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Amendment Could “Defederalize” VOA

AFGE local opposes it

An amendment to the House of Representatives fiscal 2017 defense spending bill leaves open the possibility of Voice of America transitioning to an “independent grantee” organization if designated as such by the CEO of the Broadcasting Board of Governors. A union representing BBG employees is opposing the idea.

Currently, VOA and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting are taxpayer-funded federal broadcasting entities of the BBG. The board also oversees three grantee organizations: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia (RFA) and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN).

VOA offices in Washington D.C. (Photo Credit: Codobai) The amendment to the FY 2017 National Defense Authorization Act was submitted by Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas). It passed on a voice vote in May. Thornberry serves as the chairman of the House Armed Service Committee. There have been calls from critics of BBG to reform U.S. international broadcasting services to make them more efficient.

The amendment reads in part: “The Chief Executive Officer is authorized to establish an independent grantee organization, as a private non-profit organization, to carry out all broadcasting and related programs currently performed by the Voice of America. The Chief Executive Officer may make and supervise grants or cooperative agreements to such grantee, including under terms and conditions and in any manner authorized under section 305(a). Such grantee shall not be considered a Federal agency.”

The American Federation of Government Employees Local 1812, which has approximately 1,100 BBG employees in its bargaining unit, opposes the reforms presented in the amendment by Thornberry and is urging unionized employees to write their U.S. senators to express opposition.

“A decision to reform the Broadcasting Board of Governors merits its own separate bill where both houses of Congress can debate and carefully consider the best course of action. It should not be addressed in a stealth last minute amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act,” the union said.

Tim Shamble, president of AFGE Local 1812, told Radio World, “We saw this before when the Broadcasting Board of Governors privatized the functions of the VOA Arabic Service. The federal employees had to give up their federal positions and accept a contract with the Middle East Broadcasting Network or find work elsewhere.”

Shamble said the U.S. Senate defense budget bill contains no mention of the de-federalization of VOA. “Differences between the House and Senate version of the bill will have to be worked out in conference committee. A final version of the FY 2017 National Defense Authorization Act will then be sent to President Obama for him to sign it into law,” he said.

Coincidently, the Obama administration in its FY 2017 budget request for BBG funding asked to de-federalize the Office of Cuba Broadcasting and establish a Spanish language grantee for Cuba