The agency oversees government-produced radio, television and online programming from the United States to the rest of the world. In addition to the Cuba service, its stable includes Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Middle East Broadcasting Networks and Radio Free Asia.
The latest controversy concerns hundreds of contractors who produce much of the programming for VOA and to Cuba. Many them complain about a new plan the agency is implementing to get a better grip on the use of contractors who represent more than a third of BBG’s workforce. The first phase of transitioning contractors from direct agency hires to outside staffing agencies is scheduled to be completed this month.
VOA, by far the largest BBG network, had directly hired almost 700 individual contractors who work on programs in 45 languages. That’s been an administrative pain for the agency and led to complaints from the IRS and the State Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) about BBG contracting improprieties.
In June, the inspector general found that BBG “allowed contractors to work without having valid contracts or secured funding in place,” exceeded “its statutory authority to award personal service contracts” and “had not complied with Federal regulations related to procurement.” An IRS audit found that certain contractors should have been treated “as employees for tax reporting purposes, including by withholding income and Social Security taxes,” according to an internal BBG document.
To ease its administrative pain, the BBG decided to hire outside firms that would employ the contractors. It’s a model other agencies use. Many of the contractors don’t object to that in principle, but they fear that in practice the BBG plan could lead to lower pay or fewer workers.
This month, more than 150 contractors sent a letter to BBG chairman Jeffrey Shell, with copies to 31 members of Congress, urging additional funding “necessary to avoid any cuts in contractor positions or pay which would subsequently force cuts to programming — including programming to Russia, China, Iran, and other high-priority targeted regions of the world. Such cuts would further threaten the core mission of US international media efforts…”
The letter said “the agency has not identified the additional funding necessary to avoid cutting content producing positions, wages, or both.”
Read more in the Federal Diary online Sunday evening and in Monday’s print editions of The Washington Post.