Politics

Federal media agency's employee review sparks fears of another staff purge

Key Points
  • CEO Michael Pack is reviewing employment agreements of longtime U.S. Agency for Global Media officials, prompting fears of a new purge.
  • The review is meant to target senior managers at Radio Free Asia, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the Middle East Broadcasting Network.
  • It's unclear what exactly Pack is looking for within his review, but several people familiar with the effort fear that this could be leading to another round of cuts. 
Michael Pack
Source: US Senate

President Donald Trump's pick to lead the U.S. Agency for Global Media could be on the brink of making another staffing purge.

Michael Pack, CEO of the federal agency, has instructed his team to start requesting and reviewing copies of  employment agreements of longtime senior officials, according to people with knowledge of the matter. 

The review, which recently was initiated by Pack and his new leadership team, is meant to target senior managers at Radio Free Asia, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks, according to the people, who declined to be named as it is considered an ongoing private matter. 

One person noted that one of Pack's deputies has been looking for copies of corporate board meeting minutes dating back at least two years. 

The decision to look into the agreements with senior officials comes just weeks after Pack installed Trump loyalists in top posts and fired heads of the entities under the agency. Several of the posts affected were at networks currently seeing their employment agreements reviewed. 

Pack has moved ahead with installing interim network heads, including Jeffrey Shapiro, who was reportedly an ally of former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and now leads the Office of Cuba Broadcasting. Pack himself also once worked with Bannon on multiple film projects. 

It's unclear what exactly Pack is looking for within his review, but several people familiar with the effort fear that this could be leading to another round of cuts. They also worry that it is another example of how the new CEO is trying to turn the media groups into more conservative news outlets. An employment agreement often lays out a person's salary, benefits, the expectations of a job and sometimes a time frame of employment. 

A spokesman for agency did not dispute the review and would not rule out future overhauls at the agency. 

"CEO Pack is examining all aspects of the taxpayer-funded USAGM, which has been beleaguered by an absence of effective leadership for many years," the spokesman said Monday. "The president, the American people, and the Senate — which confirmed him to a three-year term last month — want him to carry out bold and meaningful changes." 

Pack is clashing with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Some, particularly Democrats, question whether he has the authority to make such changes. 

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, which reviewed and confirmed Pack's nomination, called on the State Department inspector general to investigate whether the Pack broke a long standing rule when he fired the network heads.

A group of bipartisan senators, including Republicans Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham, co-authored a letter to Pack, signaling their displeasure with his latest decisions. They said they intend to review the agency's funding. 

Pack also was ensnared in a lawsuit brought on behalf of the Open Technology Fund, an internet freedom organization under his agency. The lawsuit argued that Pack's termination of people in leadership positions was unlawful. But a judge recently ruled in favor of the CEO, suggesting he had the authority to take such actions. 

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