Royce : “U.S. is confronted by an unconventional threat – the weaponization of information.”

Engel:  “Today, America’s rivals spend massive sums to spread violent messages and disseminate propaganda.”

Washington, D.C. – Today, the House Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously passed bipartisan legislation to improve the missions, objectives, and effectiveness of U.S. international broadcasters, which are overseen by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).  H.R. 2323, the United States International Communications Reform Act of 2015 was introduced last week by Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), the Committee’s Ranking Member.  [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 by its weaponizing of information and the abject failure of the U.S. to respond effectively.

Upon passage of H.R. 2323, Chairman Royce said:  “Today, the U.S. is confronted by an unconventional threat – the weaponization of information.  This new threat, employed by ISIS, Putin, and Iran, undermines stable democratic governments, uses conspiracy theories to incite violence, and stokes anti-American sentiment. BBG, the agency charged with leading the U.S. response effort, is crippled by an inefficient bureaucracy and incoherent leadership structure. We cannot allow these problems to fester any longer at an agency that is so important when the stakes are so high. The reforms proposed in the legislation the Committee passed today are justifiably far-reaching, and I will work to see this legislation enacted into law. I am proud to have Ranking Member Engel as a partner in this important effort.”

Ranking Member Engel said:  “Today, America’s rivals spend massive sums to spread violent messages and disseminate propaganda.  Unfortunately, our ability to respond has fallen behind the techniques employed by Russia, ISIS, and others. This bill creates a new management structure to oversee our international broadcasting efforts, streamlines our broadcasting organizations, and modernizes our tools for getting our message out.  I’m proud to join Chairman Royce in sponsoring this legislation that will provide a much-needed overhaul to American international broadcasting.”

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.”

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.

Also today, the Committee considered and passed the following measures:

  • H.R. 1853, introduced by Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ), directs the President to develop a strategy to obtain observer status for Taiwan in the International Criminal Police Organization;
  • H.R. 2100, the Girls Count Act of 2015, introduced by Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH), authorizes the Secretary of State and the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development to provide assistance to support the rights of women and girls in developing countries;
  • H. Res. 213, introduced by Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), condemns the April 2015 terrorist attack at the Garissa University College in Garissa, Kenya, and reaffirms the United States support for the people and Government of Kenya;
  • H. Res. 235, introduced by Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ), expresses deepest condolences to and solidarity with the people of Nepal following the devastating earthquake on April 25, 2015.

A summary of the Committee action, including adopted amendments, is available HERE.