- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 18, 2021

The embattled Voice of America has rehired a Persian-language director who was removed from her post by the agency’s previous management last month for allegedly misusing funds and falsifying her resume.

Setareh Derakhshesh Sieg is being reinstated as director of VOA’s Persian News Network, said John Lippman, acting VOA director of programming, in a note to staff on Thursday. Ms. Sieg, also known by her married name as Setareh Derakhshesh, is being given the additional position of special assistant for program review.

“This is the fox guarding the henhouse, rewarding documented corruption and mendacity. Ms. Sieg’s record of mismanagement and deception are irrefutable,” said Beth Robbins, VOA’s deputy director who suspended Ms. Sieg in January before being dismissed herself by the incoming Biden administration on Jan. 20.

An internal VOA report obtained by The Washington Times found that on Jan. 5 that Ms. Sieg was recommended for firing for “waste of agency/government funds” and “lack of candor” in response to questions about alleged corruption.

Ms. Sieg did not return email and text requests for comment.

VOA spokeswoman Bridget Serchak said Ms. Sieg was reinstated to VOA from administrative leave on Thursday to her position as director of VOA Persian programing. “Then Ms. Sieg was immediately transferred to a new position as special assistant to the VOA acting director of programming and VOA director of programming review,” she said.

Laurie Moy, a spokeswoman for VOA’s parent agency, the U.S. Agency for Global Media, said USAGM acting CEO Kelu Chao was not involved in the reinstatement.

“This is a VOA matter,” she said.

Mr. Lippman, the acting VOA program director, said in announcing Ms. Sieg’s reinstatement that she “just celebrated her seventh anniversary as director of VOA’s Persian Service, one of our largest and most complex newsrooms,” crediting her with expanding the service’s reach and helping launch VOA365, an all-day Farsi TV channel.

But the charges in the internal investigation include improperly awarding sole-source contracts, allowing some employees to improperly charge VOA for excessive overtime, waste of travel funds, and falsely claiming on employment documents to holding a doctorate from France’s prestigious Sorbonne Paris.

“You misused and wasted $950,000 in agency funds due to your direction to grant sole-source outsourcing contracts to Mr. Max Amini/Abstraction Media,” states the report produced by VOA’s human resources department and signed by Ms. Robbins.

Ms. Robbins and VOA Director Robert Reilly were dismissed on President Biden’s first day in office, despite recent legislation that prohibited such politically based dismissals.

“By terminating VOA Director Bob Reilly and me on Day One, the Biden administration ignored both the law and a court order, broke down the VOA firewall between news and politics, trampled traditional norms, and politicized VOA,” Ms. Robbins said.

Current and former VOA and U.S. Agency for Global Media officials said Ms. Sieg was regarded as sympathetic to the Islamic Republic of Iran government and that VOA Persian-language reports reflected a pro-regime bias.

Ms. Sieg was to be terminated on Jan. 21 by Mr. Reilly after a hearing. But the process was scuttled by the abrupt dismissals of Mr. Reilly and Michael Pack, the first Senate-confirmed chief executive officer of the USAGM, as part of a sweeping purge of Trump administration appointees. Ms. Chao, a VOA program director and associate of Ms. Sieg, has replaced Mr. Pack on an acting basis.

A Trump administration official involved in an investigation into Ms. Sieg’s activities said investigators concluded that she purged many talented VOA Iranian-language specialists and also slanted broadcasts toward more favorable coverage of the Tehran regime.

“Under her leadership, the VOA Persian service was called the Voice of Tehran, not the Voice of America,” the former official said. “It parroted regime content.”

Broadcast stations like the VOA and federally funded outlets like Radio Free Europe, Radio Free Asia and their Cuban and Middle East counterparts, came under fire during the Trump administration. A White House newsletter criticized the VOA and other outlets in July for misusing taxpayer funds, charging the broadcast outlets often speak for “America’s adversaries — not its citizens.”

Efforts to overhaul the broadcasters ran into political opposition from the longtime management of the outlets, as well as in Congress.

Mr. Pack, a conservative documentary filmmaker, was forced to wait two years by Democrats in the Senate before taking his post. One of his first actions was to replace all the USAGM agency leaders, prompting a number of lawsuits.

A similar response is expected to the Biden administration’s firing of the Trump administration’s fired appointees.

The National Defense Authorization Act signed into law Jan. 1 contains language that requires any firings at VOA or the other broadcasters to be approved first by a majority vote of the USAGM advisory board. It is unclear if the advisory board approved the firings of Mr. Pack, Mr. Reilly, Ms. Robbins and others.

• Bill Gertz can be reached at bgertz@washingtontimes.com.

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