The Senate Has Confirmed a VOA Veteran to Lead the Global Media Agency
Lawmakers and union officials have been concerned recently about slashing staff at the Office of Cuba Broadcasting.
The Senate voted 60-36 on Thursday to confirm the next leader of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, an agency that has had to work to regain employees’ trust and improve morale following its controversial leader under President Trump and now is facing pushback from lawmakers and union officials over a reduction in force at one of its divisions.
Amanda Bennett previously served as director of Voice of America, a division of the global media agency, but she left right before Michael Pack came in as CEO of the global media agency. He, along with his top officials, made sweeping and controversial personnel, management and operational moves in his eight-month tenure before President Biden came into office. The annual defense policy bill enacted in early 2021 set guardrails for the agency’s CEO and provided more authority for the advisory board.
“A proven journalist, public servant, and business leader, Amanda has both the vision and experience to build on our progress, while equipping USAGM to anticipate and confront threats to independent media and reach audiences in need,” said Kelu Chao, acting CEO of the agency, in a statement. “This bipartisan confirmation underscores just how critical it is to Congress and our stakeholders alike that USAGM continue to deliver on its important mission.”
Bennett testified at her nomination hearing this summer, “If I am fortunate enough to be confirmed, I would emphasize the strong nonpartisan nature of this agency.” She also said, “I would work to ensure that everything USAGM does supports its mission–as a stable, coordinated, efficient, and transparent organization serving its broadcasters and creating conditions in which truthful journalism can be most effectively practiced.”
Bennett added she would work to increase technology advances to “ensure information can be seen and heard by the people who need it most” and reaffirm the mission and purpose of the firewall, which “is essential to that credibility, ensuring editorial independence and protecting USAGM and its journalists from outside influence.”
Max Stier, president and CEO of the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service, said in a statement Wednesday that Bennett “will bring years of journalistic experience and management expertise to the job along with a sense of pragmatism that will allow her to quickly adapt to changing circumstances to deliver thoughtful, fact-based and unbiased news to audiences worldwide.”
A recent concern from lawmakers from both parties and the American Federation of Government Employees is the global media agency’s plans to slash personnel at its Office of Cuba Broadcasting in November, especially following the historic protests in summer 2021 against the Cuban government and the subsequent internet blackout by government authorities.
“Congress has yet to receive an adequate explanation as to why [the agency] has repeatedly requested drastic cuts of more than 50% to [the office] starting in fiscal 2019, and why it continues to do so despite requesting static funding or increases to the rest of its entities,” wrote the lawmakers in a letter on September 12. “Furthermore, we understand that many of the employees included on a preliminary [reduction in force] list are international broadcasters, television technicians/video editors and other employees whose skills are necessary to support USAGM’s wider effort to produce more digital content.”
According to the union, 40 of the current 65 employees would remain, but the final numbers are unclear.
“The Office of Cuba Broadcasting remains committed to its mission of promoting freedom and democracy by providing the people of Cuba with objective news and information programming,” Laurie Moy, spokesperson for the global media agency, told Government Executive. “Despite years of cutting costs, additional reductions are required. USAGM and OCB leadership continue to explore all options for cost reductions, including personnel reductions, to operate within current funding levels without compromising the ability to achieve its mission; any reduction in force comes as a last resort.”
She added that the office’s leadership is working with the agency and the Office of Personnel Management “to minimize the impact on the workforce. Additionally, the Office of Cuba Broadcasting and USAGM have been in frequent communication with employees during the process.”