A power outage today at the Washington, DC headquarters of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) lasting many hours has seriously disrupted numerous Voice of America (VOA) radio and television broadcasts to many parts of the world. According to BBG officials, a contractor working on a construction project in the building inadvertently hit a power line. But BBG’s administrative and technical arm, the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB), was unable to quickly restore power, which is what most broadcasting outlets in the United States are almost always able to do within seconds or minutes by switching to emergency power generators. The long-lasting power outage must have been a surprise to BBG’s new CEO John Lansing who recently took up his post. He had previously worked for private U.S. cable and TV industry where such incidents generally do not happen because managers are well-prepared to deal with them.
The federal agency, which spends most of its $740 million budget on administrative and support services (34%), was not prepared to deal with the power emergency at the Voice of America, even though its bureaucracy has expanded the number of IBB positions and its budget grew by leaps and bounds in recent years. Because of staff shortages and lack of resources, Voice of America journalists are also unable to post timely news reports and update social media pages, especially on weekend and after business hours on weekdays. VOA has increasingly turned to employing poorly-paid and poorly-supervised contractors.
The power was disrupted early in the morning, but it was still not fully restored as of early afternoon. Many Voice of America radio and TV broadcasting facilities still could not be used to produce and transmit programs several hours after the power was cut.
An email to staff from one of BBG’s top executives sent out at 1:28 PM said that “many of our broadcast transmission systems are still being hampered by this incident.”
From: BBG ALERTS Sent: Monday, December 7, 2015 9:13 AM Subject: Cohen Power Outage
Pepco/GSA are working on the power outage. Stay safe and in well lit areas. Do not use elevators.
From: IBB Notices Admin Sent: Monday, December 7, 2015 1:28 PM To: IBB Notices Administration Subject: Power Outage Update
Earlier this morning a GSA contractor working on a construction project in the Switzer building inadvertently hit a power line.
Unfortunately, this incident brought down power in both the Switzer and Cohen buildings completely disrupting almost all infrastructure systems.
At this point, we are working diligently with all of our vendors to ensure that we can restore full operations as soon as possible.
Portions of the building are up to full operations but many of our broadcast transmission systems are still being hampered by this incident.
We will notify you immediately once we have restored full functionality.
We deeply regret the inconvenience to all of our colleagues and programs.
A Princeton PhD, was a US diplomat for over 20 years, mostly in Eastern Europe, and was promoted to the Senior Foreign Service in 1997. For the Open World Leadership Center, he speaks with
its delegates from Europe/Eurasia on the topic, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United." Affiliated with Georgetown University for over ten years, he shares ideas with students about public diplomacy.
The papers of his deceased father -- poet and diplomat John L. Brown -- are stored at Georgetown University Special Collections at the Lauinger Library. They are manuscript materials valuable to scholars interested in post-WWII U.S.-European cultural relations.
This blog is dedicated to him, Dr. John L. Brown, a remarkable linguist/humanist who wrote in the Foreign Service Journal (1964) -- years before "soft power" was ever coined -- that "The CAO [Cultural Affairs Officer] soon comes to realize that his job is really a form of love-making and that making love is never really successful unless both partners are participating."