Serving until Replaced: the recurring story of the Broadcasting Board of Governors

2011 BBG Board
The Broadcasting Board of Governors is presently working toward updating its organization and strategy to meet America’s 21st Century needs.  Whether you agree with the suggestions or not, most of the proposed changes remain just that: proposed as they await approval for many of the key changes.  The BBG provided a “narrative” but you will have to wait until next month, I’m told, for the detailed plan.

Back in September 2010, I wrote about the “honeymoon” the then-new Board would enjoy.  Indeed, after two years without a chairman and with only four members, serving appointments that expired six years earlier, the neglected BBG was due and eager for fresh leadership.

For background, the BBG is the only federal agency run by a committee.  The eight governors are appointed by the President, not more than four of whom may be from the same party, and the Secretary of State, who usually delegates his or her Under Secretary of State for Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy as the representative.

These eight are part-time leaders appointed to staggered terms.  The purpose was to provide fresh and state-of-the-art advice by top professionals and leaders to the Government.

The staggered and overlapping terms were a bid for continuity and to avoid radical shifts in policy.  The wholesale replacement of the Board in June 2010 with eight new members was a refresh that was not supposed to happen, and it was the first time since 2004 that the Board had a full complement.

However, we are now looking at the likely prospect of a wholesale replacement of the board due to term expirations.  Is twice in a row a coincidence or an emerging pattern of White House neglect?

Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your point of view), few in Congress and less of the general public pay attention to the BBG and truly understand the BBG’s role in international affairs.  The BBG not only helps foreign publics understand the United States, but it also helps foreign publics get the news about their own regions and countries.  It is not a trivial enterprise in a world where information and knowledge is increasingly powerful and the boundaries of engagement and action are rapidly falling or gone entirely.

There were no additions to the BBG during 2004-2010, despite, as noted above, appointments expiring.  The BBG is again in a situation of a majority of the Governors are serving on expired terms.  Today, five of the eight appointments are expired and the remaining three expire later this year.

  • Walter Isaacson, Chairman, term expires 8/13/12
  • Michael Lynton, term expires 8/13/12
  • Dana Perino, term expires 8/13/12
  • Dennis Mulhaupt, term expired 8/13/11
  • Susan McCue, term expired 8/13/11
  • Michael Meehan, term expired 8/13/10
  • Victor Ashe, term expired 8/13/10
  • S. Enders Wimbush, term expired 8/13/10

It is a thankless job and this “part-time” gig has a tendency to consume a Governor’s life.  Surely there are people the White House and the Congress can find to replace the members on expired terms?  It will serve no one, least of which those who work at the BBG and the taxpayer, if another wholesale replacement takes place.  If and when that happens, of course.

One could argue the confirmation process is too burdensome to easily support the necessary rotation.  This is a point readily applied to the White House, and to the leader of the opposition party in the Senate, as well as to prospective nominees who decline the chance to serve.  Either way, is it time to rethink the make-up of the part-time board?

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