Washington—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, today delivered the following opening remarks at a full committee hearing conducting oversight of the United States Agency for Global Media and U.S. international broadcasting efforts:
"For weeks, we expected the opportunity to hear from and question USAGM’s new CEO, Mr. Michael Pack.
"Mr. Pack’s brief tenure has been a rocky and controversial one. He immediately removed Voice of America’s leadership, as well as the presidents and boards of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, and the Middle East Broadcasting Network.
"Removing the experienced boards from the services, he replaced them with new boards consisting of himself, his chief of staff, a number of Trump Administration political appointees, and the senior counsel of an organization the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated an anti-LGBT hate group. He tried to fire the acting CEO and board of the Open Technology Fund, but a court reversed his decision.
"He removed the standards editor from Voice of America—the watchdog who makes sure VOA’s content meets all the benchmarks of independent journalism. He declined to renew the visas for Voice of America journalists who came to the United States to produce unbiased news and information.
"I want to emphasize this: the U.S. Government asked these people to come work for us, because of their expertise and language skills, to send news back to countries where press freedoms are often threatened. Now, some of those people are being forced to leave the country. It’s shocking that the United States government would treat any journalist that way, let alone one we’ve asked to do the job.
"Mr. Pack cut off funding for the Open Technology Fund or OTF—funding that Congress had appropriated. To remind everyone of what OTF does: they support development of circumvention and communication tools, so that journalists and citizens are better able to share news and information in countries where governments try to censor and stifle those things. We’re talking about places like Belarus, Iran, China, and Venezuela.
"And he has suspended a number of senior USAGM officials in what I believe to be a retaliatory and improper action.
"Three months ago, I invited Mr. Pack to appear before the Committee to answer our questions and explain his alarming first few weeks on the job. On August 3rd, his office made a commitment to appear here today let me repeat that, On August 3rd his office made a commitment to appear hear today. A week ago, shortly after the Committee noticed this hearing, his office called back to tell us he was breaking his commitment that’s breaking his commitment. USAGM refused to provide specific reasons, stating only that there were “administrative proceedings” that required Mr. Pack’s attention.
"The Committee has since learned that Mr. Pack personally scheduled, for today, an administrative hearing for those people he suspended. He notified those individuals last Thursday, the same day USAGM told the Committee he was backing out of this hearing. My understanding is that under USAGM regulations and standard federal agency practice, the head of agency shouldn’t even be involved in such administrative hearings that they should be left to the security professionals. USAGM proposed other dates in October, when the House is in recess.
"It’s my view that Mr. Pack manufactured this conflict to get out of being here today. So the Committee issued a subpoena to compel his testimony. With the chair at the witness table empty, Mr. Pack is now in defiance of that subpoena.
"Our international broadcasting efforts are a critical foreign policy tool. USAGM’s constituent services provide high-quality, independent news and information in some of the most closed-off places in the world. The best way to push back on the propaganda coming out of Russia, China, and elsewhere is to provide the truth, plain and simple. We need competent leadership at the helm of those efforts. We need someone who understands journalism and respects journalists. We need someone who understands that the head of a federal agency is accountable, and that Congress has a constitutional right to conduct oversight. We need someone who respects the law and allows our broadcasters to operate free from interference.
"Mr. Pack has made clear in his short tenure that he meets none of those qualifications. He is making a mockery of a US agency that has long enjoyed strong, bipartisan support. And he has shown tremendous disrespect for the Committee our committee and its role overseeing USAGM. He’s the wrong person for the job. He should resign. And if he doesn’t, the President should fire him.
"Since Mr. Pack won’t talk to us, we’ll instead hear from some of those he’s pushed out or tried to push out—competent public servants and journalists who, because they were committed to doing their jobs well, had no place in Mr. Pack’s USAGM."
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