Employee Poll Makes VOA's Parent the Worst Place to Work

By Joe Davidson
Friday, April 24, 2009

BBG stands for the Broadcasting Board of Governors. But it could just as well mean "bottom of the barrel in government."

The BBG oversees Washington's international broadcasting operations, including the Voice of America. Its Web site says the agency "works to serve as an example of a free and professional press, reaching a worldwide audience with news, information, and relevant discussions."

It is not, however, a good example of how a federal agency works with its employees.

That's what the latest Federal Human Capital Survey, conducted by the Office of Personnel Management, indicates. In a poll of employees in 37 agencies, the BBG came in last place in three of four categories -- leadership and knowledge management, results-oriented performance, and talent management. The broadcasters did manage a 36th-place showing in job satisfaction. To make matters worse, the agency dropped in each of the categories from the previous survey. On Tuesday, we wrote about the overall winner, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The OPM previously released only the names of agencies that ranked in the top 10 of each category, apparently not to embarrass officials of the slacker organizations. The Federal Diary does not share that reluctance.

To find out what's wrong at the BBG, we sought information from Local 1812 of the American Federation of Government Employees and spoke with Dan Austin, director of the VOA since 2006 and currently acting deputy director of the International Broadcasting Bureau, which is the BBG's administrative arm. Below is an edited version of yesterday's conversation with Austin.

Q: What's the problem?

A: You have to put this into perspective. We have moved very aggressively into new media. In fact, we have transformed this whole organization from what had been a shortwave radio broadcaster to a true international, multimedia organization. We're out there on Facebook, YouTube, text messaging, certainly radio, but also on television. Half of our audience see us on television. This is a huge change, a seismic shift, if you will, and when you get that kind of change it creates a lot of issues for many people. I think the survey reflected some of that.

What I draw away from that is the need to be a lot more transparent as an agency, as an employer, with our people. We have, since the survey came out, started taking some concrete actions to address that transparency issue. The first one is communication. We've started an employee blog. We've got newsletters. We've instituted what we call open forums with employees.

The other thing we need to do is improve the performance-management system here. People have to understand what is expected of them. There's got to be a much better dialogue between an employee and his or her supervisor.

The other critical piece of that is the need for training in the area of performance management, training supervisors how to properly review an employee's performance. How to have that dialogue is critical.

If you don't, however, recognize achievement, a lot of this will go for naught. We've increased the budget for awards, but more importantly we're going to begin publicly recognizing outstanding achievement, so that everybody in the building understands what a really good, super job is.

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