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U.S. International Broadcasting: New Strategic Approach Focuses on Reaching Large Audiences but Lacks Measurable Program Objectives, GAO-03-772, July 2003

Results in brief

Consistent with its new strategic approach to broadcasting, the Board has initiated several new programs focusing on attracting larger audiences in priority markets and supporting the war on terrorism. Launched in March 2002, Radio Sawa in the Middle East replaced VOA’s Arabic-language service and represents the Board's first attempt to implement the new tailored approach to broadcasting. Based on extensive research of the target audience, Radio Sawa incorporates brief news bulletins in a popular music format aimed at young listeners. A new initiative in Afghanistan called the Afghanistan Radio Network and a language service to Iran called Radio Farda also have adhered to the Board's new broadcasting approach and support the Board’s efforts in the war on terrorism. Estimated start-up and recurring costs for these three projects through fiscal year 2003 total about $116 million. As funds become available, the Board intends to launch other high-priority projects using its new broadcasting approach, such as an Arabic language television network in the Middle East.

While the Board’s new approach to broadcasting is based on the need to reach large audiences in priority markets, there is not a single long-term strategic goal or related program objective to gauge the Board’s success in increasing audience size. Further, the strategic goals that are included in the plan (for example, employing modern broadcast techniques, assuring broadcaster credibility, and telling America’s story) are not supported by measurable program objectives and do not provide a basis for assessing the Board’s performance in these key areas. While we recognize that measuring impact is complex, we identified a number of key effectiveness measures that could form a starting point for creating measurable program objectives that support the full range of the Board’s strategic goals. These measures include audience size in specific markets; audience awareness of BBG broadcasting; the credibility of U.S. language service broadcasts; and whether VOA language services effectively present information about U.S. thought, institutions, and policies to target audiences.

The Board’s key challenge in executing its strategy is how to generate large audiences while dealing with a number of market, organizational, and resource issues. The Board identified several shortcomings in U.S. market competitiveness including outdated programs and delivery systems. It plans to overcome these problems by promoting, among other things, new formats and technologies. Topping the list of organizational challenges is the disparate structure of the agency, which consists of seven separate broadcast entities and a mix of federal agency and grantee organizations that must be collectively managed by a part-time Board of Governors. To overcome this challenge, the Board proposes treating the broadcast services of the separate entities as a “single system” under the Board’s direct control and ongoing oversight. While the Board’s solutions to many of its challenges may suffice, our analysis revealed that a number of other program options could be considered in the future if the Board’s efforts falter or prove ineffective. One option would be to further consolidate all entities into one organization to streamline the management structure, simplify budget and programming decisions, and reduce duplicative staff and functions. Finally, the Board has concluded that the agency’s resources are currently spread across too many language services. We found strong support among BBG managers for cutting the number of language services to focus resources on a limited number of priority markets. However, the Board has not established a strategic vision for how many languages should be pursued and what level of overlap and duplication among its many entities is appropriate.

This report makes several recommendations to the Board to help improve agency operations and measurement of program performance. The Board provided written comments on a draft of this report and largely concurred with our report recommendations.

Full Report:
GAO: U.S. International Broadcasting: New Strategic Approach Focuses on Reaching Large Audiences but Lacks Measurable Program Objectives