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USAGM Told to Investigate Allegations of Wrongdoing at Agency

A federal office set up to protect whistleblowers has ordered the federal agency that oversees Voice of America and other independent news networks to investigate allegations of wrongdoing by its own top officials.The December 2 letters, signed by an attorney in the Office of Special Counsel, said U.S. Agency for Global Media head Michael Pack has been ordered to investigate after the OSC found “substantial likelihood of wrongdoing” based on details in whistleblower complaints.Since Pack’s appointment to the USAGM in June, network heads have been fired or resigned, Pack has stopped approving visa renewals for the agency’s foreign journalists, and his political appointees have conducted internal investigations of reporters and editors.The letters are a further blow to the new CEO after a federal court issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting Pack and his appointees from interfering with editorial decisions or violating journalists’ First Amendment rights.Pack and his appointees were also barred from conducting investigations into news content or journalists, and from making personnel decisions involving individual staff members. The order is a stopgap measure to prevent further actions being taken until a legal complaint that alleges wrongdoing is resolved.FILE – Michael Pack, who then was President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the U.S. Agency for Global Media, is seen at his confirmation hearing, on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Sept. 19, 2019. Pack’s nomination was confirmed June 4, 2020.Pack was confirmed by the Senate as CEO in June with a three-year term. However, after Pack fired several news executives upon his arrival, a spokesperson for the Joe Biden presidential election campaign told VOA that if elected, Biden would fire Pack.Pack failed to appear for a September House of Representatives hearing examining the controversy at USAGM, drawing criticism from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers.Representative Eliot Engel of New York, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told VOA last month, “I’m confident the Biden administration will appoint a competent leader at USAGM who understands our international broadcasting efforts, respects the law and can reverse the damage Mr. Pack has done during his short tenure.”The OSC told VOA it was unable to comment on or confirm open investigations.In the letters, the OSC said that while it believed the complaints appeared to show likelihood of wrongdoing, the investigation remained open.Heads of federal agencies are required by law to investigate cases in which the OSC believes there appears to be substantial likelihood of wrongdoing.The role that Pack might play in investigating USAGM actions under his watch wasn’t clear.Often the Office of Inspector General is asked to handle the investigation, but agency heads have discretion to use other investigative bodies.

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