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Inquiry Criticizes U.S. Broadcasting Official Over Hiring
The NY Times
August 29, 2006

WASHINGTON, Aug. 29 — State Department investigators have concluded that Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, the head of the federal agency that oversees most government broadcasts to foreign countries, improperly hired a friend on the public payroll for nearly $250,000 over two and a half years, according to a summary of their report made public this afternoon by Democratic Congressional staff members.

They also said that Mr. Tomlinson, whose job puts him in charge of the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, used his government office for personal business, including running a "horse racing operation" in which he supervised a stable of thoroughbreds he named after leaders from Afghanistan, including President Hamid Karzai and the late Ahmed Shah Massoud, that have raced at tracks across the United States. They also said that Mr. Tomlinson repeatedly used government employees to do his personal errands and that he billed the government for more days of work than the rules permit.

The State Department inspector general presented those findings in a report last week to the White House and on Monday to some members of Congress. Three Democratic lawmakers, Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut and Representatives Howard Berman and Tom Lantos of California, requested the inquiry last year after they were approached by a whistleblower from the agency about the possible misuse of federal money by Mr. Tomlinson and the possible hiring of phantom or unqualified employees.

In providing the report to the members of Congress, the State Department warned that making it public could be a violation of federal law, people who have seen the report said. Today, Mr. Berman's staff released a summary of the report.

Mr. Tomlinson was ousted from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting last year following a separate inquiry that found evidence that he had violated rules meant to insulate public television and radio from political influence. His renomination by President Bush to another term as chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors is pending before the Senate.

The summary of the State Department inspector general's report said the United States attorney's office in Washington had been given the report and decided not to conduct a criminal inquiry into the matter. It said the Justice Department was pursuing a civil investigation that focused on a contract Mr. Tomlinson had awarded to his friend.

The three lawmakers who had requested the inquiry sent a letter to the president this afternoon urging him to remove Mr. Tomlinson from his position immediately "and take all necessary steps to restore the integrity of the Broadcasting Board of Governors."

Emily Lawrimore, a White House spokeswoman, said President Bush continues to support Mr. Tomlinson's renomination. She declined to comment about the State Department report.

Asked about the report and the call for his ouster, Mr. Tomlinson and his lawyer, James Hamilton, would not immediately comment.

Mr. Tomlinson is a 62-year-old Republican and former editor of Reader's Digest who has close ties to Karl Rove, Mr. Bush's political strategist and senior adviser. Mr. Rove and Mr. Tomlinson served together on the board of predecessor agency to the Broadcasting Board in the 1990's. Mr. Tomlinson has been chairman of the Broadcasting Board since 2002.

The board, whose members include the secretary of state, plays a central role in public diplomacy. It supervises the government's foreign broadcasting operations, including Radio Marti, Radio Sawa and al-Hurra; transmits programs in 61 languages; and says it has more than 100 million listeners each week.

Mr. Tomlinson's ouster last November from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting was prompted by a separate investigation by that organization's inspector general. That inquiry found evidence that Mr. Tomlinson had violated rules as he sought more conservative programs and that he improperly intervened to help the staff of The Wall Street Journal's editorial page win a $4.1 million contract — one of the largest programming contracts issued by the corporation — to finance a weekly program on public television.

The heavily edited State Department report on Mr. Tomlinson's activities at the Broadcasting Board of Governors did not specify the identity of the friend who received the improper contract at the direction of Mr. Tomlinson. Agency officials said he was a retired worker already on a government pension who was rehired by Mr. Tomlinson, without the knowledge of the board or any competitive bidding process, to work on projects for him. The employee was known by other employees as "the phantom" because he was often not at work, other agency employees said.

Mr. Tomlinson was rebuked in the earlier inspector general report by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for improperly hiring an acquaintance from a journalism center founded by the American Conservative Union to monitor several public radio and television shows, including Bill Moyer's "Now" program, for political bias.

The State Department report said that from 2003 through 2005 Mr. Tomlinson had requested compensation in excess of the 130 days permitted by law for the post he holds. It said that he had requested and received pay from both the broadcasting board and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for the same days worked on 14 occasions, but that investigators were unable to substantiate whether they were for the same hours worked on the same days.

Investigators who seized Mr. Tomlinson's e-mail, telephone and office records found that he had improperly and extensively used his office at the Broadcasting Board to do nongovernmental work, including work for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and horse racing and breeding ventures. The material seized included racing forms and evidence that he used the office to buy and sell thoroughbreds.

Mr. Tomlinson's longstanding interest in foreign affairs has carried over to his horse breeding operation. As the owner of Sandy Bayou Stables near Middleburg, Va., his most recent horses have been named after Afghanistan leaders who have opposed Russian and Taliban control of the country. The horses include Massoud, Karzai and Panjshair, the valley that was the base used by forces to overthrow the Taliban. Most of the horses have not been in the money, although Massoud appears to have been quite successful, earning purses of more than $140,000 over the last two years, according to track records.

People who have seen the report said it noted that in the middle of in interview with investigators, Mr. Tomlinson terminated the interview on the advice of his lawyer. One person familiar with the inquiry said Mr. Hamilton ended the interview as the investigators started to ask about the use of Mr. Tomlinson's office for his horse-racing venture.

Mr. Hamilton declined to comment about the interview.

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