding a merger of three major entities of U.S. international broadcasting: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (FRE/RL), Radio Free Asia (FRA), and the Middle East Broadcasting Network (MEBN). These are three critical components of U.S. public diplomacy—in the case of RFE/RL, going back to the beginning of the Cold War, in which U.S. broadcasting was a highly successful player.

    The complex merger study was produced with almost dizzying speed by the management company Deloitte Consulting, LLP. Taking a little over a month, Deloitte surveyed the proposed merger of the three separate, private 501(c)3 organizations with combined resources of $240 million (provided graciously by U.S. taxpayers), broadcasts in a total of 39 languages, three separate headquarters, and approximately 2,000 employees—mostly based internationally.

    Indeed, the Deloitte study would be a feat, were it not that the study appears to be a rubber stamp (a $275,000 rubber stamp at that) of already existing decisions contained in the new Strategic Plan for U.S. International Broadcasting. The Broadcasting Board of Governors’ controversial new strategic plan aims to drive the broadcasters toward greater integration, digital media venues, and potentially further separation from U.S. foreign policy priorities by privatization (also known as “de-federalization”). Nowhere in the document, by the way, are the words “public diplomacy” mentioned.

    The new strategic plan was adopted October 13 by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the nine-member board responsible for the financial management and direction of the broadcasters. Part of the strategic plan was the proposal for Deloitte feasibility study; yet, the initial 4-hour meeting between Deloitte and members of the staff of the International Broadcasting Bureau took place on October 4—nine days before the BBG voted to give the green light. Nor was the October 4 meeting an isolated occurrence. In total, 17 meetings and interviews with broadcasting managers and staff took place prior to the October 13 board meeting. Clearly, the train was already in motion by then.

    Unsurprisingly, then, Deloitte supports the existing plan for a merger of RFE/RL, RFA, and MEBN. “In the current economic environment, continuing to operate three separate structures with redundant executive management teams, administrative infrastructures, audits, etc. seems to be an inefficient use of taxpayer money,” says the Deloitte study. In the context of the current U.S. budgetary environment, who could quibble with the idea of saving money?

    But there are many questions that should be asked before the BBG hands Deloitte another $1.3 million to produce a follow-up implementation plan, which will affect key parts of the U.S. government’s most important public diplomacy tool, its broadcasting complex. Will this improve the performance of the broadcasters in question? Who told Deloitte to jump the gun? Why does the study fail to examine any of the overseas locations of the three international broadcasting organizations? And, how did the Deloitte analysts arrive at the amount of budgetary savings, about $9 million annually? The numbers appear to be grabbed out of thin air, with few calculations behind them.

    The Deloitte study is only the first step in a long process that could end in privatizing and reconstituting all U.S. international broadcasting. It is clear that the congressional spotlight should be directed at its conclusions and the process behind them. It is time members of Congress start to hold the BBG accountable.

    Posted in International [slideshow_deploy]

    One Response to Feasibility Study Rubber-Stamps U.S. Broadcasting Merger

    1. Frank says:

      BBG has a history of doing whatever it wants, sometimes even if opposed by the Congress. When they order a study or audience survey, the vendor is made to "understand" what the results should be. They understand that NOBODY can tell BBG what to do!

      It's a marvelous idea to privatize public diplomacy and put all of BBG's hard working Federal employees out on the street, or, maybe, to work for the contractors. Privatization of Government functions has worked well for the military. Blackwater, for instance, did OK. They were amazingly expensive and created a lot of bad PR, but things like that happen.

      Federal employees above GS-12 should be banned, for life, from working for any entity that contracts with the Government in work similar, or related to, their former Government service or in any way profits "because of" their previous Government jobs. That would remove the incentive for the Executives to design expensive contracts and then retire to go work for the contractor.

      Talk to some BBG employees and you'll know just how bad the stench has become.

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