Voice of America, 70 Years Later, Faces Bureaucratic Troubles

But some see a necessity and a vision for the U.S. broadcaster.

Technicians working in the master control room at a Voice of America facility.

Technicians working in the master control room at a Voice of America facility.


Still, the Bush administration asked for more funds in 2007, requesting a budget of nearly $672 million, to be "targeted to the war on terror." They received $656 million.

[READ: 5 Things the Government Spends More on Than PBS]

Addressing redundancy in a bureaucracy is not easy. Even an action like combining the news division with the very similar English program division would require an act of Congress, because it would be a budget line item.

Now the federal government is faced with budget cuts and VOA and its sister agencies are no exception.

Radio Liberty just announced that it was going off the air in Russia, leading to the elimination of 40 people from its Moscow operation. Though the service will still be heard on shortwave, the majority of its efforts will be put toward the Internet. An angry Radio Liberty employee told NPR the management was caving to pressure from the Kremlin; management says the broadcaster just needed to do more with less.

Voice of America is also facing possible cuts. Earlier this year, management made a budget proposal to cut 40 percent of the newsroom. Congress later said those cuts weren't necessary, but not until after some of the best of VOA's young talent had left for others jobs, and older employees took expensive buyouts, according one person with knowledge of the budget problems inside the organization.

Many VOA employees say they don't see the institution as a satisfying place to work. For the last several years, the job satisfaction of staff from the VOA and its sister agencies ranked among the lowest of all the federal agencies, as reported in an annual study by the Office of Personnel Management.

"Personnel issues" are to blame for the loss almost a year ago of one of VOA's most popular shows, Parazit, according to VOA spokesman Kyle King. While it was on air, the satirical program known as Iran's version of The Daily Show brought in 17 million views in a month on Facebook alone. As U.S. News reported last month, it is unclear if, and when, the show will return. A number of employees speaking anonymously for fear of retribution say mismanagement is to blame for the loss of the show, while executive editor Redisch disputes that account.

[READ: Staffers: Voice of America Left Lawmakers in the Dark About Loss of 'Parazit']

VOA employees also describe their reason for dissatisfaction as working for managers who vastly underperform.

A mantra at VOA is: "hiring is hard, but firing is impossible," according to several employees. Some former and current VOA staffers recount instances in which middle managers were "removed" from their positions for poor performance, but were not fired. Instead, employees say, they were put into a space in the VOA building known as the "Hall of No Jobs," where they waited for someone to find them another job or counted down the days until retirement.

And then there's the powerful board, which oversees all of the government's civilian broadcasting. The Broadcasting Board of Governors was established in 1999, to serve as a firewall between U.S. government policy makers and the media outlets' broadcasters, establishing credibility and objectivity. VOA spokesman King says that some members of Congress "think we're their microphone." The board is supposed to help mitigate that. But one VOA employee, who asked not to be named, said that most journalists in the building "feel they need more protection from the firewall than they need the firewall itself," because of the board's internal problems.

Only six of the eight positions of the board are currently filled. Many board members have high-profile jobs elsewhere and aren't active. Board member Dana Perino, a Fox News contributor and former White House press secretary under George W. Bush, has not attended a board meeting in person for a year. (She recently announced her resignation at the end of 2012, which will leave three unfilled positions.)

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During one recent meeting, the board's interim chairman typed on his blackberry for the better part of an hour before leaving early. The member who led the meeting in his stead sought to railroad through a number of items without discussion, and still the board did not complete half of the items on the agenda.

Corrected on : Clarification, 10/23/12: A previous version of this story described a proposed 40 percent cut to VOA’s workforce. The cut was for the newsroom staff. The story also describes a broadcast to Nigeria. The broadcast was made by VOA’s Nigerian language service.