Royce Urges Trump to Initiate BBG, VOA Reforms by Naming New Director

Cites need to counter Russian propaganda

Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) / Getty Images
March 21, 2018

The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, a longtime critic of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, is throwing his weight behind efforts to replace the Obama-era leaders still running the agency. 

Rep. Ed Royce (R., Calif.) said in a statement to the Washington Free Beacon that he "looks forward" to the next step in reforming the embattled agency whose flagship, the Voice of America, has come under criticism for drifting from its mission of countering anti-American narratives promulgated by Russia and other adversaries as well as mimicking mainstream cable outlets' anti-Trump bias. 

Royce, who in 2014 advocated scrapping "this broken agency," has for years complained that mismanagement at the BBG has allowed the Russians and others to gain the upper hand in the information warfare sphere. Toward the end of former President Barack Obama's administration, Royce authored legislation that partially reformed the agency.

Now, Royce is signaling that the Trump administration must finish the job by nominating a new BBG director and CEO.

"For years, mismanagement crippled our international broadcasting, allowing [Russian President] Putin to grab the upper hand," Royce said in a statement. "That's why I authored legislation to replace the part-time BBG board with a CEO empowered to make changes necessary to effectively counter propaganda from Russia and others with timely, accurate information."

"I look forward to seeing the next step taken in this reform process upon confirmation of a permanent CEO," he said.

The statement followed claims by Rep. Eliot Engel (D., N.Y.), the ranking member of the Foreign Affairs panel, that unnamed "whistleblowers" told him of a Trump administration "plot" to remove John Lansing, the BBG's director and CEO selected during the Obama administration.

Engel claimed the alleged plotters sought to replace the Democrat-named Lansing with Andre Mendes, a veteran civil servant who is the BBG's chief information officer and acting head of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting.

Under the complicated BBG structure, Democrat-led board of governors appointed Lansing CEO two and a half years ago.

Jeff Shell, the chairman of Universal Filmed Entertainment and a staunch Obama supporter, led the nine-member board at the time. The Senate did not confirm Lansing, and the BBG governors continue to control the agency.

Under a law Royce authored in December 2016, President Trump would have the power to name a new director and CEO who would require Senate confirmation. Once confirmed, the nine-member board will become an advisory operation. 

Trump has so far delayed naming a new director. 

A BBG press officer reacted to Royce’s statement by referencing a March 16 press release in which the BBG claimed to be at the "forefront of" Trump's National Security Strategy implementation.

The release cites Lansing's efforts to develop a model to track audience reach in Russia, the Russia "periphery," North Korea, China, Iran and Cuba, among other areas.

It highlights the creation of "Current Time," a "24/7 Russian-language news channel," which the BBG says has reached more than 400 million digital views in a year, "with half coming from Russia."

Among other accomplishments, it also says the VOA and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Persian brands are months away from launching a 24/7 cross-platform Farsi-language channel, "capitalizing on the overwhelming engagement with BBG networks during their coverage of the recent Iran protests."