“[T]he research was to be utilized in evaluating career civil servants’ abilities to carry out the duties of their positions,” the complaint reads.
The complaint says that Grant Turner, who was pushed out as USAGM’s chief financial officer in August, three months ago started telling the State IG that the media group’s CEO Michael Pack and top lawyer Mora Namdar were violating the law in pressuring his office to withhold congressionally appropriated money from USAGM’s Office of Cuba Broadcasting in violation of the Anti-Deficiency Act, a law that prohibits agencies from spending money that they don’t properly have on their books.
Turner, who testified in front of Congress last week, also alleges that Pack “crossed the firewall” that is meant to protect the journalistic independence of USAGM’s news networks from political interference, including by removing an Urdu journalist who had done a piece on former Vice President Joe Biden. All six of the officials who filed the whistleblower complaint were removed from their posts on the same day in August but remain at the agency on “investigative leave.”
The complaint also details concerns former chief strategy officer Shawn Powers raised internally about how a freeze on spending was putting the organization’s journalists in danger.
“Mr. Powers raised urgent concerns regarding the impact that Mr. Pack’s spending freeze was having on USAGM’s ability to support internet freedom tools in Hong Kong amidst the ongoing Chinese crackdown and takeover of local governing authorities,” the complaint says. “Mr. Powers specifically pointed out that the spending freeze was placing USAGM’s journalists at grave risk, and that the funds needed to be released to ensure that both USAGM’s journalists and its audience were safe from surveillance and persecution. Mr. Pack’s failure to support the internet freedom tools created a specific physical danger to USAGM journalists.”
Powers also made a “protected disclosure” to a staffer for Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, about how Pack’s reorganization had led to a “substantial reduction” in his duties without first providing a mandatory 14-day notifcation to Congress. Powers, who was worried about reprisal for disclosing this information to Congress and was in fact removed from his job in August, also told the Menendez staffer that he feared Pack was going to circumvent a congressional hold on $7 million in appropriations in order to cover expenses for the Cuba broadcasting office.
Another of the six officials who filed the complaint, Marie Lennon, who was director of management services, alleges that the Office of Personnel Management had said that USAGM had exceeded its authority in trying to hire four new staffers for temporary positions and that she was worried that Pack was bringing these people on board to “politicize” USAGM.
After she raised concerns about this to Cullo and USAGM chief of staff Emily Newman, Lennon says, she lost her access to classified information in a “clear and explicit retaliatory action.”
Controversial hires have continued despite the criticism. The latest example is Robert W. Patterson, who