Trump’s Global Media CEO Abused Authority and Wasted Funds, Review Finds
New agency leadership has been working to restore the agency’s operations and make corrective reforms.
The controversial CEO of the U.S. Agency for Global Media during the end of the Trump administration abused his authority by making retaliatory personnel actions, and wasting funds, among other adverse actions, a recently released independent investigation found, substantiating whistleblower allegations.
The review, requested by the Office of Special Counsel, centered on Michael Pack’s tenure leading the media agency from June 2020 to January 2021 during which whistleblowers sounded the alarm about issues at the agency. OSC determined there was a “substantial likelihood of wrongdoing,” and an external review team compiled the final report that included their findings as well as those from the State Department inspector general office and Government Accountability Office.
Some of the specific findings include:
- Pack abused his authority by suspending the security clearances of seven agency officials who became whistleblowers and putting them on administrative leave without a valid reason. After this he hired a private law firm, McGuireWoods, “to provide post-hoc justifications for the suspensions,” Special Counsel Henry Kerner wrote in a May 10 letter to President Biden outlining the findings;
- Separate from the use of the law firm, the retention of the firm was a gross waste of funds that violated an agency directive and was gross mismanagement;
- Pack unjustly reassigned the Voice of America standards editor without backfilling the position;
- Pack took actions that didn’t align with the agency’s journalists’ independence (such as by repealing a regulation that clarified the protections of the “firewall” that safeguards journalism independence);
- Pack made “abusive changes” to the agency’s grantee network board.
There were other allegations that the review found didn’t “rise to the level of gross mismanagement or an abuse of authority,” wrote Kerner, such as the firing of the USAGM-funded network heads and refusing to approve visa applications and renewals for non-U.S. citizen journalists. “Nevertheless, the report indicated that many of these (and other) actions were troubling and associated with negative consequences to agency operations,” he added. Also “there have since been changes in the law, as well as rehabilitative efforts by the agency, prompted by concerns raised by many of the above actions.” Kerner determined that the findings of the review were responsible and commended the whistleblowers for coming forward.
USAGM CEO Amanda Bennett said in a statement last week that starting in January 2021, before her confirmation and continuing now the agency “has advanced a comprehensive set of corrective actions and reforms to address many of the issues identified by the independent review team,” adding that “we will continue this work.” She thanked OSC, the State IG, GAO and the independent review team for their work.
David Seide of the Government Accountability Project, who represents many USAGM whistleblowers, said in a March 9 letter to Kerner, also made public last week, that many of the report’s findings are “reasonable” and thanked the agencies and review team for their efforts.
However, Seide said there is more to investigate as he believes Pack’s improper retention of McGuireWoods “violates additional laws, rules and regulations” and asked that OSC refer the matter to the Justice Department if it hasn’t already done so. OSC said they are unable to comment on or confirm possible DOJ referrals.
The review team noted that Pack and most of his top officials either declined to be interviewed or did not respond to interview requests. Government Executive reached out to Pack via his production company as well as McGuireWoods, but both did not respond for comment.