Opinion: The Voice of America whistleblowers have been vindicated

This article features Government Accountability Project and was originally published here.

The State Department’s Office of Inspector General has determined that six federal employees in the agency that oversees Voice of America were wrongly targeted for termination from their jobs by the Trump administration. Unjustified and retaliatory was the assessment of the government watchdog. The findings don’t come as a big surprise — five of the employees had already been returned to their jobs after President Biden took office — but they nonetheless stand as a stark reminder of the havoc caused to this important news agency by the Trump administration and of the even greater damage that would have occurred had Donald Trump been reelected.

The employees — senior executive service executives of the U.S. Agency for Global Media — had been among those deemed not sufficiently loyal by Michael Pack, Mr. Trump’s controversial choice to head the agency that manages VOA and four other international networks. Mr. Pack, a conservative filmmaker who was recommended for the job by alt-right propagandist Stephen K. Bannon, took office in June 2020 and immediately began dismantling and remaking the agency. An institution long respected worldwide as a source of independent news for foreign audiences was fast on its way to becoming just another vehicle for shilling Mr. Trump.

Mr. Pack fired the chiefs of four of the networks, and the top two editors at VOA quit; unqualified Trump political appointees were brought in. A month after that purge, he moved against the six employees who had protested decisions they saw as violating the law or politicizing the agency. They were stripped of their security clearances, which are essential for their jobs, and then placed on indefinite suspension. Mr. Pack was thankfully dismissed the day Mr. Biden was sworn in, and within days, the security clearances were restored and the five executives returned to their posts; one employee retired.

The OIG did not issue a public report but sent letters to the employees detailing its findings, clearing them of any wrongdoing and recommending the agency consider awarding the executives attorneys’ fees and other reasonable compensatory damages. According to the Government Accountability Project, which represented one of the employees, the watchdog uncovered instances of abuse of authority, mismanagement and endangerment of public health and safety. Most glaring was the disregard for the dangers to foreign journalists employed by VOA caused by Mr. Pack’s refusal to sign pro forma paperwork allowing them to work in the United States.

In just his six months in office, Mr. Pack was the subject of more than 30 whistleblower complaints, thumbed his nose at congressional oversight and was found both by a federal judge and the Office of Special Counsel to have acted improperly or illegally. We shudder to think what he would have wrought in the first six months of a second Trump administration.