- The Washington Times - Monday, August 4, 2014

Hillary Rodham Clinton has bemoaned the decline of the U.S. government’s broadcasting arm Voice of America, but as secretary of state she was an absentee overseer, failing to attend any meetings of the organization’s oversight board.

Mrs. Clinton’s tenure as secretary gave her an influential seat on the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which runs the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and other international broadcasting efforts. But she, like her predecessors, sent a delegate in her place to cast votes, squandering the chance for more influence.

“It is hard to take seriously her criticism of BBG or VOA when she simply never attended a meeting [when] she was a member or advocated her views to us in any serious format,” former board member Victor Ashe said Monday. “Had she attended, we would have adopted her advice and agenda, in all likelihood.”

Mrs. Clinton, who is considering a run for president in 2016, last week told CNN she feared U.S. broadcasting’s public diplomacy outreach has slipped in recent years, saying that while the United States helped stop the march of communism, it hasn’t done a good job of telling the post-Cold War world “what we stand for and how we intend to lead and manage.”

She sounded a similar note in her new book “Hard Choices,” saying the BBG and Voice of America played an important part of U.S. outreach during the Cold War. “But we had not kept up with the changing technological and market landscape,” she wrote.

While seeing the need for “overhaul,” Mrs. Clinton said it proved “to be an uphill struggle to convince either Congress or the White House to make this a priority.”

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Also last week, the blog BBG Watch highlighted her criticism in a lengthy post titled “Hillary Clinton bemoans decline of U.S. outreach abroad through Voice of America,” which quoted her testimony last year before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, when she referred to the BBG as “practically defunct in terms of its capacity to be able to tell a message around the world.”

Mr. Ashe, a Republican appointee to the board, said she could have helped make changes if she’d wanted.

“I wish Mrs. Clinton had attended a couple of meetings during her four years as secretary of state as her mere presence could have made a difference,” he said. “Any secretary of state could impact the board deliberations if they came with an agenda.”

Mr. Ashe said Mrs. Clinton hosted two “scripted meetings” with the BBG board during her four years in office. And while the under secretary of state for public diplomacy can represent the secretary at board meetings, Mr. Ashe said that position was frequently vacant.

Mr. Ashe said the State Department had four different representatives during his three years on the board — from 2010 to 2013 — while sending nobody who could actually vote and count toward a quorum.

“The people who did attend had little, if any, significant contact with the secretary,” Mr. Ashe said.

Emails to press representatives for Mrs. Clinton on Monday were not returned by deadline.

A spokeswoman for the BBG said Mrs. Clinton met with the board twice, and only one other secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, met with the board at all.

By contrast, the secretary of state also holds a seat on the board of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, which doles out foreign aid. Secretaries frequently attend those meetings. Secretary John F. Kerry went to the MCC’s June meeting; Mrs. Clinton attended at least six board meetings at the MCC in 2011 and 2012, board records show.

BBG spokeswoman Letitia King said the undersecretary for public diplomacy has been allowed to serve as the secretary of state’s representative on the BBG ever since the board became an independent agency in 1999.

“In terms of the subject of the effectiveness of the agency, there is agreement that the agency needs to function more efficiently,” Ms. King wrote in an email Monday.

She said Mrs. Clinton agreed with a proposal for a chief executive to take over day-to-day management of the operation. At the same time, however, Ms. King said that U.S.-funded international media is having “a significant impact for audiences in countries of strategic importance in the U.S.”

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