House Foreign Affairs chair: US media agency chief 'has much to answer for'

House Foreign Affairs chair: US media agency chief 'has much to answer for'
© YouTube/USAGM

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelNYC snafu the latest flub from a broken elections agency Cynthia Nixon backs primary challenger to Rep. Carolyn Maloney Democrats call on Blinken to set new sexual misconduct policies at State Department MORE (D-N.Y.) on Friday reprimanded the head of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) over the agency's refusal to provide updates on the visa status of foreign journalists at the agency.

"Congress’s attempts to seek answers from USAGM on this matter have been met with silence. It’s clear that the agency is just trying to run out the clock until these journalists are forced to leave," Engel said in a statement Friday while issuing a warning to CEO Michael Pack.

The agency acknowledged in July it would not renew the visas of foreign journalists working for its broadcast networks, including Voice of America (VOA), after a report by NPR revealed the plan.

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The agency's front office has since refused to respond to inquiries on the matter from the affected journalists, the head of VOA or members of Congress.

According to sources with knowledge of the situation, two journalists from Indonesia will lose their visas Monday if nothing is done to extend their status.

The journalists, who had been promised a "case-by-case review," were instead sent airplane tickets by the front office to return to their home country.

"Mr. Pack still has time to act to resolve this situation, but make no mistake, he is accountable for what comes next," Engel said Friday. "Any harm that comes to these brave individuals will be a direct result of Michael Pack’s inaction."

The USAGM front office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill.

The agency's broadcasters — VOA, the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, Middle East Broadcasting Networks and the Open Technology Fund — regularly use foreign nationals to fill in posts that require regional or language expertise.

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As a government entity, the media agency must by law first seek out U.S. citizens for positions before offering the roles to foreign nationals.

"Michael Pack’s failure to seek visa extensions for these journalists means that they must leave the country, some of them going home to nations where governments regularly silence and harass journalists. It’s unconscionable that a U.S. Government agency would create such fear and uncertainty for people whom we asked to do a job," wrote Engel.

Pack was confirmed to the CEO post in June and has since overseen the exit of chiefs for all of the agency's five broadcasters, as well as the reconstitution of the advisory board with conservative appointees.

Engel was among the first members of Congress to warn Pack to tread lightly, saying the Foreign Affairs Committee would "keep a very close eye" on the broadcasters under Pack.

And Engel, who lost his primary last month and will not return to Congress next year, said he has asked the departments of State and Homeland Security to extend the journalists' visas, ahead of upcoming testimony by Pack before the panel.

"And I will continue to push USAGM to resolve this issue and to respond to a host of other outstanding requests from Capitol Hill. Mr. Pack is due to testify before the Committee on Foreign Affairs on September 24, and he has much to answer for,” wrote Engel.