Andrew Harnik / AP file photo

Inspector General Vindicates Top Global Media Agency Officials Suspended During Trump Administration

The situation was one of many controversial ones under the agency’s former CEO, who claims he was trying to “return this agency to fulfilling its legally mandated mission.” 

The U.S. Agency for Global Media welcomed a watchdog’s recent decision to clear six top officials targeted under the previous agency leader of any malfeasance.

The Government Accountability Project, a whistleblower advocacy organization representing one of the employees, announced on July 9 that the State Department inspector general cleared the employees of any wrongdoing after they were deemed “disloyal” by former CEO Michael Pack. Last August Pack suspended the top officials’ security clearances and then put them on indefinite suspension. He also hired an outside law firm (McGuireWoods) to conduct internal investigations that cost at least $1 million, according to GAP. The six officials filed whistleblower complaints with the State IG and Office of Special Counsel in September and five of them filed a lawsuit against the agency in October. When President Biden came into office, all were reinstated except for one who decided to retire. 

The Office of Inspector General found “Pack’s suspension of their clearances was unjustified and retaliatory,” which was “unjustified partly because his political staff ordered agency employees to compile dossiers on each executive and told them to include rumors, gossip and uncorroborated statements ‘heard in the halls,’” said a press release from GAP. The IG “rejected the dossiers, saying they were ‘pretextual and were simply created to support the predetermined decision to suspend the clearances of the individuals.’” 

Pack’s actions toward these top officials––the chief financial officer, general counsel, executive director, deputy director for operations, director of management services and chief strategy officer––were among many controversial actions during his tenure as CEO, which was June 2020 to January 2021. Government Executive reported in March about how the agency is working to restore morale and trust under the Biden administration. 

“[The U.S. Agency for Global Media] welcomes the recent decision by the State Department's Office of Inspector General clearing six senior executives of any wrongdoing,” said Laurie Moy, agency director of public affairs, in a statement to Government Executive this week. This decision reaffirms the need for individuals to be able to raise concerns, without fear of retaliation, about unethical management practices that might otherwise go undetected. [The agency] is fully committed to protecting the rights of whistleblowers within our agency.”

The IG also flagged other issues that happened at the agency under Pack’s leadership, said GAP. This included Pack and his political appointees having “disregard” of dangers Voice of America journalists faced, Pack’s appointees not taking the novel coronavirus pandemic seriously and agency officials refusing to cooperate with the IG in the investigation. The IG also noted that in August 2020 Pack published a full and complete Office of Personnel Management report about the agency’s personnel suitability and vetting programs. OPM had cautioned against the report’s public release, GAP noted. 

“CAUTION-- This report has been distributed to federal officials who are responsible for the administration of the reviewed program,” said the report, which is still online. “This report is not to be released to the public or other personnel who do not have a valid ‘need-to-know’ without prior approval of an authorized OPM or agency official.” 

David Seide, GAP attorney representing Grant Turner, who is the chief financial officer, said the findings about the wrongful retaliation weren’t “surprising,” but what was surprising was the watchdog’s “discovery of the many more ways Pack and his political appointees – while running [the agency] for a mere six months – managed to break the law, abuse authority, endanger public health and safety, and grossly mismanage the agency.”

There is not a report online about these findings. The IG office told Government Executive it doesn’t make reports involving whistleblower disclosures public, but rather provides the reports to the whistleblowers and the relevant agencies. 

On Thursday, Pack published an opinion piece in The Washington Examiner, asserting he had good intentions for the agency and claiming the media covered him unfairly. 

“Although I was only in office for eight months, and the media had rarely covered my agency over the previous decade, I garnered vast media attention,” he wrote. “My goal was simply to return this agency to fulfilling its legally mandated mission to tell America's story and promote American ideals, such as freedom and democracy, worldwide.”

However, “the left could not abide a Trump appointee running such a vast media empire, attacking me and retrospectively portraying the previous scandal-ridden years as if the agency was a finely run enterprise fulfilling its mission.” The article does not mention the situation with the top six officials. 

In response to the article, Mark Zaid, who represented employees with another attorney, tweeted on Friday that Pack and his appointees “were some of the most unprofessional [and] unethical [people] I encountered in 30 years in D.C.” 

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