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More Buyouts and Possible Reform at Broadcasting Board of Governors

BBG announces another round of incentives for employees to leave, as a House panel considers legislation to significantly restructure the agency.

The Broadcasting Board of Governors announced on Tuesday that it is offering another round of buyouts to employees – the second round already this year – a day after House lawmakers introduced a major bill to reform the agency that oversees U.S. government media abroad.

The agency will allow employees to apply for a buyout or early retirement package from April 29 through May 30. Employees approved for buyouts must leave BBG on or before June 30. The offering is part of BBG’s “ongoing efforts to minimize the impact of staff reductions that may result from the fiscal 2015 budget,” said a memo from top leadership to staff.

To be eligible for a Voluntary Early Retirement Authorization (early out), employees must have 20 years of service and be at least 50 years old, or have at least 25 years of service -- this applies to those covered under the Civil Service Retirement System or the Federal Employees Retirement System. Buyouts, or Voluntary Separation Incentive Payments, are cash incentives of up to $25,000 for eligible employees and can be offered along with an early out or separately.

“A whole range of positions are eligible,” said BBG spokeswoman Tish King. “It’s a long list.”  

BBG offered buyouts in spring 2013 to avoid furloughs and absorb some of the budget cuts resulting from sequestration. Only 34 employees took buyouts at that time; it’s unclear how many workers will take advantage of the incentives this time.

But there’s at least one new development unfolding on Capitol Hill unfolding now that could influence employees’ decision to stay or go.   

The Republican and Democratic leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee have introduced a bill to drastically restructure the government’s international broadcasting system. The legislation, which the panel will consider on Wednesday and so far has broad bipartisan support, would establish an agency head and reduce the 9-member board to “a more appropriate advisory capacity,” according to a joint news release from sponsors Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., and Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., the panel’s ranking member.

The part-time board of the Broadcasting Board of Governors oversees a complicated and some say overly bureaucratic organization that includes the International Broadcasting Bureau, Voice of America, and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty among others -- each with their own layers of senior leadership. The Government Accountability Office in a 2013 report found significant overlap within the agency.

The Royce-Engel bill would clarify the mission of VOA, ensuring it supports U.S. public diplomacy efforts. “Over time, VOA has abandoned this mission and adopted a mission of the so-called ‘surrogates’ to provide uncensored local news and information to people in closed societies,” said the news release from Engel and Royce. The bill also would consolidate the radio free entities operating in different parts of the world.

“Consolidating these organizations into a single, non-federal organization will achieve cost savings, allow for closer collaboration, and improve responsiveness,” the news release stated. “While the consolidation would mean shared administrative staff and other economies of scale, they would retain their distinct ‘brand names.’ ”

Royce and Engel recently visited Ukraine “where they heard first-hand from Ukrainians about the strategic role that U.S. international broadcasting is playing in eastern Ukraine and their importance in countering Russian propaganda,” according to their joint statement. Royce called BBG “badly broken,” saying “it is time for broad reforms; now more than ever, U.S. international broadcasts must be effective.”

Jeff Shell, BBG chairman, sent an April 29 email to agency staff about the Royce-Engel bill noting that it “proposes significant changes to the current structure” of the government’s international media, and encouraging employees to remain focused on providing news and information to a global audience. “Keep doing the great work you do every day,” the email said. “People around the globe depend on USIM for high-quality journalism. This will not change, no matter the outcome of current efforts on Capitol Hill.” 

BBG received low scores from agency employees on the 2012 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, but improved in some areas in 2013, including higher satisfaction related to health, wellness and work-life issues as well as communication and transparency. BBG was ranked toward the bottom of mid-size agencies in the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service’s 2013 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government report, which is based on the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.

BBG is an independent federal agency overseeing all government-supported, civilian international media and employs about 1,650 workers.

(Image via Witsanu Keephimai/Shutterstock.com)