Broadcasting Chief Fires Back Against Misconduct Allegations

The chairman of the agency that oversees Voice of America and other U.S. overseas broadcasts defended his record Friday against allegations of misconduct and vowed to stay on the job.

A summary of a report by the State Department's inspector general, released Tuesday, said Kenneth Tomlinson misused government funds as chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

On Wednesday, Andy Fisher, spokesman for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the panel had taken no action to recommend approval or disapproval of President Bush's renomination of Tomlinson in January 2005 while the investigation was under way "and does not intend to now."

Under the 1994 law that created the board, Tomlinson can remain at his post until a successor is confirmed.

In an interview Friday upon his return from an international broadcasting conference in Berlin, Tomlinson said that is what he intends to do. And he said he was prepared to answer any questions put to him by Congressional Republicans and Democrats.

"I am very proud of my record," he said.

Among accomplishments he cited were obtaining funds for U.S. satellite television broadcasting to Iran and expanded broadcasts to Afghanistan.

"We would not have satellite television to Tehran if we had not done what I did in 2003 with the help of Congress and the administration," Tomlinson said.

There are four hours of telecasts to Iran daily, repeated three times a day, and round the clock television to the Arab world. Tomlinson said he helped to get the initial funding.

He flatly disputed accusations in the report that he hired a friend as a consultant and overbilled for his time.

Tomlinson said the consultant, Lee Daniels, was a 35-year veteran of the Voice of America whom he first met in 1982 and asked VOA to bring him back from retirement.

"He is qualified in putting stuff on the air and he knows more about how the VOA works than most senior executives," Tomlinson said. "He is not a neighbor. He is not a political friend. I do consider him a friend."

On overbilling allegations, Tomlinson said that while critics argue that the law limits him to pay for 130 days a year, "everyone knows we are treating this as a full-time job."

And so, Tomlinson said he billed for eight hours a day even when he often worked many more hours.

Reps. Howard Berman and Tom Lantos, California Democrats, and Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., said in a statement earlier this week that they were outraged by what has emerged from the investigation that they requested last year.

They said in a letter to Bush that the results of the investigation left no doubt that Tomlinson had violated public trust and Bush's own ethical standards.

"We urge you to immediately remove Mr. Tomlinson from his position and to take all necessary steps to restore the integrity of the Broadcasting Board of Governors," they wrote.

Tomlinson's term expired in 2004, but he stayed on under board rules which permit him to continue until a replacement is confirmed, Fisher said.