Jul 1, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Senators' letter on USAGM purge promises funding review

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A bipartisan group of Senators on Wednesday wrote a letter to Michael Pack, the newly-confirmed CEO of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), that they plan to review the agency's funding, after Pack abruptly fired the heads of five organizations funded by USAGM.

Why it matters: The sudden dismissal of all five heads last week prompted concerns amongst the senators about Pack's leadership and the future of the agency, which has aimed to promote American democratic values through unbiased journalism abroad.

Details: The letter was co-signed by Republican Sens. Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham, Susan Collins and Jerry Moran and Democratic Sens. Patrick Leahy, Richard Durbin and Chris Van Hollen, signaling that the concern over Pack's leadership is bipartisan.

  • "The termination of qualified, expert staff and network heads for no specific reason as well as the removal of their boards raises questions about the preservation of these entities and their ability to implement their statutory missions now and in the future," the letter said.
  • The senators also note concern that the dismissals occurred without the consultation of Congress, which approves the more than $800 million USAGM annual budget.
  • “Given the bipartisan and bicameral concern with recent events, we intend to do a thorough review of USAGM’s funding,” the letter said.

The big picture: Pack says he has legal authority to remove the organizations' leaders, but the senators contend that the dismissals raise questions about his intentions.

  • “I believe when the CEO position was created, it explicitly addressed these things and wanted the CEO to have this power,” he said in an interview with The Washington Times. “If it were illegal, needless to say, I wouldn’t have done it, and if my legal counselor told me it was illegal, I wouldn’t do it.”

Yes, but: While the senators dispute Pack's actions, others argue that Pack acted illegally with some of the firings.

  • Last week, a group of former USAGM leaders filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Open Technology Fund, an independent grantee of the USAGM, alleging that dismissals within their organization were illegal.

Go deeper: VOA journalists fight claims that it is Trump propaganda

Go deeper