Voice of America:

Management Actions Needed to Adjust to a Changing Environment

NSIAD-92-150: Published: Jul 24, 1992. Publicly Released: Jul 24, 1992.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the Voice of America's (VOA): (1) progress toward modernizing its facilities; (2) steps to cut programs and operations in response to decreased funding; and (3) actions to adopt broadcasting strategies reflecting changing technologies and world events.

GAO found that: (1) a 1983 VOA plan appropriated $1.3 billion, of which VOA spent $31 million on ultimately discontinued stations; (2) VOA has not performed complete cost-benefit analyses on modernization projects; (3) by conducting studies and cost-benefit analyses, VOA could adapt to changing world environments and avoid high construction and modernization costs; (4) VOA spends little on audience research and lacks current audience information; (5) VOA now broadcasts in 47 languages and may be required to add broadcasts in new languages; (6) VOA receives little input from the U.S. foreign affairs community on allocating its resources and targeting audiences; (7) changing world events and new technology affect VOA broadcast strategy, facility plans, and broadcast languages; (8) increases in foreign information resources decrease the VOA audience; (9) VOA continues to rely on shortwave broadcasts, and is considering alternatives, including direct satellite broadcasting, medium wave broadcasts, and using local media for rebroadcasting; and (10) increased resource sharing between VOA and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) would be cost-efficient.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: VOA plans to reduce broadcast hours, direct broadcasts, and the number of languages broadcast in response to a reorganization now taking place as a result of the U.S. International Broadcasting Act of 1994. This act brings RFE/FL into USIA and reduces the resources devoted to U.S. international broadcasting.

    Recommendation: The Director, USIA, should increase the priority the agency assigns to audience research, increase the agency's media research, and direct the Associate Director, Bureau of Broadcasting, to consider reducing the number of languages it broadcasts to correspond more closely with available resources.

    Agency Affected: United States Information Agency

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: A new VOA office is charged with audience relations, including the analysis of mail. VOA will use the analyses in its engineering and programming decisionmaking. VOA is very pleased with the results of its efforts to date.

    Recommendation: The Director, USIA, should increase the priority the agency assigns to audience research, increase the agency's media research, and direct the Associate Director, Bureau of Broadcasting, to analyze and respond to audience mail and provide information from these activities to the VOA programming and engineering departments.

    Agency Affected: United States Information Agency

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USIA has increased staffing of its Office of Research. Much of the work done by the new staff will be used to support VOA.

    Recommendation: The Director, USIA, should increase the priority the agency assigns to audience research, increase the agency's media research, and direct the Associate Director, Bureau of Broadcasting, to increase audience research to help identify the most beneficial modernization projects and tailor program content, resource allocations and broadcast facility operations to the audience's needs and preferences.

    Agency Affected: United States Information Agency

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: VOA has developed a methodology for analyzing its construction projects. VOA has advised GAO, however, that it had not used the methodology. GAO issued a follow-up report (Voice of America: Stations Modernization Projects Need to Be Justified, NSIAD-94-69, January 24, 1994), restating this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Director, United States Information Agency (USIA), should increase the priority the agency assigns to audience research, increase the agency's media research, and direct the Associate Director, Bureau of Broadcasting, to require fully documented cost-benefit analyses, before approving further modernization proposals, that have considered: (1) project alternatives, including no action, refurbishment, replacement, expansion, and new construction; (2) the potential audience improvement that could be achieved by each project alternative based on audience research data; and (3) the risks to project completion, such as political unrest and future funding shortfalls.

    Agency Affected: United States Information Agency

  5. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: VOA plans to continue its consultation with the foreign affairs community in setting language priorities. This issue will also be addressed with the proposed merger of VOA and RFE/RL. A new Board of Governors will oversee the broadcasters and will establish new broadcast priorities for the combined entity.

    Recommendation: The Director, USIA, should increase the priority the agency assigns to audience research, increase the agency's media research, and direct the Associate Director, Bureau of Broadcasting, to consult with the State Department, the National Security Council, and other members of the U.S. foreign affairs community, through the Policy Coordinating Committee or a similar mechanism, in determining its language broadcast priorities.

    Agency Affected: United States Information Agency

 

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