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.

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"We can't do our job in an hour and 15 minutes," said Victor Ashe, former U.S. Ambassador to Poland and a current board member, as the meeting closed.

James Glassman, former BBG chairman, says the board is rightly criticized as "completely uniformed and highly superficial" for these reasons. "BBG needs a major overhaul," he says.

"There frankly should be a Congressional hearing in the House about what's going on at the BBG," says Ashe. "You have to have board members who are more involved."

A number of members of Congress have already expressed their concern. In August 2010, Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn sent a letter to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell saying he had "long-standing concerns regarding transparency and effectiveness" of the board, and particularly VOA. In an interview with Foreign Policy Magazine in April 2010, Coburn called the board the "most worthless organization in the federal government."

California Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher sent a letter to the board interim chairman in June questioning the BBG's attempts to keep their decision-making from the public."They just waive items on through, like a traffic cop not worried about the consequences of how he's directing traffic," Rohrabacher says. "This is a really important time in America's foreign policy agenda, and this administration is not taking it seriously."

There is talk about getting a CEO. That person would oversee the entire enterprise, including the board, VOA, and all the smaller broadcasters. A CEO might not be a silver bullet, Ensor and Redisch say, but it would be a good start.

Despite all its problems, Ensor sees a necessity and has a vision for VOA. He says he wants VOA to both have impact—such as the vital health reporting provided by the VOA service in Nigeria on polio and maternal mortality, as well as to have wide reach—such as the VOA service in Indonesia, where 25 percent of people in the country watch a TV program from the broadcaster each week.

"Are there problems? That's why I'm here," Ensor says. "But the mission is wonderful. I wish more Americans knew about it, because it is one of the most successful uses of their taxpayer dollars overseas that I can imagine."

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  • Elizabeth Flock is a staff writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow her on Twitter or Facebook or reach her at eflock@usnews.com.

    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.