H.R. 4490, United States International Communications Reform Act of 2014

H.R. 4490

United States International Communications Reform Act of 2014

Sponsor
Rep. Ed Royce

Date
July 28, 2014 (113th Congress, 2nd Session)

Staff Contact
Communications

Floor Situation

On Monday, July 28, 2014, the House will consider H.R. 4490, the United States International Communications Reform Act of 2014, under suspension of the rules.  H.R. 4490 was introduced on April 28, 2014 by Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) and was referred to the House Foreign Affairs Committee.  The bill was marked up on April 30, 2014 and was ordered reported, as amended, by unanimous consent.[1]

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[1] House Committee Report 113-541.

Bill Summary

H.R. 4490 makes several core reforms to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of U.S. international broadcasting. H.R. 4490 reestablishes standards for U.S. international broadcasting[2] and restricts the areas eligible for broadcasting.[3]  A waiver is provided for areas that do not meet the criteria, if broadcasting is in the U.S.’s national security interest or would protect U.S. citizens.

H.R. 4490 establishes within the executive branch a federal agency—the United States International Communications Agency (“Agency”)—that consolidates Voice of America and the offices of the International Broadcasting Bureau.  The composition, structure, and compensation of the Agency’s Board[4] are similar to the current Board of the Broadcasting Board of Governors; however, H.R. 4490 reduces the authorities of the Board to more of an advisory capacity.  H.R. 4490 instead establishes a full-time Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Agency to supervise all international broadcasting activities and perform a broad range of related duties, including reviewing all engineering activities to ensure the highest quality broadcast, identifying areas where U.S. broadcasting could be more efficient, and obligating and expending relevant appropriated funds.

H.R. 4490 clarifies the principles of the Voice of America (VOA), making explicit its mission to support U.S. public diplomacy efforts and serve as an authoritative source of information and news on the U.S. in foreign countries.  H.R. 4490 makes the Director of VOA subordinate to the CEO of the Agency.

H.R. 4490 consolidates Radio Free Europe-Radio Freedom (RFE/RF), Radio Free Asia (RFA), and the Middle East Broadcasting Network (MBN) into a single, non-federal, non-profit organization, the Freedom News Network (FNN).  The bill allows the brand names of the organizations to continue to be used by FNN as appropriate.  H.R. 4490 clarifies that FNN’s mission is to provide uncensored local news and information to people in closed societies, and that its content should be consistent with U.S. foreign policy objectives.  The bill abolishes the boards of RFE/RL, RFA, and MBN, creating instead a single FNN Board that will select a CEO for FNN.  The board is to be a private board (not presidentially appointed and Senate confirmed), and is responsible for filling its own vacancies.

H.R. 4490 requires the CEOs of the Agency and the FNN to vet and monitor employees for affiliations to terrorist organizations and foreign governments to protect against espionage, sabotage, foreign propaganda messaging, and other subversive activities.  H.R. 4490 mandates annual authorization prior to the appropriation of funds for the Agency and the FNN.

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[2] The bill provides that all U.S. international broadcasting should be 1) consistent with U.S. foreign policy objectives; 2) consistent with international telecommunications policies and treaty obligations of the U.S.; 3) non-duplicative of private U.S. broadcaster activities; 4) conducted in accordance with the highest professional standards of broadcast journalism; 5) based on reliable, research-based information; 6) designed to reach a significant audience; and 7)  promote free expression, religion, and respect for human rights and human equality.
[3] U.S. international broadcasting may be conducted only in countries and regions that 1) lack democratic rule; 2) prevent media organizations and journalists from operating freely; 3) lack established, domestic, and widely accessible media that provides accurate, objective, and comprehensive news and programming; and 4) by virtue of the foregoing criteria, would benefit U.S. national security.
[4] The Board is comprised of nine voting members, including 8 voting members appointed by the President with the advise and consent of the Senate, and the Secretary of State, who is also a voting member.

Background

“Modern U.S. government-funded international broadcasting began during World War II with the creation of VOA, and continued throughout the Cold War period with RFE broadcasting behind the Iron Curtain, and RL targeting populations in the former Soviet Union.  Over the decades, VOA expanded its broadcasting and language services into other regions of the world, including the Middle East, Asia, Latin America, and Africa. Later, new services for Cuba and East Asia were initiated. Most recently, in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, significant new resources and services were introduced to reach the peoples of the Middle East and Central and South Asia.”

Debates over the effectiveness and structure of U.S. international broadcasting have continued for the length of its existence.  The creation of the nine-member BBG in the 1990s and its establishment as an independent government agency did not quell these concerns.  According to the Foreign Affairs Committee, “five U.S. international broadcasting entities report to the [BBG], a group of 9 part-time individuals, who meet once a month to make management decisions.  Important decisions can languish if the Board does not have a quorum, which is often the case.”  H.R. 4490 addresses this by establishing a full-time agency head and reducing the role of the Board to an advisory capacity.  These and other reforms have been recommended by GAO and the State Department’s Office of Inspector General.  Aside from structural issues, concerns also persist about the efficiency and overall strategic role and direction of international broadcasting.  H.R. 4490 provides guidance and oversight regarding these issues as well.

Cost

According to CBO estimates, implementing H.R. 4490 would cost $3.7 billion from 2015-2019, assuming appropriation of the necessary funds—a cost of $160 million below the current baseline projection for the same period.  The bill would have an insignificant impact on direct spending and would not affect revenues.

Additional Information

For questions or further information contact the GOP Conference at 5-5107.