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Overlap found in most radio programs from Broadcasting Board of Governors

GAO recommends more thorough reviews of language services.

This story was updated to add comment from the Broadcasting Board of Governors. 

Foreign language radio and television programming supervised by the Broadcasting Board of Governors contains wasteful overlap and duplication, auditors found.

The Government Accountability Office found nearly two-thirds of the U.S.-funded overseas broadcasts overlap with another BBG service by transmitting in the same country in the same language. Out of 69 total broadcast services, auditors found overlap in 23 instances involving 43 of the services. For example, programs from the Voice of America and Radio Free Asia overlapped in eight cases involving 16 language services, it found.

The umbrella agency spent about $149 million -- or 20 percent of its appropriation in fiscal 2011 -- on services that could be considered overlapping, GAO said.

Auditors also faulted BBG for insufficiently considering the availability of commercial and allied governments’ broadcasts in some of the regions targeted for U.S.-created news and cultural programming, which might alter judgments on where to devote resources. Those other governments include the United Kingdom and Germany.

BBG had stated in its strategic plan for 2012 through 2016 that it recognized the need to reduce language service overlap. Its managers agreed with GAO’s recommendations that it improve its annual reviews to identify potential savings from reducing duplication.

In response to the report's publication, BBG put some of the blame on Congress. "During the past decade, the BBG has proposed to cut 20 language services due to overlap and obsolescence," the agency said in a statement. "But in each of the last three years, Congress has restored funding for what we identified to cut."

BBG also argued GAO had missed a major point. "Our mission is to provide news and information to countries that don't have full press freedom.   If the agency eliminated 43 of the 59 language services entirely, the theoretical savings would reach $149 million," it said. "Our experience with the past few budget cycles shows that even much smaller cuts have constituencies that effectively lobby Congress to fully restore them."

"That said, having two services for the same country is in some cases the right thing to do. Many of our broadcasts are branded and distributed for different audiences, who have come to count on them."

Last month, BBG announced that journalist and former National Public Radio president Kevin Klose will be the acting president and CEO of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

GAO has been publishing a series of reports on duplication in federal programs, and the Obama administration has been seeking renewed congressional authority to reorganize government to cut down on redundancy.

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