Thu, 29 Oct 2020

House Committee Issues Subpoena for USAGM CEO

Voice of America
19 Sep 2020, 10:35 GMT+10

WASHINGTON - The House Foreign Affairs Committee issued a subpoena Friday to Michael Pack, head of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), after the chief executive canceled his scheduled appearance before the committee.

Pack was scheduled to testify before the committee on September 24 on how changes and decisions implemented since he took over at USAGM in June have affected the agency's networks, which include Voice of America.

In a statement Friday, Representative Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat and chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said a subpoena was issued "to compel Mr. Pack's testimony on the originally agreed-upon date."

Later Friday, USAGM said in a statement that Pack was disappointed by the committee's decision to "escalate the situation" and said the chief executive was keen to testify and answer the committee's questions.

"A conflict arose with the original hearing date due to the evolution of pressing and unprecedented matters at USAGM requiring the CEO's attention," the statement said. "We look forward to continuing the dialogue with the committee and testifying on a mutually agreeable date."

A Foreign Affairs Committee aide told VOA that Pack's team did not provide a legitimate reason to miss the hearing.

"The committee has learned that Mr. Pack scheduled administrative hearings for USAGM officials who have been suspended - actions that we believe to be retaliatory in nature and improper - on the same date he committed to appear before the committee. The hearing will go forward next Thursday," said the aide, who spoke on background.

On August 12, six senior executives, including Chief Financial Officer Grant Turner and General Counsel David Kligerman, had their security clearances revoked and were placed on administrative leave.

In a statement Friday, Michael McCaul, lead Republican of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, urged Pack to testify next week.

"It's unfortunate we have arrived here today, but CEO Pack has left this committee few options," McCaul, of Texas, said. "USAGM should be doing all they can to carry out their mission to support democracy efforts around the world. Instead, since assuming his position as CEO, Mr. Pack has made decisions that place critical national security programs, including the Open Technology Fund, in jeopardy - and he needs to come before this committee and explain those actions."

Pack, whose confirmation process took two years after he was nominated by President Donald Trump, had been called to testify after lawmakers raised concerns over his actions since being installed at USAGM.

Since June, Pack has fired the heads of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, and the Middle East Broadcasting Network; attempted to replace the board of the Open Technology Fund, a group that uses federal grants to promote internet freedom technologies; and failed to renew J-1 visas for international journalists.

In interviews and communications with VOA staff, Pack has said he wants to protect the agency's editorial independence and make it more effective in achieving its mission. He also said that government audits revealed serious, years-long security problems that were left unaddressed by the agency's previous leaders.

The subpoena came one day after Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon proposed a bill to temporarily extend the J-1 visas of journalists working for USAGM.

USAGM announced a review of the J-1 renewal process in early July, resulting in work permits expiring for several foreign journalists working in VOA's language divisions. At least five have returned to their countries of origin.

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