Source: U.S. Senate
President Donald Trump’s decision to head a federal media agency seeks one final cleanup of staff before Joe Biden is sworn in as the next in chief.
Michael Pack, the CEO of the US agency for global media, is pushing for the removal of agency officials he had previously taken on administrative leave, according to those briefed on the matter. The organization includes media companies such as Voice of America and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting.
A Democratic adviser to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who oversees the agency, told CNBC they heard Pack was trying to fire some of the people on leave, but the agency’s human resources department had pushed back, citing the employment of civil servants and the fact that many of his goals are part of a whistleblower complaint against the CEO.
An administrative leave attorney who filed the complaint told CNBC that he, too, had heard that Pack was trying to fire their clients, but with little success.
“We heard the same rumors, too,” said Mark Zaid, one of the chief attorneys, in an email. He declined to comment further.
A USAGM spokesman did not deny that such conversations took place.
“USAGM will not comment on speculation about personnel matters and ongoing investigations,” a spokesman wrote via email, without assigning the statement to a name.
Some of the people who refused to appear in this story did so in order to speak freely on a private matter. When Pack first became USGM CEO, he attempted to remove the executives of the agency and its various units such as Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty and Radio Free Asia.
The final step comes when Biden’s transition team met with former officials, some of whom were ousted by Pack himself. Biden’s USAGM transition team leader is Richard Stengel, a political analyst with MSNBC and former senior editor of Time Magazine. He was also Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs while a member of President Barack Obama’s administration.
Biden has said he plans to fire Pack after inauguration day in January.
Before he took the helm at USAGM, Pack was a conservative filmmaker. He had ties with former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon when the two were working on two documentaries together.
The whistleblower complaint against Pack was filed in September with the Inspector General of the State Department and the US Office of Special Counsel, a federal agency watchdog. Those listed in the complaint include Grant Turner, the agency’s former interim CEO who was then appointed as the group’s chief financial officer. Matthew Walsh, assistant operations manager; and Shawn Powers, the chief strategy officer.
The complaint states that the executives named in the legal document “were all on administrative leave at the same time”. It is further alleged that Pack targeted these executives for “retaliation … for believing they held political views against his in violation of the Hatch Act.”
The US Office of Special Counsel recently announced, according to National Public Radio, that it has determined “a significant likelihood of wrongdoing” at USAGM since Pack became executive director.