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Before the Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights, 
and Oversight, Committee on Foreign Affairs, House of Representatives: 

United States Government Accountability Office: 

For Release on Delivery: 
Expected at 10:00 a.m. EST:
Wednesday, June 17, 2009: 

Broadcasting To Cuba: 

Observations Regarding TV Martí's Strategy and Operations: 

Statement of Jess T. Ford, Director:
International Affairs and Trade: 


[End of section] 

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee: 

I am pleased to be here today to discuss GAO's work on U.S. television 
broadcasting to Cuba. The United States has been broadcasting to Cuba 
for more than two decades via Radio Martí and, subsequently, TV Martí 
to "break the information blockade" and promote freedom and democracy 
in Cuba. U.S. television broadcasting to Cuba is performed by the 
Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB), which is a U.S. government entity, 
overseen by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), and based in 
Miami.[Footnote 1] OCB operates TV Martí, which broadcasts news, 
commentary, and entertainment programming to Cuba. From the inception 
of these broadcasting efforts, various questions have been raised 
regarding their purpose, quality, and effectiveness. In light of the 
more than $500 million that has been spent over the years on 
broadcasting to Cuba and OCB's almost $35 million annual budget, we 
have reviewed a variety of issues related to the effectiveness of OCB's 
television broadcasts. 

Since the inception of TV Martí in 1990, GAO has reported on 
longstanding weaknesses in TV Martí's operations.[Footnote 2] My 
remarks today will be based on two recent GAO reports, issued in July 
2008 and January 2009.[Footnote 3] Based on your interest, my remarks 
today will focus mainly on key observations regarding TV Martí. These 
observations include the following: 

1. OCB's approach for broadcasting and what is known about the size of 
TV Martí's audience in Cuba. 

2. How BBG and OCB ensure TV Martí's compliance with journalistic 

3. The steps taken to ensure that U.S. television broadcasting to Cuba 
adheres to domestic and international broadcasting laws, agreements, 
and standards. 

4. The steps that BBG and OCB have taken to address management and 
oversight challenges. 

5. BBG's International Broadcasting Bureau's (IBB) contract award 
process for television broadcasting to Cuba. 

In brief, Mr. Chairman, we found certain actions are needed to improve 
the strategy and operations of U.S. television broadcasting efforts to 
Cuba. To assist decisionmakers in formulating the U.S. broadcasting 
strategy and making funding decisions, we recommended that BBG assemble 
data to help decisionmakers assess the effectiveness and return on 
investment of OCB's various transmission methods. We also made 
recommendations in other areas, such as operations and contracting 
practices, which BBG said it will implement. 

Broadcasting Approach and Audience Size: 

OCB broadcasts TV Martí to Cuba through multiple transmission methods, 
but the best available research indicates that its audience is small. 
To overcome the Cuban government's efforts to jam its signals, OCB 
broadcasts TV Martí through an "over-the-air" broadcast via an airplane 
(or AeroMartí), two satellites (DirecTV and Hispasat), and the 
Internet. Figure 1 shows--in the absence of Cuban jamming--the 
projected coverage, cost, and broadcast schedule of selected TV Martí 

Figure 1: Coverage, Cost, and Broadcast Schedule of Selected TV Martí 

[Refer to PDF for image: illustration] 

Coverage: TV Martí – DirecTV satellite (TV Martí via TV Azteca on 
DirecTV satellite); 
Transmission coverage: South Florida; most of Cuba, excluding the 
southeastern one-third; 
Cost: Approximately $500,000 per year; 
Schedule: 3˝ hours per day, 5 days a week (2 hours per day on 

Coverage: TV Martí - AeroMartí (TV Martí via AeroMartí); 
Transmission coverage: in the absence of jamming, coverage extends over 
the greater Havana area of the island; 
Cost: Approximately $5 million per year for air services and fuel; 
Schedule: 4˝ hours per day, 6 days a week. 

The illustration also contains a map of Cuba depicting the following 
population densities in people per square mile: 
0 to 170; 
171 to 230; 
231 to 340; 
341 to 6,580. 

Sources: GAO analysis of Office of Cuba Broadcasting and International 
Broadcasting Bureau data; Nova Development (clip art); Map Art and Map 
Info (maps); and Cuba National Statistical Office (population density 

[End of figure] 

During the past 3 years, OCB has allocated significantly more of its 
resources for additional TV Martí transmissions, particularly the 
airplane, than Radio Martí transmissions. Due to the U.S. government's 
lack of access to Cuba, OCB has difficulty obtaining nationally 
representative data on its audience size. In addition, decisionmakers 
have limited information to help assess the relative success or return 
on investment from each of OCB's various transmission methods. For 
example, it is impossible to determine from IBB's telephone surveys 
whether TV Martí's audience is due to AeroMartí, which costs about $5.0 
million annually, or the DirecTV transmission, which costs about $0.5 
million annually. While there are no nationally representative data on 
the size of OCB's audience, the best available audience research--IBB 
telephone surveys--indicates that TV Martí's audience size is small. 
[Footnote 4] Specifically, less than 1 percent of respondents to IBB 
telephone surveys since 2003 reported that they had watched TV Martí 
during the past week.[Footnote 5] Notably, results from the 2006 and 
2008 telephone surveys show no increase in reported TV Martí viewership 
following the launch of AeroMartí and DirecTV broadcasting in 2006. OCB 
broadcasts face jamming by the Cuban government. However, despite some 
efforts by IBB and OCB, they still lack reliable data on the number, 
type, and effectiveness of the signal jammers. As a result, it is 
unclear how much of the television signals can be heard and seen in 

Also, while OCB officials emphasized the changing media environment in 
Cuba and an increase in domestic and international broadcast 
competition as challenges for OCB in attracting and maintaining an 
audience, OCB could do more to address the challenges posed by its 
competitors in the Cuban media environment. Furthermore, although BBG 
coordinates with other agencies regarding U.S. policy toward Cuba, 
coordination is minimal on issues such as audience research. Finally, 
even though the United States has been broadcasting to Cuba for more 
than two decades, OCB lacks a formal strategic plan approved by BBG to 
guide decision-making on its funding and operations, such as its recent 
proposal to change TV Martí's newscasts' schedule from two, half hour 
evening newscasts to five minute news updates every half hour in fiscal 
year 2010. 

Compliance with Journalistic Standards: 

IBB's annual reviews have identified problems with TV Martí broadcasts' 
adherence to certain journalistic standards, but IBB's review process 
has some weaknesses. IBB has an annual program review process that 
serves as the main tool for assessing TV Martí broadcasts' compliance 
with journalistic standards, such as accuracy, balance, and 
objectivity. Since 2003, IBB reviews have made recommendations to 
improve TV Martí's adherence to certain journalistic standards, 
particularly related to ensuring balance and objectivity. However, OCB 
staff have received little training regarding compliance with 
journalistic standards and, in general, OCB has not ensured full 
implementation of IBB's recommendations. IBB has recently developed a 
process for improving its oversight of the implementation of such 
recommendations. While we found that IBB's process provides useful 
feedback regarding broadcast content and production quality, we 
identified several aspects of the process that could be improved. For 
example, IBB's qualitative reviews lacked consistency in their 
methodology and reporting and often do not clearly state whether the 
broadcasts are in full compliance with journalistic standards. In 
addition, while the program analysts who perform the reviews receive 
training regarding language, regional expertise, and technical 
production, they have received limited training for skills--such as 
program evaluation--that would assist them in conducting program 

Adherence to Domestic and International Broadcasting Laws, Agreements, 
and Standards: 

While IBB and OCB have taken a variety of steps to help ensure that 
U.S. television broadcasting to Cuba adheres to domestic and 
international broadcasting laws, agreements, and standards, several 
concerns remain. The Smith-Mundt Act[Footnote 6] generally prohibits 
the domestic dissemination of public diplomacy information intended for 
foreign audiences, although legislation authorizing TV Martí allows 
some domestic dissemination in limited circumstances. IBB and OCB have 
taken a variety of steps to minimize the domestic dissemination of TV 
Martí programming. For example, according to IBB officials, in deciding 
which television station to contract with to place TV Martí programming 
on DirecTV, they evaluated the geographic coverage of each station's 
broadcasting, with the intent of minimizing domestic dissemination. 
However, TV Martí broadcasts reach U.S. audiences in several ways. For 
example, residents of Miami can watch TV Martí programming on local 
cable or DirecTV, and anyone can access streaming video from OCB's Web 
site. In addition, some commercials shown by a Miami television station 
contracted to air TV Martí programming had contained paid political 
advertisements during the programming, which IBB typically prohibits. 
BBG officials told us the standard contract language prohibiting the 
airing of political advertisements was inadvertently left out of the 
contract with the Miami television station. According to these 
officials, they have taken steps to address this problem. However, no 
similar standard contract language prohibiting other potentially 
inappropriate commercials existed, at that time. Finally, in response 
to complaints by the Cuban government, the international body that 
serves as a forum for such disputes--the International 
Telecommunication Union--found that U.S. television broadcasts cause 
harmful interference with Cuban broadcasts. State officials indicated 
that no action had been taken in response to the International 
Telecommunication Union's determinations that U.S. television 
broadcasts caused harmful interference. 

Management and Oversight Challenges: 

Despite some efforts by BBG and OCB, some oversight and management 
problems persist. Several entities--including BBG, IBB, and the State 
Office of Inspector General--provide oversight of OCB operations. For 
example, the State Office of Inspector General has performed three 
inspections and audits related to OCB since 1999, each of which 
resulted in multiple recommendations. These various oversight efforts 
have identified three main categories of problems in recent years: poor 
communication by OCB management, low employee morale, and allegations 
of fraud and abuse.[Footnote 7] For example, the State Office of 
Inspector General has reported on OCB employee desire to improve 
communication, and a recent Office of Personnel Management survey found 
that a majority of OCB employees who responded expressed concern about 
the information they receive from management on what is going on in the 
organization. OCB employees have specifically expressed frustration 
with the lack of any formal system for disseminating information from 
management to staff or for staff to provide input to management. In 
responding to recent audit reports, BBG and OCB have taken steps to 
address nearly all of the auditors' recommendations. 

Contracting Practices: 

In July 2008, we reported on our evaluation of the processes that IBB 
used to award a contract to a Miami-based broadcasting television 
station to broadcast TV Martí. In December 2006, IBB leased airtime on 
TV Azteca, a commercial television station in Miami that is carried on 
the DirecTV satellite. However, IBB's approach for awarding the TV 
Azteca contract did not reflect sound business practices in certain key 
aspects. Government contracting laws and regulations provide agencies 
flexibility to use noncompetitive procedures, if adequately justified, 
to meet their needs. In certain respects, however, IBB did not document 
in its contract files key information or assumptions underlying its 
decisions to not seek competitive offers, limit the number of potential 
providers it considered, or the basis used to negotiate the final 
prices for the services provided. In addition, IBB did not actively 
involve its contracting office until just prior to contract award. 
Furthermore, while justifying the December 2006 award of the contract 
on the basis of urgent and compelling need and the determination that 
only one source would meet its minimum needs, IBB chose to exercise 
multiple options on the contract to extend the period of performance 
into 2008 and took limited steps to determine how it might compete 
future broadcasting requirements. Collectively, these weaknesses 
underscored the need for IBB and OCB to improve their practices to 
enhance competition, improve transparency, and ensure accountability. 

Prior Recommendations: 

In our July 2008 and January 2009 reports, we made several 
recommendations to BBG to improve OCB's strategy and operations. We 
recommended that BBG conduct an analysis of the relative return on 
investment from OCB's various transmission methods and coordinate with 
other agencies, such as the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. 
Agency for International Development, to obtain additional information 
regarding the obstacles and effectiveness of TV Martí. We also 
recommended that BBG direct IBB to enhance guidance and training for 
program analysts conducting program reviews and take steps to ensure 
that political or other inappropriate advertisements do not air during 
OCB programming. In addition, we recommended that BBG direct OCB to 
provide staff with training regarding journalistic standards and 
establish mechanisms to improve communication with employees. With 
regards to contracting, we recommended that the BBG reinforce existing 
policy and guidance to plan for and employ appropriate competitive 
approaches, adequately document key decisions, and ensure the timely 
involvement of stakeholders. 

Following the issuance of our reports, BBG indicated that it would take 
steps to address our recommendations. For example, to address our 
recommendation that OCB conduct an analysis of the relative success and 
return on investment of OCB's individual transmission methods, BBG 
indicated that it would conduct this analysis using surveys that 
include questions on the reception of OCB's various transmission 
methods. In response to our recommendations, BBG also indicated that it 
aimed to provide an enhanced, comprehensive training for its program 
analysts who review OCB's compliance with journalistic standards, as 
well as training to OCB staff regarding journalistic standards. With 
regards to contracting, IBB issued a memorandum reminding all offices 
of critical acquisition requirements, including the need to ensure that 
acquisition files are thoroughly documented with all information and 
assumptions supporting key decision factors. 

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my prepared statement. I will be happy to 
answer any questions you or the other Subcommittee members may have. 

GAO Contact and Staff Acknowledgments: 

For more information regarding this testimony, please contact me at 
(202) 512-4128 or Jason Bair (Assistant Director), Emily 
Gupta, Leigh Ann Nally, and Katherine Trimble made key contributions to 
this testimony. Technical assistance was provided by Joseph Carney, 
Martin De Alteriis, John Hutton, Ernie Jackson, Armetha Liles, and 
Elizabeth Singer. 

[End of section] 


[1] The BBG also oversees the operations of the International 
Broadcasting Bureau (IBB), which provides broadcasting services to OCB. 

[2] GAO, Broadcasts to Cuba: TV Martí Surveys are Flawed, [hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: Aug. 
9, 1990); GAO, TV Martí: Costs and Compliance with Broadcast Standards 
and International Agreements, [hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: May 6, 
1992); GAO, U.S. Information Agency: Issues Related to Reinvention 
Planning in the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, [hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: May 
13, 1996). 

[3] GAO, Broadcasting to Cuba: Weaknesses in Contracting Practices 
Reduced Visibility into Selected Award Decisions, [hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: July 11, 
2008) and GAO, Broadcasting to Cuba: Actions Are Needed to Improve 
Strategy and Operations, [hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: January 22, 
2009). Both of these reports were conducted in accordance with 
generally accepted government auditing standards. 

[4] Other information suggests that TV Martí's audience may be larger. 
For example, 21 percent of recent Cuban émigrés responding to a 
nonrandom, 2007 OCB survey reported watching TV Martí within the last 6 
months before leaving Cuba. However, these results likely do not 
represent the actual size of TV Martí's audience. 

[5] IBB's telephone surveys are IBB's only random data collection 
effort in Cuba, but these data might not be representative of Cubans' 
media habits for two main reasons: (1) Only adults in homes with 
published telephone numbers are surveyed, and, according to BBG 
documents, approximately 17 percent of Cuban adults live in households 
with published telephone numbers; and (2) BBG and OCB officials noted 
that, because individuals in Cuba are discouraged or prohibited by 
their government from watching U.S. international broadcasts, they 
might be fearful of responding to media surveys and disclosing their 
media habits, and thus actual audience size might be larger than survey 
results. However, in each of the telephone surveys conducted since 
2005, interviewers indicated that 6 percent or less of respondents 
expressed or demonstrated signs of fear when answering questions over 
the telephone. 

[6] 22 U.S.C. § 1461. Originally enacted as Section 501 of the U.S. 
Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948, this law is commonly 
known as the Smith-Mundt Act. 

[7] One allegation of fraud and abuse, which BBG brought to the 
attention of the State Office of Inspector General, has been 
substantiated in recent years. Investigators from our Office of 
Forensic Audits and Special Investigation found some indications of 
mismanagement, but much of the evidence was anecdotal or hearsay and 
did not provide a sufficient basis upon which to continue the 

[End of section] 

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