Waste and Abuse of Power at the Broadcasting Board of Governors, According to Audit

This story has been updated.

Not even a year after its last scandal, the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) is accused of wasting taxpayer money -- again. The State Department and BBG's inspector general revealed mismanagement and abuse of power in a new audit released Tuesday.

The BBG, an independent federal agency responsible for international broadcasting, caught flack last July for its expensive aerial program aimed at Cuba that less than 1 percent of Cubans listen to.

The new audit outlines how the BBG contracts department, which is responsible for planning and managing supplies, services, and construction for BBG's affiliates, awarded contracts based on personal connections and used contractors without prior approval, thereby violating the Antideficiency Act. The audit goes on to state that the BBG's use of these contractors resulted in $431,502 that was not certified and $51,140 that was not available when the contractors began working.

The mismanagement did not stop there, though. The audit also details a laundry list of other violations, such as how the BBG failed to make the contract process open and competitive, resulting in $419,020 of funds that were mismanaged through poor planning and a whopping $3.5 million in costs incurred because of unsupported contract pricing. Similarly, the inspector general found that the BBG did not comply with Federal Acquisition Regulation requirements, which led to $24,325 in additional costs from a lack of contract oversight and $475,347 in unauthorized commitments.

The mismanaged amount dwarfs that at the center of the AeroMartí controversy. AeroMartí is broadcast by plane -- to the tune of $24 million over six years -- but the Cuban government routinely jams the plane's broadcasts. To its credit, the BBG wants to ground AeroMartí, but anti-Castro lawmakers block legislative attempts to defund it.

The BBG, through its affiliates such as Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Middle East Broadcasting Networks, and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, provides news and information to more than 206 million people in 61 languages with a variety of radio, television, and online programming. The news outlets under the BBG's purview have evolved in purpose over the years, from countering Nazi and Japanese propaganda during World War II to defusing communist spin. After the Cold War, the outlets took on a more traditional news role. However, a House bill aiming to force the affiliates, most notably Voice of America, to explicitly support the U.S. government and its policies is pending in Congress.

In the audit's wake, the inspector general made a series of recommendations to prevent repeat incidents and is developing new accountability mechanisms for the BBG.

UPDATE: June 19, 2014

The BBG is taking corrective action to resolve the issues raised by the Office of the Inspector General in the audit. The BBG has proposed a new contracting system and has resolved 34 of the 38 recommendations proposed by the inspector general, pending approval of the new contracting system.

The AeroMarti  program is no longer operational after being grounded from the sequestration process.

Photo via Broadcasting Board of Governors


The World's Superpowers Aren't About to Give Up Their Nukes

In April 2009, President Barack Obama went before a crowd in Prague and delivered the first major foreign-policy address of his then-young presidency. He made an astonishing proclamation: "Today, I state clearly and with conviction America's commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons. I'm not naive. This goal will not be reached quickly -- perhaps not in my lifetime."

Regardless of his commitment, Obama was right about one thing: That goal would not be reached in his lifetime. New data released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) Monday, June 16, shows that the world's superpowers, including the United States, are in no hurry to scrap their nukes. Although there are fewer nuclear weapons overall, the globe's nuclear powers are modernizing their arsenals and pursuing technological innovations even as their arsenals dwindle.

Since the Cold War's end, the number of nuclear weapons in the world has steadily declined, the last four years seeing a pickup in pace. Between 2010 and 2014, globally the number of nuclear warheads dropped from 22,600 to 16,300; a 28 percent decrease:

But don't declare the world a nuke-free zone yet.

"Once again this year, the nuclear weapon-possessing states took little action to indicate a genuine willingness to work toward complete dismantlement of their nuclear arsenals," SIPRI researchers Shannon Kile and Phillip Patton Schell said Monday.

Nuclear arms-race inventors Russia and the United States possess 93 percent of all nuclear weapons. Reductions of their respective nuclear arsenals account for most of the precipitous drop of the last four years. But even as the total number of nuclear weapons is decreasing, all five legally recognized nuclear weapons states are developing or deploying new nuclear weapons delivery systems, according to SIPRI:

The United States is plowing $350 billion into modernizing its nuclear forces. Those upgrades include a new class of missiles for its nuclear submarines and a new land-based intercontinental missile. Russia, meanwhile, is retiring all Soviet-era intercontinental ballistic missiles and hopes to finish in the next decade. However, it is also building a new class of ballistic-missile submarine.

The smaller players are following suit. China is expanding and modernizing its arsenal, with plans to outfit its submarines with nuclear weapons. Last year, India successfully tested for the second time its road-mobile intercontinental missile, which is capable of hitting targets everywhere in China. Meanwhile, Pakistan, India's historical rival, is boosting its capacity to produce fissile materials.

Not legally recognized as a nuclear power but plowing ahead nonetheless, North Korea is developing its stock of deadly weapons. Last year it started trying to improve plutonium production.

Indeed, Obama's goal looks far off.

Graphics: Catherine Traywick, Tony Papousek / FP