The Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, Walter Isaacson, is resigning his position at the BBG. Walter’s decision has surprised many. He was a well-respected leader of the BBG, a prolific author (most recently of the Steve Jobs biography, but also biographies of Einstein and Benjamin Franklin) and tremendously busy person (he continues to be president & CEO of the Aspen Institute).
The Chairmanship of the BBG is, like the other board members, a part-time job. Five of the eight Governors are serving beyond the expiration of their term (they serve until replaced). Walter’s term expired later this year.
In his letter announcing his resignation, Walter wrote that he is taking on another big writing project and “won’t be able to give the BBG the time it needs and deserves.” He continued in his letter,
Our terms have all either expired or are about to, and I think the board can be proud of its work. We developed over two years a strategic plan to streamline and consolidate the agency, and we adopted unanimously at our last meeting the two resolutions that would implement it. We’ve also hired great new entity heads — David Ensor at Voice of America, Steve Korn at Radio Free Europe, and Carlos Garcia-Perez at Radio and TV Marti — to join the strong leaders at the other entities.
Knowing how hard the Board has worked since they took their jobs in June 2010, Walter’s resignation should not reflect a personal failure but a reflection of the strain of the “part-time” board. The strain is made worse when this board is not regularly infused with fresh bodies and minds, which was its design. Governors are appointed to staggered terms, but we are again in a situation of neglect by the White House in nominating new blood.
When the current board was appointed as a complete group under President Obama, it was the first time since 2004 that all eight of the BBG seats were filled. Further, the new group replaced four members serving terms that expired 4-6 years earlier, under President Bush. When Walter became Chairman in June 2010, he filled a role that had been empty since June 2008 when Jim Glassman resigned to become the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.
The terms of Michael Meehan, Victor Ashe, and Ender Wimbush were to end August 2010 (the whole slate of eight Governors were nominated in November 2009 but they were not confirmed until June 2010). Dennis Mulhaupt and Susan McCue were supposed to be replaced by August 2011. Walter Isaacson, Michael Lynton, and Dana Perino are serving terms that expire later this year, August 2012. And yet, the White House has yet to nominate a single replacement, or re-nominate a sitting governor, and the rumor is there will not be a nomination until after the election.
Clearly the BBG is neglected, both by the White House, regardless of who is in it, and the Congress, who has failed to demand or push forward nominees.
The relatively thin upper management has arguably relied too much – by necessity – on the Governors to manage the organization when the Governors should have been in the role of providing expert and senior advice. The BBG’s new strategic plan, the details of which are still being finalized and have yet to be shared beyond a narrative, includes changes to remedy this over-reliance on the appointed part-timers. Regardless of the details of the forthcoming plan, more is required: either refresh the BBG as intended or change some or all to full-time positions. America’s international broadcasting is too important to U.S. interests and to the lives of people abroad to be neglected as it has been.
This post first appeared about 3:20 CT, January 27, and will be updated as new information is available.