- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 31, 2001

With the end of the Cold War, policymakers are apt to take the forces of democracy and liberty for granted. Although global security does look more stable today than, for example, the dark days of the Cuban missile crisis, U.S. foreign policy interests and the freedom and human rights of individuals around the world are, and will continue to be, threatened. For this reason, the Voice of America (VOA), which transmits news and U.S. policy around the world, continues to be a crucial and peaceful means to support democracy and U.S. priorities.

Unfortunately, VOA has been suffering what can fairly be termed an assault on the organization. The VOA's Democrat-run board of governor's decided, on the last day of the Clinton administration, to dismiss about three dozen broadcasters and managers.

Editors of The Washington Times obtained a tape of a recent VOA town meeting, presided by the organization's director, Sanford Ungar, in which the downsizing was publicly announced. No members of the board were present to address the queries of VOA employees, some of whom had just lost their jobs. And while Mr. Ungar said the downsizing "creates enormous upheaval, and it damages morale," he supported the board's review process of VOA operations. Mr. Ungar also didn't specify what argument he made to the board in his fight to prevent the layoffs or why he thought the broadcasters that lost their jobs played an important role.

At one point during the meeting, a VOA employee asked Mr. Ungar what VOA and its individual employees should do to prevent painful staff reductions in the future. Mr. Ungar's only directives were that employees should continue to do their job well and that the organization had to fight hard for public funds. Clearly, Mr. Ungar hasn't given this issue enough thought. Furthermore, he failed to lobby the public at large on the importance of VOA.

Another staff person said during the meeting that while he appreciated Mr. Ungar's "professed aversion" to the layoffs, he wondered why he didn't resign in protest "as many in this agency believe is the right thing" to do since he would likely be asked to leave "sooner rather than later," given the change in administration. The employee had a point. In fact, it is considered rather rude of Mr. Ungar to leave it to President Bush to kick him out. Typically, political appointees graciously submit a resignation at the end of their president's tenure.

It seems, then, the Voice of America needs better leadership and a board of directors with a greater understanding of the organization's current and future contributions. With the forces of communism and repression gaining ground in various countries, the Voice of America still has a critical voice that must be heard.

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