CPB’s Proposed Reforms Fall Short

Common Cause

Center for Digital Democracy

CPB’s Proposed Reforms Fall Short

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting has taken important first steps to ending political tests in hiring and offering protection to whistle-blowers. However, the CPB appears unwilling to make changes that would ensure more transparency and accountability. That’s the conclusion of a new analysis of CPB governance policies by Common Cause and the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD).

Common Cause and CDD urged the CPB board, at its meeting today, to demonstrate that it is willing to adopt the substantive and necessary reforms that would restore integrity and public accountability to the scandal-plagued agency. As the attached analysis illustrates, the proposals under consideration by the CPB Board to date fall far short of what has been recommended.

“The CPB must realize that these governance and ethics issues aren’t going away,” said Common Cause President Chellie Pingree. “Creating committees to recommend anemic reforms isn’t good enough. It’s long past time to adopt unimpeachable policies that ensure the CPB – which makes decisions about how taxpayer dollars are to be spent – operates above board and with complete public transparency.”

The CPB has been struggling to change its flawed governance process for nearly a year. In July 2005, public interest groups, including Common Cause and CDD, asked for specific governance reforms in the wake of scandals involving former CPB chairman Kenneth Tomlinson. In November 2005, the CPB’s own Inspector General also made a series of recommendations to improve the agency’s corporate governance processes, after finding evidence of partisan hiring and other wrongdoing by CPB’s top management. To respond to these calls for reform, the CPB created a Corporate Governance Committee and an Executive Compensation Committee.

On April 7, the CPB’s Corporate Governance Committee rejected proposed financial disclosure requirements, questioning whether such disclosures were material to their work at CPB, and raising concerns that personal information could be leaked. “CPB board members should have nothing to hide from the public. Yet, the board sent back for revision a safeguard recommended by staff that would require full financial disclosure,” said Jeffrey Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy. “It appears that the current CPB board leadership isn’t interested in serious governance rules.”

The full CPB Board is meeting on May 1 and 2 to consider a slate of policies related to ethics, conflicts of interest, open meetings procedures, whistle-blower protections and other public accountability measures.


Reform Groups’ Recommendations

(first issued July 2005)

January 2006 Actions / Analysis

April 2006 Actions / Analysis

CPB shall make its quarterly board meetings available to the public, via real-time online, video, audio and other communications. All other corporation meetings open to the public, including board committees, shall also be available electronically. CPB shall archive such meetings for public viewing. All CPB board agenda items shall be made available to the public reflecting their full record, including any background documents used for decision-making.

CPB: No action.

CPB: “Audio files of all open meetings of the full Board will be posted on the CPB website.”

Problems Remaining: The public does not have real-time online access to Board meetings. Committee meetings that are open to the public are not required to be made available to the public via real-time communications, nor are audio recordings or transcripts required to be disclosed after meetings. This poses a danger that CPB could address substantive business in committee meetings rather than before the full Board to avoid public disclosure. Background documents used by the Board for decision-making are still not disclosed to the public.

CPB shall make available, via online and archived files, conflict-of-interest statements filed by all directors.

CPB: No action.

CPB: “Completed [conflict of interest] questionnaires shall be available for inspection by any Board member.”

Problems Remaining: Conflict of interest statements do not have to be disclosed to the public.

CPB shall permit members of the public to speak at open meetings, within reasonable limits of schedule, by providing notice the morning of said meeting.

CPB: No action.

CPB: The organization will “continue its practice” of notifying the public about open meetings.

Problems Remaining: No language about giving the public opportunities to speak at Board meetings.

No member of the CPB board, including its chair, shall approve a contract without the knowledge of the entire board. Such a contract must have the support of a majority of the staff in accordance with the corporation’s rules and bylaws. Any such contract shall immediately be made public.

CPB: The Board must be notified of any contract of $250,000 or more that is related to “non-program related activities,” and must approve any such contract of $1 million or more.

Problems Remaining: Large contracts (up to $999,999) for “non-program related activities” can still be awarded without the support of a majority of the board. No language about making contracts public.

CPB: No action.

CPB shall not conduct any studies or reports on public broadcasting programming without first informing PBS, NPR or the relevant public broadcasting organizations of its intent to do so. Prior to such a contract, CPB shall receive comments in writing from the appropriate public broadcasting entities about the merits of such a study. Only then shall the board vote on the proposed study. Such studies shall immediately be made available to the public.

CPB: The Board must approve of any “engagement of consultants to review or analyze the content of public broadcasting programming.”

Problems Remaining: Public broadcast stations/networks still do not have to be notified before studies of their programming are undertaken. No language about making the research results public.

CPB: No action.

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