Federal watchdog: 'substantial likelihood of wrongdoing' at US Agency for Global Media

The Office of Special Counsel says it “found a substantial likelihood of wrongdoing” at the US Agency for Global Media, led by a controversial Trump political appointee.

According to a letter dated Wednesday and obtained by CNN, the watchdog agency has directed US Agency for Global Media CEO Michael Pack to order an investigation into the allegations of wrongdoing at the taxpayer-funded agency, whose stated mission “is to inform, engage, and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy,” and report back to the Office of Special Counsel.
The letter from the independent watchdog agency, signed by an attorney from its Retaliation & Disclosure Unit, came in response to a complaint from six senior officials at the US Agency for Global Media alleging that Pack had engaged in abuse of authority and gross mismanagement. The Office of Special Counsel’s primary mission is to protect “federal employees and applicants from prohibited personnel practices, especially reprisal for whistleblowing.”
The US Agency for Global Media, which oversees Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, Middle East Broadcasting Networks and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, has been plagued by controversy since Pack, a Trump appointee, took the helm. His actions have drawn scrutiny from lawmakers from both sides of the aisle.
    The 32-page complaint filed earlier this year laid out specific details of the alleged misconduct, including legal violations, by Pack and other political leadership.
    Among the allegations that the Office of Special Counsel said must be investigated are whether the US Agency for Global Media “(e)ngaged in gross mismanagement and abuse of authority” by:
    • firing the heads of the broadcast networks and the Open Technology Fund,
    • dismissing the board and “replacing those board members with largely political appointees,”
    • “(r)evoking all authority from various members of USAGM’s Senior Executive Service (SES) and reassigning those authorities to political appointees outside of the relevant offices,”
    • removing the executive editor of Radio Free Asia and Voice of America’s editor for news standards and best practices,
    • suspending the security clearances of the six senior officials,
    • “(p)rohibiting several offices critical to USAGM’s mission — including the Offices of General Counsel, Chief Strategy, and Congressional and Public Affairs — from communicating with outside parties without the front office’s express knowledge and consent.”


    The Office of Special Counsel also called for the investigation to look into the alleged breach of Voice of America’s firewall — which is meant to protect the agency’s news outlets from undue influence and maintain their journalistic independence — a freeze on hiring at the agency, allegations that the agency “Illegally repurposed, and pressured career staff to illegally repurpose, congressionally appropriated funds and programs without notifying Congress” and a refusal to authorize the renewal of the visas of non-US journalists, “endangering both the continuity of agency operations and those individuals’ safety.”
    The letter notes that “OSC has found a substantial likelihood of wrongdoing” based on the information included in the complaint, but added that “our referral to the agency for investigation is not a final determination that the allegations are substantiated. This remains an open matter under investigation until the agency’s final report is forwarded to the President and Congress.”
    CNN has reached out to the US Agency for Global Media for comment.
    Pack’s actions at the agency have come under scrutiny by lawmakers on both sides of the congressional aisle. In September, he defied a congressional subpoena compelling him to testify before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. That move was condemned by both Chairman Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat, and ranking member Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican.
      A district judge ruled in late November that Pack and his team must stop investigating and interfering with journalists at Voice of America.
      US District Judge Beryl Howell found that they had violated the First Amendment rights of the journalists, “insofar as those violations relate to defendants’ taking or influencing personnel actions against individual journalists or editors, attempting to influence content through communications with individual journalists or editors, and investigating purported breaches of journalistic ethics.”

      Comments are closed.