Committee to Consider Legislation May 21

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), the Committee’s Ranking Member, introduced the bipartisan H.R. 2323, the United States International Communications Reform Act of 2015.  The legislation improves the missions, objectives, and effectiveness of U.S. international broadcasters, which are overseen by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).  The Committee will consider the legislation at a markup on Thursday, May 21 at 9:30 a.m. [A section-by-section summary of H.R. 2323 is available HERE.]

On April 15, the Committee examined the destabilizing role that Russia is playing across Europe through its vast propaganda machine and the failure of the U.S. to respond effectively.  During that hearing, one witness stated that “to put muscle and focus into U.S. broadcasting strategy, the BBG must be reformed.”

Upon introduction of H.R. 2323, Chairman Royce said:  “Right now, groups like ISIS, Putin, and Iran are ‘weaponizing’ information to undermine regional stability and stoke violence.  We’re on the defensive and failing to cut through the misinformation with facts.  By clarifying the BBG’s mission, creating accountable leadership, and reducing the bureaucracy, more of the agency’s budget can be spent countering foreign propaganda – and not on Washington bureaucrats.  Former BBG Governors, think tanks, and government oversight agencies have all identified structural, functional, and cultural problems at the BBG.  The Agency’s recent budget request proposed ending its Central Africa broadcast services, contrary to the advice of the State Department, and at a time of Burundi and Rwanda’s greatest need.  This shortsightedness points to an agency adrift.  We don’t have the luxury of minor tweaks; this legislation responds to the need for complete overhaul.”

Ranking Member Engel said: “During the Cold War, the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and other U.S.-backed broadcasters were the global gold standard for transmitting honest, unbiased news around the world.  Today, the need for that information is just as great.  Authoritarian governments and extremist groups are flooding airwaves and covering websites with propaganda and misinformation.  Modern technologies have provided new avenues for disseminating lies and distortions to massive audiences.  Unfortunately, America’s ability to respond effectively hasn’t kept pace.  It’s time to breathe new life into American international broadcasting by modernizing and streamlining the BBG.  I’m proud to cosponsor this legislation with Chairman Royce and I’m eager to push forward with these needed reforms.”

H.R. 2323 reiterates the reforms proposed in H.R. 4490, legislation Royce and Engel introduced in April 2014.  The Committee unanimously passed H.R. 4490 in April 2014; the House passed H.R. 4490 in July 2014; the Senate never considered H.R. 4490.

The United States International Communications Reform Act of 2015:

  • Fixes Well-documented Management Problems. Currently, five U.S. international broadcasting entities report to the Broadcasting Board of Governors (“BBG”), a group of 9 part-time individuals, who meet once a month to make management decisions. Important decisions can languish if the Board does not have a quorum, which is often the case. This legislation would establish a full-time, day-to-day agency head and reduce the role of the Board to a more appropriate advisory capacity. These changes have been recommended by the State Department’s Office of the Inspector General and are widely recognized as needed reforms.
  • Clarifies the Mission of the Voice of America (VOA). The VOA charter states that VOA will provide a “clear and effective presentation of the policies of the United States.” Over time, VOA has abandoned this mission and adopted a mission of the so-called “surrogates” to provide uncensored local news and information to people in closed societies. This legislation makes clear that the Voice of America mission is to present the broad foreign policy of the United States and “tell America’s story.”
  • Consolidates “the Freedom Broadcasters.” Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia (RFA), and the Middle East Broadcasting Network (MBN) have the same mission – to provide uncensored local news and information to people in closed societies – with different geographic reach. Consolidating these organizations into a single, non-federal organization will achieve cost savings, allow for closer collaboration, and improve responsiveness. While the consolidation would mean shared administrative staff and other economies of scale, they would retain their distinct “brand names.”

Chairman Royce and Ranking Member Engel’s letter to the Broadcasting Board of Governors regarding proposed cuts to the Central African service can be found HERE.

In addition to Chairman Royce and Ranking Member Engel, H.R. 2323 is co-sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH), Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX), Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ), Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC), Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), Rep. Albio Sires (D-FL), Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL), and Rep. Bill Keating (D-MA).