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BBG Seeks Wider Powers for CEO

Shell identified reforms including increased agility to BBG’s operations

One aspect of the past week’s testimony by Broadcasting Board of Governors’ officials before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was an assertion that the BBG CEO position needs more power.

The committee, chaired by Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), is considering reforms to restructure U.S. international broadcasting. While formation of a new two-tier management structure and consolidation of the grantees was the focus of discussions on Wednesday, BBG CEO/Director John Lansing and Board Chair Jeff Shell floated the idea of shifting more authority to the BBG CEO position.

“First and foremost, we need legislation to enshrine a chief executive officer position at the BBG who is empowered to manage all BBG operations and functions, including the ability to shift resources as needed and appoint senior officials,” Lansing said.

Having a CEO position at the BBG is a recent development since it was filled for the first time earlier this year. Andrew Lack was the first-ever CEO of U.S. international media. He was sworn in on Jan. 20, 2015, but unexpectedly resigned six weeks later and was replaced by Lansing.

Shell identified a number of reforms at the hearing, including institutionalizing the position and power of the CEO and adding increased agility to the BBG’s operations to allow it to better adapt its resources during overseas crises. The BBG oversees Voice of America, the Office of Cuba Broadcasting and BBG-funded grantees Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks.

Recommendations for big changes to U.S. international broadcasting have come from critics wanting to increase its efficiency and sharpen its effectiveness in the face of a rapidly changing media landscape around the globe. Increased scrutiny of the BBG’s operations has come from political leaders in this country who find the patchwork of network services outdated and inflexible.

Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, testifying before the House foreign Affairs Committee in early 2013, described the BBG as “practically defunct in terms of its capability to tell a message around the world.” The U.S. secretary of state serves as an “ex officio” member of the board.