Last week, when the U.S. Court of Appeals affirmed a finding against the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the agency operating Radio and TV Martí, that it fired 16 employees in bad faith, its decision reopened the question of just how much waste taxpayers and policy makers will tolerate in the failed effort to overthrow Cuba's government.
Waste has plagued the Radio and TV Martí programs since they were created in 1983 to provide "accurate, unbiased" news and entertainment programming to the Cuban people. Unsurprisingly, the Cuban government thought little of the station's "regime change" fare and jammed the signal from the get-go. But, this didn't daunt the hardliners at the Office of Cuba Broadcasting.
After failing to overcome Cuba's disruption of the signal by floating a blimp over the island, they moved to transmitting its content from airborne platforms flying under the banner of Aero Martí. Writing for Foreign Policy last year, John Hudson said of the multi-million dollar annual effort to beam the programming around Cuba's jammers to reach the intended audience, "It's difficult to find a more wasteful government program."
In 2009, Congress agreed. As the Courthouse News Service reported, it cut the BBG's budget by $4.2 million in an effort to ground Aero Martí. Instead, to save the money and rescue the plane, the agency decided to can sixteen of its employees, calling the action "a reduction in force."
Their union called it a sham. The American Federation of Government Employees complained the firings violated the workers' bargaining agreement, and said employees who had provided information about the Martís to Government Accountability investigators were targeted for termination. After an arbitrator sided with the union, finding the BBG violated both the bargaining agreement and federal labor relations law, the Federal Labor Relations Authority upheld the arbitrator's determination.
Had the Broadcasting Board of Governors surrendered at this stage, its effort to jam the Congress to save the plane would still have been a costly waste of taxpayers' funds. Reporting on the case in 2012, the Washington Post said "the agency eventually will have to rehire the workers with back pay and interest, as the arbitrator ordered." Instead it appealed and ran head-long into a court that utterly rejected its legal position.
As Judge David Tatel writes in the first line of the decision, "Compared to the charges of cronyism, waste and mismanagement that dominated this dispute in its earlier stages, the legal issue we confront is quite tame." His decision ends with a unanimous finding against the BBG.
According to the Cuba sanctions law known as Helms-Burton, the U.S. will not recognize Cuba until it allows independent trade unions. Perhaps, the Court of Appeals decision will convince the Broadcasting Board of Governors to lead by example.
At minimum that means stopping its wasteful pursuit of legal redress, and giving back to its wrongfully fired employees the jobs, pay, and benefits they are owed. It would be better if Congress silenced the stations once and for all.