Officials at the congressionally funded international broadcaster Voice of America quietly rehired an executive this week who had recently been put on administrative leave for misconduct and slated for firing over multiple whistleblower allegations of misconduct, fraud, and false education credentials, as well as a damning Office of Personnel and Management report.
John Lippman, acting VOA director of programming, announced that former Persian Division Director Setareh Derakhshesh Sieg would return as special assistant to the director of programming and director of program review.
Sieg’s return to the VOA comes shortly after she was placed on administrative leave at the beginning of January by former Deputy Director Elizabeth Robbins while under investigation for “multiple forms of misconduct.” The misconduct allegedly included allowing certain staff to “charge excessive overtime,” engaging in “potentially fraudulent expenditures,” abusing government funds, and falsified education credentials.
Sieg claiming she earned a doctorate from the Sorbonne Paris even though the degree was apparently from the University of Paris 7 Diderot. These reportedly false credentials were featured on the VOA website until they were recently scrubbed.
In a letter obtained by The Federalist, Robbins outlined that she believed Sieg should be removed because of a “waste of agency/government funds and lack of candor” supported by numerous internal whistleblower complaints as well as complaints through the Office of Inspector General (OIG). Robbins also expressed “great concern” for Sieg’s ability to continue leading the Persian department of the VOA, saying “you are not suitable for continued Federal Service.”
“Your misconduct, by its nature, cannot be overlooked, forgotten or ignored. As a result, you have undermined my ability to rely on you to make sound and appropriate decisions. In short, you have lost my trust and the trust of leadership within the Agency,” Robbins wrote. “Having taken these factors into consideration, I do not believe alternate sanctions would suffice in deterring future misconduct. I also do not believe there are any mitigating circumstances that would sway my determination in issuing the proposed penalty. Based on these charges and the underlying facts, I propose that you be removed from your position for such cause as to promote the efficiency of the Federal Service.”
In addition to these formal complaints and Robbins’s letter, a report in 2016 by the Office of Personnel Management suggested that more than 60 percent of VOA Persian employees under Sieg’s authority “believe that arbitrary action, personal favoritism and coercion for partisan political purposes are tolerated at VOA Persian” and that there is “widespread corruption.” Sieg did not respond to The Federalist’s request for comment.
Robbins and VOA Director Robert Reilly agreed to wait 10 days for Sieg’s response to Robbins’s proposal and then take appropriate action to remove Sieg by Jan. 21. The case against Sieg, however, never came to fruition because both Robbins and Reilly were terminated within 24 hours of President Joe Biden’s inauguration, despite their protests that it was illegal under the National Defense Authorization Act and that employees from Obama’s administration had stayed over into Trump’s in the VOA, opening the door for Sieg to return without penalty.
“The timing of this was particularly interesting because we had these whistleblower complaints,” Robbins said of Sieg. “And it was the new Biden administration acting USAGM CEO who has been named in these whistleblower complaints, and specifically, we were taking action against one of her good friends.”
In an email to all Persian News Network employees late last week, Acting Director Lippman praised Sieg for launching the VOA’s “Farsi language 24/7 TV channel” and explained that she would be immediately relocated within the VOA to work in programming. Sieg’s new position, a VOA public relations officer confirmed to The Federalist, is special assistant to the director of programming and director of program review.
“This move is a logical next step for her career and something she’s wanted to do for quite some time,” Lippman wrote.
While a VOA public relations officer told The Federalist that “the former political appointees made claims against Ms. Sieg that have not been substantiated and the Office of Special Counsel requested a stay of proceeding against Ms. Sieg,” some people at the VOA and its parent agency, the U.S. Agency for Global Media, say Sieg’s return is “appalling.”
“It’s appalling that with all this information about her wrongdoing out there, they reinstate her and give her what they describe as a promotion,” a source working inside USAGM told The Federalist. “In the past, what’s happened is that senior managers who did bad jobs but VOA leaders didn’t want to fire them, those leaders would just pull the managers out of their roles and give them an advisory role in the third-floor leadership office as a kind of a way to sideline people and take them out of the problematic area that they were in. It’s a tactic that VOA leaders have used before.”
The problems at the VOA, however, are not limited to just the Persian News Network. In April of 2020, the White House accused VOA of not fulfilling its duties to report facts and communicate a comprehensive view of America to regimes and nations that do not have access to a free press.
The people who reinstated Sieg, the USAGM source said, are her friends and were strongly opposed to the Trump-appointed leadership within the VOA and USAGM, such as former agency CEO Michael Pack. Pack’s leadership of the USAGM was publicly opposed by both the left and corporate media, which accused him of politicizing and “meddling” in the VOA’s affairs.
Pack and his allies say they were devoted to returning to the agency and broadcaster’s main mission, and angered their critics by purging the VOA of corruption, security issues, and slanted and biased messages packaged as news.
On Inauguration Day, Pack was high on the ax list. “[T]he new president fired Pack before taking action on the pandemic, the economy, or immigration,” Byron York wrote in the aftermath. His firing came after a mere eight months in office, after years of Democratic Senate confirmation delays.
“My only goal was to bring these agencies back to their core mission, presenting balanced, objective news and telling America’s story to the world and promoting our core values, like freedom and democracy — which is nonpartisan,” Pack said in an interview shortly after his departure.