U.S. ADVISORY COMMISSION ON PUBLIC DIPLOMACY (ACPD)
MINUTES FROM THE QUARTERLY PUBLIC MEETING ON THE RELEASE OF THE ACPD’s 2018 Comprehensive Annual Report on Public Diplomacy and International Broadcasting
Tuesday, December 4, 2018 | 10:00 a.m. -12:00 p.m.
Room 301, Russell Senate Building, Washington, DC
COMMISSION MEMBERS PRESENT:
TH Sim Farar, Chair
TH William Hybl, Vice-Chair (via phone)
TH Anne Terman Wedner
COMMISSION STAFF MEMBERS PRESENT:
Mr. Jeff Daigle, Designated Federal Official
Ms. Jennifer Rahimi, Senior Advisor
Mr. Ryan Walsh, Detailee
The U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy met in an open session from 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. on Tuesday, December 4, 2018, to discuss the release of the Commission’s 2018 Comprehensive Annual Report on Public Diplomacy and International Broadcasting as well as to receive a briefing from Matthew Walsh, the Chief of Staff for the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM, formerly the Broadcasting Board of Governors or BBG) on USAGM’s modernization agenda, rebranding, strategy, and content priorities. The session was opened by Chairman Farar, and both moderated and closed by Commissioner Wedner. The Commissioners and Mr. Walsh took several questions from the audience regarding the Commission’s 2018 report and USAGM’s modernization efforts.
NOTE: Due to a technical issue with the audio recording of the meeting, a full transcript is not available.
Anne Wedner: Good morning and welcome to the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy’s fourth and final public meeting of 2018. I am Commissioner Anne Wedner, and I will be the moderator for today’s event. Thank you all for joining us. We are pleased to share with you today the ACPD’s 2018 Comprehensive Annual Report on Public Diplomacy and International Broadcasting, our annual assessment of the U.S. government’s global Public Diplomacy activities and recommendations for strengthening the effectiveness and cost efficiency of these programs.
We are also pleased to have with us today, a special guest speaker, Matthew Walsh, Chief of Staff for the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) – formerly the Broadcasting Board of Governors/BBG – who will provide an overview of the USAGM’s modernization agenda, including its rebranding efforts and new strategy and content priorities. Also with us are the ACPD’s Chairman, Sim Farar, and Vice Chairman, Bill Hybl.
Following our formal presentations, we will have plenty of time for discussion about the 2018 report and the USAGM’s new direction, so I would ask that you hold all comments and questions until that portion of our meeting. And now, I would like to invite Chairman Farar to make introductory remarks on behalf of the Commission and kick off the review of our annual report.
Sim Farar: Thanks Commissioner Wedner. Hello and welcome to the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy’s final public meeting of 2018. Thank you all for being here, and a special thanks to Senator Roy Blunt, Chairman of the Committee on Rules and Administration, for use of the committee’s hearing room for today’s meeting, as well as to Rules Committee staff assistant Robert Krebs and Micki Werner with Senator Corker’s staff for helping the Commission to secure this space and for their support of our meeting.
I’m pleased to be joined here on the stage by my distinguished colleagues from the Commission: Bill Hybl, Vice-Chairman from Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Anne Terman Wedner from Chicago, Illinois. There are currently four vacancies on the Commission.
As many of you are aware, the Commission represents the public interest by overseeing the U.S. government’s global information, media, cultural, and educational exchange programs. It is a bipartisan and independent body created by Congress to recommend policies and programs in support of efforts to understand, inform, and influence foreign publics. It is mandated by law to assess the work of the State Department and the U.S. Agency for Global Media and to report its findings and recommendations to the President, the Congress, the Secretary of State, and the American people.
It is great to be back in Washington, especially on Capitol Hill, where we host the majority of our public meetings. We always appreciate the opportunity to engage with the experienced and distinguished Public Diplomacy community, and we are delighted that we will also get to hear today from a speaker from that expert community, Matthew Walsh from the U.S. Agency for Global Media. But first, we are pleased to share with you highlights and recommendations from the 2018 Comprehensive Annual Report.
Each of you should have received a hard copy of the report when you arrived. Please note that the report is also available online at www.state.gov/pdcommission, where you can also access the individual country PD profiles, which are only being made available online this year in the interest of cost savings.
The 2018 Comprehensive Annual Report was researched, verified, and written by ACPD members and staff with continuous input and collaboration from State Department Public Diplomacy and USAGM officials. Hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of effort went into producing the report. While there are far too many dedicated professionals who contributed to the report to thank individually, I would be remiss if I didn’t single out a few people in particular.
Former ACPD Executive Director Shawn Powers, who recently joined the USAGM team, provided much of the intellectual rigor behind the report’s research and analysis. Also congratulations are in order for Shawn and his wife Amelia on the birth last week of their daughter Poppy. R/PPR Senior Advisor Andrew Loomis then took up much of the slack with the report’s production after Shawn’s departure. And of course, the ACPD’s own Senior Advisor, Jennifer Rahimi, played a critical role in bringing the report to fruition. We are sad to report that this is Jennifer’s last week with the ACPD, as she is taking on a new positon as an International Relations Officer with the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) next Monday. Jennifer has been a tremendous asset to the Commission during her time with us, and we wish her only the best in her new role with DRL. Thank you Jennifer. I also want to thank IIP’s Oliver Mertz for his outstanding work and long hours in doing the layout and design of the report. Finally, I want to thank Ryan Walsh, IIP’s Senior Advisor for digital products, who is on detail to the ACPD, who provided the teaser on the upcoming 2019 special report on countering state-sponsored disinformation that he is authoring.
The 2018 report details all major PD and international broadcasting activities conducted by the State Department and the USAGM. The report also serves as a unique reference document for the worldwide Public Diplomacy strategies and tactics, divided by agency and region, advancing U.S. foreign policy. It is based on data collected from all State Department PD bureaus and offices, the Public Affairs Sections of U.S. missions worldwide, and from all USAGM entities.
The information focuses on fiscal year (FY) 2017 actual funds spent and provides a complete accounting of Public Diplomacy and broadcasting activity at the time. Wherever possible, the report also examines FY 2018 planned spending, strategy, and activities, in addition to FY 2019 budget requests.
The report reinforces the ACPD’s work over the last four years on research and evaluation for Public Diplomacy and broadcasting, the organizational structure of Public Diplomacy at the Department of State, and the career trajectories and professional development of PD professionals.
Overall PD spending in FY-2017 was $2.26 billion, a $233.2 million increase (10.3 percent) from FY-2016. This figure includes budgets for Diplomatic and Consular Public Diplomacy Programs (D&CP .7, renamed Diplomatic Programs in FY 2018), Educational and Cultural Exchanges (ECE), USAGM, and supplemental funding such as Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) and Economic Support Funds (ESF).
It is important to note that FY-2017 PD spending constituted just 3.8 percent of the international affairs budget ($59.72 billion) and only 0.19 percent (less than one-fifth of a percent) of federal discretionary spending.
This lean, yet meaningful, apportionment supported a multitude of programs and people, including:
- the creation of approximately 3,000 weekly hours of original USAGM programming across five global networks and a variety of digital and analogue platforms, in 61 languages, reaching 278 million people in FY-2017 (and 345 million in FY-2018);
- over 75 exchange programs supporting nearly 55,000 U.S. and foreign participants, a number of whom are likely to become, or already are, political and economic leaders;
- 658 American Spaces, which hosted over 59 million local visitors (a 32 percent increase from FY-2016) and 2.5 million public programs;
- continued website modernization, including the consolidation of 450 separate embassy, consulate, and foreign-language sites into 194 mission sites, plus cloud migration, resulting in $1.3 million in annual savings and a record-breaking 63 million visits to State Department websites (up by 93 percent from FY-2016);
- 123 media engagements and 40 reporting tours organized by the Foreign Press Centers, which yielded at least 648 unique placements in foreign media outlets;
- 93 surveys of foreign audiences used by U.S. embassies and program offices to direct resources toward high-impact activities in strategically significant communities; and
- tens of thousands of post-managed small grants to local partners supporting the values and institutions that form the bedrock of America’s national security.
In addition to these notable, public-facing efforts, PD resources also helped to strengthen the backbone of outreach efforts, including:
- improved research and evaluation efforts that ensure best practices are identified and modeled;
- cutting-edge digital analytics and analysis to support posts’ and regional bureau-initiated PD efforts;
- implementation of the strategic framework for PD emphasizing the importance of audience analysis, strategic planning, effective management, and evaluation to support the achievement of foreign policy goals;
- substantial, sustained progress in updating job responsibilities for locally employed staff around the world, with a focus on audience engagement and impact (as opposed to tasks performed); and
- advanced training opportunities for Public Diplomacy professionals.
While the report goes into great detail on PD spending, it breaks down in broad terms as follows:
- The USAGM spent approximately $794 million (35.1 percent of total PD funding).
- Despite proposals to reduce ECA’s exchange and cultural preservation programs substantially, its congressional allocation actually increased to $634.1 million (28.0 percent of total PD funding and a 6.8 percent increase from the previous fiscal year).
- D&CP .7 funds—which support post-led PD programs, locally employed staff (foreign nationals) salaries, and much of the PD backbone in Washington, D.C.—came in at $392.8 million (21.8 percent of total PD funding).
- Reported supplemental funding (e.g., OCO, ESF, AEECA)—the vast majority of which went to support PD efforts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova—was $208.8 million (9.2 percent of total PD funding).
- Salaries for Foreign and Civil Service Officers and other American employees accounted for $134.6 million (a modest 5.9 percent of total PD spending).
The Commission is pleased to continue making details of the U.S. government’s PD activities available in such a thorough and transparent manner. As private citizens, we believe oversight and evaluation contribute to sound Public Diplomacy and an enhanced appreciation by the American people of its necessity and importance. Now I would like to turn things over to Vice Chairman Bill Hybl, who will discuss the recommendations that the Commission has included in the 2018 report.
Bill Hybl: Thank you Mr. Chairman. I would like to start by stressing how much care and consideration the Commission puts into developing its recommendations each year, and this year was no different. We had a robust discussion among the Commissioners and ACPD staff and with the professional PD practitioner community, and we strongly believe that the 26 recommendations included in this year’s report, if fully implemented, would do much to make the U.S. government’s PD efforts more effective, strategic, and cost effective.
There are several recommendations that were carried over from prior reports. While progress has been made on many of them, more work is still needed in these important areas. As they have been covered in the past, there is no need to review them in detail today, but they include:
- A recommendation to Congress to “Enact new, forward-thinking legislative authority for the Department of State’s PD mission,”
- Recommendations to the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy to “Prioritize improved financial data accounting and transparency throughout the PD cone” and to “Establish clear guidance on the importance of and parameters for exploring machine-learning and other computational engagement tools,” and
- A recommendation to IIP to “Prioritize increased capacity and integration of data analysis into programmatic efforts and content development for the Analytics Office.”
What I would like to discuss in more detail this morning are some of the new recommendations that the Commission is making this year. For the first time in quite some time, the Commission made recommendations directly to the White House. The most important is the recommendation to “Sustain investments in Public Diplomacy and global media programs.” We are all aware that the FY-2018 and FY-2019 budget requests included significant reductions to PD funding, particularly to the ECA account. Recognizing the crucial role Public Diplomacy plays in maintaining and growing U.S. influence abroad, however, Congress actually increased PD funding in FY-2018, and we expect to see similar figures in FY-2019. Given the growing importance of information statecraft, as detailed in President Trump’s National Security Strategy, we strongly urge the Administration to protect, and even enhance, current levels of PD funding support.
For Congress, the Commission recommended that it “Provide direct, adequate support for the Global Engagement Center (GEC).” In order for the GEC to accomplish its expanded mandate to counter state-sponsored disinformation, it must have additional resources and personnel. Congress’s authorization allowing the Department of Defense to provide funding to the GEC in support of this mission, however, fell short in actually delivering the requisite resources. Rather, Congress should specifically appropriate the funding needed by the GEC directly to the State Department to allow the GEC to operate on the frontlines of the informational battlefield.
For the next Under Secretary of State of Public Diplomacy, the Commission recommends that she or he “Conduct a strategic review of Public Diplomacy’s structure, programs, and resource allocations.” The last PD strategic review undertaken by R was nearly 10 years ago. Since that time, the number and types of PD programs, as well as the variety of actors in the United States and around the world implementing these activities, have grown.
For IIP, we recommend the bureau “Identify digital metrics that are of particular relevance to the State Department’s PD programs and outreach.” This was an important topic discussed during the ACPD-sponsored summit on PD research and evaluation that took place in February of this year. Given growing concern regarding the validity of certain metrics in an increasingly automated digital environment, IIP should lead State Department efforts to identify which metrics are particularly significant for Public Diplomacy and invest in appropriately customized tools and expertise.
The Commission recommends that PA “Further increase the frequency of press and policy briefings.” It is difficult to overstress the importance of PA’s role in disseminating and clarifying U.S. foreign policy priorities in the current 24/7 news cycle. The Commission congratulates PA on the recent designation of a new Deputy Spokesperson, who has now taken on an active briefing role, and we encourage PA to make maximum use of its now fully staffed press office to increase the number of weekly on- and off-camera press briefings.
We offer the findings and recommendations in this report in the sincere hope that Congress and those charged with the conduct of Public Diplomacy will benefit from them. The Commission looks forward to continuing its discussions with all PD stakeholders on ways to advance the recommendations and achieve the underlying goal of strengthening the effectiveness and cost efficiency of the U.S government’s Public Diplomacy activities.
Now I would like to hand things back to Commissioner Wedner to introduce our guest speaker and moderate the discussion to follow.
Anne Wedner: Many thanks, Mr. Chairman and Vice-Chairman for sharing these highlights and recommendations. This report is the culmination of a lot of work and sweat and love for PD, and we are all interested in working toward implementing these recommendations over the next year with the support of PD practitioners and policy makers.
Now I am happy to introduce our special guest speaker today, Matthew Walsh, Chief of Staff for the newly renamed U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), formerly known as the Broadcasting Board of Governors/BBG. Matthew joined the USAGM after a nearly nine-year career at the State Department, where he most recently worked as Senior Advisor for United Nations Political Affairs. Previously at the State Department, Matt served as a member of the Secretary of State’s Policy Planning Staff and as a key advisor to the Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, among other jobs. Prior to his tenure at State, Matt worked at the U.S. Agency for International Development in several roles. He is a 2006 graduate of the University of Notre Dame, holds a master’s in international relations from the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, and is a Council on Foreign Relations Term Member.
Matt will provide us an overview of USAGM’s modernization agenda, including its rebranding, as well as the agency’s strategy and content priorities. Please note that we will save questions and discussion regarding the USAGM presentation, as well of the annual report, for the latter portion of the meeting. Now, please join me in welcoming Matt Walsh to the podium.
Matthew Walsh: [Remarks as prepared for delivery] Thank you, Chairman Farar, Vice-Chairman Hybl, and distinguished Commission Member Anne Wedner. It is an honor to be here today. And thank you, Jeff, and Commission staff for organizing such a terrific event to launch this year’s Comprehensive Annual Report on Public Diplomacy and International Broadcasting. And a huge thank you to everyone here with us today – what a distinguished group.
I also should say thank you to the Commission for letting us steal your prior Executive Director, Shawn Powers, who now is our Acting Chief Strategy Officer. Sorry about that.
USAGM’s Chief Executive Officer, John Lansing – a long-time friend and supporter of the Commission – sends his regards and gratitude for the Commission’s service to this important community. He would be here speaking instead of me, but he is in London for an annual gathering of the heads of each of the major international broadcasting networks.
As Jeff said, I’m the Chief of Staff at the recently re-named U.S. Agency for Global Media, or USAGM. USAGM’s five networks – the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, the Middle East Broadcasting Networks, and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting – reach a weekly audience of 345 million people across television, radio, digital, and social media platforms, in 59 languages and in more than 100 countries.
It’s an exciting time to be at USAGM. Our mission – informing, engaging, and connecting people around the world in support of freedom and democracy – has never been more important. But we’re also taking huge steps forward under the leadership of CEO Lansing, and due to the tremendous work of thousands of employees, contractors, and stringers in the USAGM family around the world.
We’re launching new content initiatives. We’re changing our internal culture regarding how we use data. We’re experiencing record audience growth. And we’re well into pursuing a modernization agenda that we hope will help transform the agency into a more effective and efficient global media organization.
I’ll say a little bit today about each of these lines of effort. Let’s start on the content front.
In February 2017, Radio Free Europe and Voice of America jointly launched Current Time, USAGM’s 24/7 global Russian-language network. Current Time provides objectives news and information – and increasingly does so live – across television, digital, and social media formats. Current Time offers original content not found anywhere else in Russia-language media. It’s been a resounding success. Current Time television is available in full in 20 countries, and distributors in 15 countries carry specific Current Time programs. With its targeted digital and social media strategy, Current Time is on track to log more than 540 million online video views in 2018.
But on top of all of these impressive numbers, Current Time also has marked a shift in how USAGM approaches audiences. Current Time is the first USAGM project to target audiences based on language – in this case, Russian speakers in Russia, Europe, Central Asia, and beyond – instead of within a particular country. We are aggressively moving forward to expand this model to additional languages.
Next on the list is our new global Farsi-language channel, called VOA 365, which will launch next month. VOA 365 also is a collaboration between Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, and like Current Time, VOA 365 will be available across television, digital, and social media platforms in its effort to reach Farsi speakers everywhere. The channel will build on USAGM’s already market-leading reach within Iran – Radio Free Europe and Voice of America already reach 24 percent of the adult population there on a weekly basis. And VOA 365 will place a heavy focus on live news coverage, utilizing upgraded studios in Washington, London, New York, and Los Angeles, as well as acquired content from a growing list of top American networks.
The Current Time and VOA 365 initiatives are just the start when it comes to our new, global language approach. Resources permitting, we hope to be able to replicate these models in both Mandarin and English.
2018 also marked a number of other firsts for USAGM on the content front. RFE announced the launch of news services in Romania and Bulgaria. This was done amidst the backdrop of growing concerns over the reversal of democratic gains in both countries. And VOA started programming in Lingala, which is now carried on our network of FM transmitters in and around the Democratic Republic of the Congo, just in time for the upcoming elections.
The Middle East Broadcasting Networks launched the most ambitious transformation of its Arabic-language television channel, Al-hurra, since Al-hurra launched 14 years ago. Al-hurra’s studios, content, and look have been completely re-done. Al-hurra soon will feature twelve hours of newscasts a day, including from its brand new studio and newsroom complex in Dubai. Al-hurra’s Iraq-specific channel, Al-hurra Iraq; MBN’s pan-Arab radio stream, Radio Sawa; and the network’s digital and social media platforms also are undergoing complete transformations.
And at USAGM’s Office of Cuba Broadcasting in Miami, Television and Radio Marti, which reach 1 out of every 10 Cubans, are undergoing a long-list of changes, including the addition of a number of new television and radio shows, a renewed focus on live news delivery to the island, and an enhanced focus on standards and ethics training and professionalization across the network.
I’ll wrap up my update on USAGM content by quickly mentioning two projects that we’re very excited about, both of which are groundbreaking for different reasons.
The first is VOA’s upcoming rollout of Rohingya programming targeted at the enormous population of refugees in Bangladesh. VOA also is exploring expanding this model to additional refugee populations in other regions of the world.
Second, and this is being discussed in London today, VOA is exploring the formation of a partnership with fellow international broadcasters the BBC, Deutsche Welle, and France Medias Mode (FMM) to launch a joint Turkish YouTube channel. This would be the first content partnership of its type between USAGM and other international broadcasters, and this model could hold a lot of potential. More to come on that as talks proceed.
Shifting to data and our audience numbers, USAGM has many people who can do a much better job than I can speaking about how we approach research and evaluation. But I can say that I wholeheartedly agree with the Commission’s comment in your 2018 report that “USAGM has provided leadership in its research and evaluation programs.” Very wise words. In fact, I’m happy to announce today that the two research-related recommendations – first, to establish an inter-agency Research and Analytics Working Group and, second, to prioritize research and impact evaluations – have our full support. We’ll announce the formal details for the working group, including its scope and mission, later this month, and we’re thrilled to help this community of practice forge ahead and learn from one another best practices across government.
I want to highlight one very unique data tool that USAGM has developed that we are quite proud of, and that is our new “data dashboard” that you’ll see displayed on monitors all around our headquarters building a few blocks from here. Our Policy and Research staff and Chief Technology Officer developed this tool, which uses Microsoft’s Power BI, Adobe, and other software to visually display real-time and historic data on USAGM networks’ global reach and in each market in which we operate. The dashboard also displays trending social media posts, impact stories, competitive landscapes, and other useful information. We’ve been able to demo our dashboard for a number of folks from the State Department, including Assistant Secretary Michelle Guida, and are committed to working together on data sharing and research collaboration moving ahead.
As we further develop the tool, the dashboard also will show these metrics side-by-side with our competitors, as well as other related metrics, like levels of political freedom and economic stability. The idea behind this is to create a new culture throughout the USAGM family in which journalists, producers, and editors use this data in real time to help inform content and editorial decisions, and USAGM management uses this data to help inform strategic decisions. We’re also talking about creating a version of this tool for use by others in the U.S. government who would be interested in seeing our data trove, which goes back almost 70 years and is truly massive.
And that leads me into our latest audience numbers. In 2018, USAGM networks reached an unduplicated 345 million weekly news consumers worldwide – including on radio, television and the Internet – an unprecedented year-on-year increase of 67 million from 2017. This estimate is based on nationally representative surveys conducted within the past five years, conducted in more than 100 countries. In keeping with industry standards, USAGM measures and reports an unduplicated audience, meaning each individual is counted only once, regardless of how many programs watched or listened to or media platforms used. This is a conservative approach to quantifying the audience, as the reported total audience for a network often is smaller than the sum of its audience on each platform, and USAGM global audience is smaller than the sum of audiences for all individual networks. We use this conservative approach intentionally so we can report with absolute confidence that USAGM reached 345 million adults in 2018, if not more.
In addition to measuring our audiences within each network and language service, we also measure our reach via technological platform. USAGM’s reach increased on radio, on TV, and online in 2018. It is an important reminder that each of these platforms is important for our networks, depending on the market we’re looking at. Unsurprisingly, our internet audience grew the most, jumping from 45 million to 131 million weekly users. We project this audience to continue to grow moving forward as access to the internet via mobile phones and broadband access continues to climb all around the world. Importantly, radio and TV are still important platforms too, and USAGM networks are competitively performing there as well.
Let me highlight our audience numbers in some key countries, which I think makes this more tangible. It’s important to note that all of these numbers are increases over our previous audience measures in each country. In China, USAGM has a weekly audience of 65.4 million people, which is 6.2 percent of the adult population. In Russia, we reach 7.7 million people weekly, 7.5 percent of adults. As I said earlier, in Iran we’re reaching about 24 percent of the adult population each week or 14.3 million people, and in Ethiopia we’re now reaching 12 percent of the adult population, or 7.5 million people.
The last topic I want to say a few words about is our modernization agenda, which is focused on USAGM’s operations and organization. This is a four-part plan that our Board approved earlier this year to help make USAGM more effective and efficient. All four of the pillars are in various phases of implementation.
The first part of the modernization plan was undergoing a rebranding initiative to change the agency’s name from the Broadcasting Board of Governors, or BBG, to the U.S. Agency for Global Media, or USAGM. We made this change officially this past August, although the rollout is still underway, and you may have noticed that our new logo still mentions the BBG – this is part of the phased transition. We made this change because we felt strongly that the BBG name did not do a very good job conveying our agency’s mission or value to our constituencies here in Washington, U.S. taxpayers, or our audiences overseas. Reaction to the change has been overwhelmingly positive, although we know the USAGM acronym takes some getting used to.
The second part of the modernization agenda is moving into a new headquarters building. If you’ve seen the Cohen Building, where USAGM and VOA are headquartered, even just from the outside, then it’s probably obvious to you in part why we’d like to move – that building is soul destroying, as one person artfully described it to me. But more important than that, the building is not at all conducive to running a modern media organization – the floor plans don’t allow for the type of collaboration we would like, the studio spaces are too small, the electrical, HVAC, and other physical elements are approaching functional obsolescence, and the list goes on. On top of the infrastructure modernization that we need if we are to lead as a global media organization, we think we can save U.S. taxpayers a lot of money by moving to a new facility, in part because we don’t need as much square footage as we have now.
We’re working with an outside commercial real estate company that has worked with a lot of broadcast organizations and government agencies to help us figure out what the best building is for our needs and how we might move forward. And like all agencies, we’re working with OMB on plans for FY 2020. We’re excited about what the future holds on this front.
The last two parts of the modernization plan involve the organization of the USAGM enterprise. Earlier this year, we contracted with consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton to conduct a study for us on the possible benefits of consolidating USAGM’s three grantee networks – Radio Free Europe, Radio Free Asia, and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks. Booz Allen looked at a spectrum of options, from total consolidation of the three networks, to a shared services model for IT and other business-side functions, to the status quo. That study is now mostly complete.
Booz Allen found that completely consolidating the three grantee networks would present far more cons than possible benefits. However, they said there likely would be a lot of benefit from enhanced cooperation between the grantees on certain business/operations functions (such as IT, procurement, budget, etc.). We plan to seriously explore this option, which we agree with and take as validation of the International Coordinating Committee, or ICC, model that USAGM has pursued under CEO Lansing’s leadership. Under the ICC approach, the CEO chairs regular meetings of the five network heads, and sub-groups have formed to help significantly increase coordination across the networks and with USAGM on a range of issues, from joint programming projects to research and evaluation.
And lastly, and this is the fourth part of our modernization plan, we are hoping to make some organizational changes to USAGM itself. The overarching goal of any changes we make or propose will be to make the agency’s structure more efficient and to strengthen oversight of the networks, including the auditing of content to ensure professional journalism and ethics standards are upheld and that finance and accounting best practices are followed. We expect to move forward on this front in early 2019.
I’m going to end here. Thank you so much to Jeff and the distinguished Commission Members for inviting me to join you today. I know I covered a lot of ground. So I’d be very happy to answer any questions that anyone has. Thank you.
Question and Answer Session: The Commissioners and Mr. Walsh fielded several questions from the audience.
Closing: Commissioner Wedner made closing remarks, and the meeting adjourned at approximately 12:00 noon.