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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Open Technology Fund is requesting that the U.S. Office of the Inspector General investigate its parent, the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), for breaching a firewall provision that is supposed to protect government-funded media agencies from political interference.

The big picture: The move is the latest in a very messy fight between the USAGM and one of the organizations it oversees. Earlier on Monday, journalists at another USAGM agency, Voice of America, wrote a letter to their interim CEO alleging that the new head of USAGM was endangering the agency's reporters.

Driving the news: In a letter to USAGM CEO Michael Pack and the Office of the Inspector General obtained by Axios, Open Technology Fund interim CEO Laura Cunningham requests that Pack recuse himself from reviewing the OTF's funding and security matters in order to keep politics out of the process.

Details: The letter alleges that USAGM and Pack have attempted to undermine OTF's integrity, security, and effectiveness in ways that would prevent the group, which was established to help advance internet freedom abroad, from achieving its goals.

The letter details five areas where it says the firewall — established as a part of the 1994 International Broadcasting Act — has been breached.

  1. Attempts to compromise and undermine OTF’s independence by firing the group's CEO, Libby Liu, and the OTF's board. The firing of agency heads has driven a bipartisan outcry on Capitol Hill.
  2. Attempts to compromise and undermine OTF's integrity by making false and misleading claims about OTF's security and its compliance as an organization that receives funding from the USAGM.
  3. Attempts to compromise and undermine OTF's security by requesting sensitive information about its projects, including personal identifiable and confidential information about its project partners who operate in highly sensitive environments, while refusing to accept the information via secure channels, instead of email.
  4. Attempts to compromise and undermine OTF's privacy by requesting information about OTF's contracted partners in a rushed manner, not giving the OTF enough time to comply with international laws about sharing data.
  5. Attempts to compromise and undermine OTF's effectiveness by withholding funds while distracting the group with burdensome information requests.

Sources tell Axios that previous complaints to the Office of the Inspector General from former OTF employees and employees at other USAGM agencies have received responses and follow-up questions.

  • Sources confirm that the Office of the Inspector General has received complaints not only about administrative violations by Pack and USAGM, but also potential criminal activity.
  • Specifically, there have been complaints to the Office of the Inspector General that have alleged violations of the Hatch Act, which prohibits partisan political activity by most federal employees.

Between the lines: The letter provides fresh evidence to support charges that the USAGM is trying to dismantle the OTF and other government-funded media agencies.

  • The issue of OTF funding, as Axios has previously noted, is particularly sensitive, since the USAGM has announced plans to create and fund its own Office of Internet Freedom.
  • Sources fear the agency is withholding OTF funds in order to shift them to that new agency — a move which would be illegal if done without congressional approval.
  • There's been bipartisan outrage on Capitol Hill for months over USAGM's actions, especially around withholding funds from OTF.

Go deeper: Read the full letter.

Go deeper

Aug 31, 2020 - Politics & Policy

VOA journalists say new USAGM CEO is endangering reporters

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A group of veteran Voice of America journalists penned a letter to VOA acting director Elez Biberaj saying that Michael Pack, the new CEO of VOA's parent agency, the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), is endangering the livelihoods of contract journalists.

Why it matters: Pack has been the center of controversy ever since he took over the agency in June. The letter alleges that Pack's recent remarks in an interview with the conservative-leaning website The Federalist prove his malicious intent.

18 mins ago - World

Belgium imposes lockdown, citing "health emergency" due to influx of COVID-19 cases

Belgium Prime Minister Alexander De Croo. Photo: THIERRY ROGE/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images

Belgium is enforcing a strict lockdown starting Sunday amid rising coronavirus infections, hospital admissions and a surge of deaths, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announced on Friday.

Why it matters: De Croo said the government saw no choice but to lock down "to ensure that our health care system does not collapse." Scientists and health officials said deaths have doubled every six days, per the Guardian.

39 mins ago - Politics & Policy

First look: Reid Hoffman launches $1M ad urging election patience

Screengrab of ad

Billionaire and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, one of Democrats' biggest donors, tells Axios he's launching a $1 million digital ad campaign in battleground states urging voters to be patient with election results and prepare for no winner to be known on Nov. 3, no matter what "some people" may prematurely declare via Twitter.

Driving the news: The three-minute ad, titled "We Count! A Patriotic Musical Extravaganza," features the voice of "The Big Bang Theory's" Jim Parsons and Broadway star Barrett Doss. The spot will appear on Facebook targeting voters in the swing states of Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

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