Toxic Culture At Voice Of America Exposed In Discrimination Lawsuit

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Kenneth Timmerman President, Foundation for Democracy in Iran
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The Broadcasting Board of Governors, which manages the Voice of America and other U.S.-government broadcast media, has consistently ranked dead last as the worst place to work among mid-size federal agencies.

In the latest employee survey, the board ranked 25th out of 25, and that was with a modest improvement in employee satisfaction over 2016.

The Washington Post has called it a “regular bottom-feeder.” Former VOA employees say the atmosphere inside the building is “toxic.” So why do roughly half of these federal employees consistently express dissatisfaction with their workplace environment?

For answers, look no further than to the federal courts, where every year VOA employees file lawsuits against their agency — and sometimes, against individual managers — for discrimination, unlawful firing, sexual harassment, corruption and illegal contracting.

In 2015, the Broadcasting Board of Governors was hit with a $400 million lawsuit brought by former contractors who claimed that the Voice of America illegally forced employees to hire themselves out as independent contractors, or “Purchase Order Vendors.”

AFGE Local 1812, the federal employee union that represents Voice of America employees, notes that VOA is allowed to hire 60 independent contractors, but in recent years has had as many as 600. “This allows management to reduce the number of full time employees,” a union official said. (The lawsuit was dismissed in August 2016 by the Court of Federal Claims and is currently on appeal).

The BBG has also been sued repeatedly for violating the Smith-Mundt Act that gives priority to qualified U.S. citizens for jobs and promotions over non-U.S. citizens, with broadcast executives accused of hiring cronies and family members from their home countries, including Iran, some of whom could never pass a security clearance.

In 2010, former broadcaster Elham Sartaki filed a $150 million lawsuit alleging sexual harassment by VOA managers and employees in the newsroom, which she and other female employees claimed was rampant.

A January 2017 town hall meeting of VOA Persian employees and management turned into a shouting match, with VOA Director Amanda Bennett walking out before employees could voice their grievances in an orderly fashion.

Broadcasters present at that meeting drafted a ten-page bill of complaint against Persian Service director, Settareh Derafshesh Sieg, and presented it to officials at the Trump White House in April.

They accused Ms. Sieg of “favoritism,” for hiring friends and family members of friends who were not U.S. citizens or not qualified because they lacked broadcasting experience or language skills, and for retaliating against employees who disputed her management style by removing them from on-air positions.

They also accused her of “one-sided journalism and political bias,” most notably by hiring and promoting employees “who are blatantly and aggressively anti-then-candidate-now President Trump.”

All attempts to challenge her mismanagement through contact with VOA director Amanda Bennett, an Obama appointee who married a now ex-owner of The Washington Post, have been rebuffed, the broadcasters say.

VOA’s Persian service ranks near the bottom of the language services in the annual survey of employee satisfaction, making this high-priority service the pit of pits within VOA.

Now the embattled Ms. Sieg could face perjury charges stemming from statements she made under oath last week in a discrimination lawsuit brought by two former contractors, according to persons present at the deposition.

The lawsuit was brought in the US District Court for the District of Columbia in May 2016 by Mr. Ardavan Roozbeh and Ms. Soheila Jangloo, former VOA Persian Service contractors, who allege that Ms. Sieg and the BBG “used their authority to retaliate against [them] for voicing their opinion regarding the rampant internal corruption and abuse of authority that plagues VOA Persian under Ms. Sieg’s direction.”

Whatever the outcome of this particular case, Ms. Sieg’s difficulties are yet one more indicator that the Voice of America, still managed by Obama appointees, is radically failing to fulfill its mission to be a “consistently reliable and authoritative source of news,” and to “present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively.”

It’s high time for the White House to appoint a new management team, starting with a new CEO for the Broadcasting Board of Governors and a new director for Voice of America.

Kenneth R. Timmerman is the author of Deception: The Making of the YouTube Video Hillary & Obama Blamed for Benghazi. He was a member of the foreign policy and national security advisory board of Trump for President.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.