OSC Finds ‘Substantial Likelihood’ of Wrongdoing at Global Media Agency
The ongoing investigation centers on CEO Michael Pack’s six-month tenure.
There is a “substantial likelihood” that top leadership at the U.S. Agency for Global Media engaged in wrongdoing, according to an ongoing investigation by the independent agency that oversees civil service law.
The Office of Special Counsel made this determination on Wednesday following numerous complaints by the Government Accountability Project (a whistleblower advocacy group) about U.S. Agency for Global Media CEO Michael Pack and other top political officials. GAP said this type of finding is “notable and rare.” Pack––a former conservative filmmaker and an ally and former colleague of Steve Bannon, former Breitbart News executive and White House chief strategist–– took over about six months ago and his tenure has been marred with controversy and fears about politicization of the agency’s journalism.
“Our clients – current and former staff at [the global media agency], [Voice of America] and its sibling organizations – have reported to federal whistleblower agencies egregious and continuing acts of wrongdoing by Mr. Pack and his enablers,” said David Seide, GAP senior counsel. “It is gratifying that one of those agencies, OSC, has independently determined that there is a significant probability that our clients’ information reveals wrongdoing. It is a significant step, but far from the last one.”
Based on its assessment of the whistleblower complaint, OSC asked Pack to order a review of several actions at the agency since he took over in June and then report back, according to a press release by GAP. Some of them include:
- Alleged violations of the law that protects the “firewall” that prevents political interference at VOA;
- Termination of the presidents of Radio Free Asia, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Middle East Broadcasting Networks and Office of Cuba Broadcasting (the news organizations under USAGM);
- Dismissal of the news organizations’ bipartisan board members and replacement with mainly political officials;
- Termination of the president and CEO of the Open Technology Fund, an independent nonprofit within the agency dedicated to internet freedom;
- Prohibition of the offices of General Counsel, Chief Strategy, and Congressional and Public Affairs and others from talking with outside parties, without approval from the front office;
- Hiring and contracting freeze;
- Pressure on career staff to “illegally repurpose” appropriated funds; and,
- Refusal to renew visas for non-U.S. citizen journalists working for VOA.
“It would be problematic for the head of the agency to investigate himself for misconduct,” GAP’s Seide told Government Executive.
The U.S. Agency for Global Media did not respond to Government Executive for comment about the situation, so it is unclear who will do this review.
OSC also wrote that while it “found a substantial likelihood of wrongdoing” this is “not a final determination that the allegations are substantiated.” OSC said: “This remains an open matter under investigation until the agency’s final report is forwarded to the President and Congress.”
In order to meet this “threshold there must be a significant probability that the information reveals wrongdoing that falls within one or more of [the] specific categories,” OSC’s website stated, which are allegations of gross mismanagement, gross waste of funds, abuse of authority, violation of the law, dangers to public health or safety, and censorship of research.
In accordance with the law, Pack must now provide a response to OSC within 60 days (unless he requests an extension), after which the whistleblower can review the report. Then the Special Counsel will determine whether or not “it contains all the required information and its findings appear ‘reasonable,’” the website reads.
“Nothing in my 17 years [as a career government employee] comes even close to the gross mismanagement, the abuse of authority, the violations of law that have occurred since Michael Pack assumed the role of CEO at USAGM,” said Grant Turner, former chief financial officer who was put on administrative leave in mid-August, during a hearing in September. “I fear [Pack’s] mismanagement will continue to erode the performance of the agency.” When asked what Pack’s goals were, he said, “No real strategy has emerged.”
Turner was part of one of several lawsuits alleging wrongdoing by Pack. On November 20, a federal judge issued several preliminary injunctions, in response to Turner’s case, which prevents Pack from getting involved directly in editorial operations, making personnel decisions about journalists, communicating directly with journalists and editors and investigating any of their stories, The Washington Post reported.
A Biden campaign spokesperson told Vox in June that Joe Biden would fire Pack if he were to win the presidential election.
There are seven members on the president-elect’s agency review team for the U.S. Agency for Global Media, which includes the former president of the Middle East Broadcasting Networks, former co-director of innovation at the Broadcasting Board of Governors (that was restructured and renamed to the U.S. Agency for Global Media in 2018), and former director of the global media agency’s Office of Strategy and Development.
According to CNBC, the team met with former media agency officials (including some who were ousted by Pack) in order to get a sense of what has happened at the agency under the Trump administration.