The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Head of government media agency flouts subpoena, angering Democrats and Republicans

Michael Pack, the chief executive of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, which oversees Voice of America and similar institutions, was issued a subpoena last week by the House Foreign Affairs Committee. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

The head of the government’s main international broadcasting agency flouted a subpoena for congressional testimony Thursday, angering both Democrats and Republicans already alarmed by his management tactics.

Michael Pack, chief executive of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, which oversees Voice of America and similar institutions, was issued a subpoena by the House Foreign Affairs Committee last week after he reneged on a promise to appear before the panel citing unspecified “administrative proceedings,” according to the panel’s chairman, Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.)

Engel said Thursday that Pack “manufactured this conflict to get out of being here today.”

Spokesmen for the U.S. Agency for Global Media did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Pack has been the subject of intense scrutiny and controversy that commenced before he was confirmed to his position less than four months ago. In his brief tenure, he has ousted the heads of VOA’s sister operations Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, the Middle East Broadcasting Networks and the Open Technology Fund, frozen spending, and refused to renew the visas of foreign journalists — a move he has defended as an effort to root out potential spies.

Democrats have been calling for Pack’s ouster, pointing to those and other unorthodox management decisions.

Pack is the “wrong person for the job, he should resign, and if he doesn’t, the president should fire him,” Engel said Thursday, speaking before an empty chair that had been set up for Pack.

Pack’s tactics have also upset Republicans. During Thursday’s hearing, the top Republican on the committee, Rep. Michael T. McCaul (Tex.), drew attention to the consequences of Pack’s decision to freeze spending for the Open Technology Fund in particular. The fund’s leaders were reinstated by court order over the summer.

“I believe his actions damaged support during the heights of unrest in Hong Kong, and they are continuing to do so today in Belarus,” McCaul said, referring to public demonstrations against authoritarian regimes in both places. He also accused Pack of ignoring “the will of Congress” as well as “basic questions” the committee has asked him in other matters.

“This committee deserves the respect of a response,” McCaul said. “I believe there’s some reform that needs to be done . . . but I don’t think we should throw the baby out with the bathwater here.”