MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
The Broadcasting Board of Governors is an obscure federal agency with a tremendous reach. It overseas the Voice of America, Radio Marti, the Arab language Alhurra and most of the rest of the U.S. government's broadcast services abroad.
But on Wednesday, the board will meet to consider problems closer to home. A new investigation, obtained in full by National Public Radio, found that its chairman repeatedly violated federal statutes. The chairman, Kenneth Tomlinson, has been in hot water before.
As NPR's David Folkenflik reports, Tomlinson says it's all politics.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK: The charges against Kenneth Tomlinson sound pretty stark. The State Department inspector general found Tomlinson had improperly hired a friend as a contractor, had staffers run personal errands, charged the government for too many hours on the clock and incredibly operated his horseracing business out of his government office.
Seemingly serous findings, but Tomlinson says they're laughable.
Mr. KENNETH TOMLINSON (Broadcasting Board of Governors): I can't wait for this fight, because the distortions are just not to be believed.
FOLKENFLIK: Tomlinson spoke to NPR in his first extensive remarks about the investigation. He is a conservative with close ties to the Bush administration, who was forced to resign last year from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting after an internal investigation there. Tomlinson blames the new inquiry on the Democrats on the Broadcasting Board of Governors.
Mr. TOMLINSON: You're talking about a report that was generated from partisan differences on this board.
FOLKENFLIK: Two of the three Democrats on the board did not return calls. The third, Joaquin Blaya, declined to comment, as did former Democratic board member Norman Pattiz. The investigation was prompted by three Democratic lawmakers who forwarded complaints about Tomlinson from BBG employees. One of the lawmakers, California Congressman Howard Berman, is calling for Tomlinson's resignation and says the findings are indisputable.
Congressman HOWARD BERMAN (Democrat, California): Each one is serious. Together they show an abuse of office that's quite flagrant.
FOLKENFLIK: So let's walk through some of the charges. The friend Tomlinson hired is Les Daniels. Daniels retired in 1997 from Voice of America after a long career there working on logistics. The two met when Tomlinson led the Voice of America in the early 1980s.
Mr. TOMLINSON: He's been described in the press as “having his job because he's a friend of Ken Tomlinson.” He had the job because he's a real contributor to the Voice of America.
FOLKENFLIK: But the inspector general and the broadcasting agency's lawyers found Tomlinson didn't have the legal authority to put him on the payroll. Tomlinson says Daniels worked on logistics and offered advice on how to boost morale, suggesting an award for teamwork, for example.
Though the contract called for written reports, Tomlinson tells NPR Daniels's reports were delivered verbally to him. Daniels told investigators he shredded his sole written memo because it was so sensitive. Daniels no longer works there and could not be found for comment.
Now let's turn to horse racing. Tomlinson owns several race horses named for Afghan figures at his Virginia stable, Sandy Bayou. He says his off-hours passion is only a minor diversion at work.
Mr. TOMLINSON: How many people have fantasy football leagues? This is part of American life.
FOLKENFLIK: Tomlinson made more than 400 calls from government phones and sent or received more than 1200 e-mails on his official account related to horse racing. He was repeatedly in touch with his horse trainer and even e-mailed a BBG employee and a Senate staffer, promising an investment opportunity and urging them to bet on his horse. Tomlinson says that amounts to just a few minutes a day.
Mr. TOMLINSON: You can't question the contributions I've made in terms of time I've spent on BBG activities. I'm a hard worker.
FOLKENFLIK: In fact, the inspector general found Tomlinson worked too much, saying he violated federal statute over the past three years by charging the government an average of 188 days yearly, well above the 130 days allowed for the part-time position. Tomlinson says his lawyer believes those limits aren't binding.
Mr. TOMLINSON: I came to BBG after 9/11 and after our immersion in the war on terror. I told the White House, I told the Congress and I announced to my colleagues here at the agency that I would be working full-time. There was never one objection.
FOLKENFLIK: But the report found BBG lawyers had cautioned Tomlinson about it shortly after he took office in 2002 and again during ethics sessions. Tomlinson denies that and said he's ready to stand his ground. The White House has re-nominated Tomlinson for a second full term as chairman, but the Republican-led Senate Foreign Relations Committee now says it won't even consider it.
David Folkenflik, NPR News, Washington.
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