Former USAGM CEO Paid $1 Million to Investigate Staff, Documents Show

The U.S. Agency for Global Media has released financial documents showing the agency’s Trump-appointed CEO paid an outside law firm more than $1 million for work that included investigating its own staff.In a statement Friday, USAGM said it has proactively released the first set of contracts and decision-making documents and would add more records based on multiple requests made under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).Under FOIA, the public, news media or others can request records from federal agencies. The agencies may withhold some information under a set of exemptions that include personal privacy and national security.The 107 pages published by the USAGM this week include correspondence and invoices with McGuireWoods, an outside law firm appointed during Michael Pack’s leadership FILE – Michael Pack, President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the U.S. Agency for Global Media, is seen at his confirmation hearing, on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Sept. 19, 2019. Pack’s nomination was confirmed June 4, 2020.Records released under the FOIA request showed that McGuireWoods was tasked with investigating laws and regulations, including the firewall that prevents editorial interference, and reviewing social media posts, employee communications, news articles on Pack and the Open Technology Fund, a 2015 Inspector General report, as well as a request for an OIG audit report on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails.In a March 4 letter to lawmakers and the Offices of Special Counsel and Inspector General, the GAP said the records appeared to show gross mismanagement, waste of taxpayer money, and abuse of authority FILE – Voice of America offices in Washington, D.C.VOA program director Kelu Chao, who took over as acting CEO when Pack resigned, has reversed many of her predecessor’s decisions. Chao in 2020 testified as part of a lawsuit about editorial interference by Pack and his aides.Since Chao’s appointment, USAGM officials who were placed on administrative leave were returned to their former positions; OTF has restarted its rapid response fund that was forced to close last year; the heads of Radio Free Asia (RFA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks were restored; and boards appointed by Pack in his last month as CEO were dissolved.The head of VOA’s Urdu language service, Tabinda Naeem, was also returned to her position. USAGM had moved to dismiss Naeem after her division published a video featuring a Joe Biden campaign advertisement that the agency said did not meet editorial standards.Chao also handed control over approving J-1 visas for foreign journalists to the head of VOA, a position currently filled by former VOA news director Yolanda Lopez. And the agency announced at a town hall for staff last month that it would reinstate the editorial firewall in the federal register after Pack repealed it in October.Some former officials who took up positions at the agency during the Trump administration say the changes are politically driven.Elizabeth Robbins said her dismissal as VOA deputy director in January, after only a few weeks in the role, was illegal.In an interview with the conservative One America News Network, Robbins said the Biden administration was attempting to politicize VOA.USAGM spokesperson Moy told VOA Friday that Chao used her authority as acting CEO to restore network heads and members of the bipartisan board to each of the agency grantees.“[Chao] has also restored the wrongfully removed senior executives to their rightful positions, with the exception of one executive who (while welcomed back) instead chose to retire,” Moy said via email.She added that visa requests are properly vetted and that the agency is “strictly adhering to all federal statutory requirements regarding the hiring of and preferences for U.S. citizens.”Greater transparency, like the release of USAGM’s records, can play an important role in trust and accountability, Kalman said.“What happened at VOA raised some questions for folks that were following it about the independence of the agency,” said Kalman, of Transparency International. “Reestablishing that trust by saying, we’re taking a new direction and we’re going to be transparent about some of the issues that were raised in the past, to see how they’re being addressed, I think is critical.”The USAGM records and future disclosures will be posted to the agency’s electronic reading room.

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