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Foreign Broadcasts’ Chief Accused of Impropriety

Times Staff Writer

The Bush administration’s troubled outreach efforts to the Middle East and other areas of the world were dealt more bad news Tuesday with new allegations of impropriety by the man who oversees the federal government’s broadcasts to foreign countries.

Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, a Bush appointee who chairs the Broadcasting Board of Governors, directed staff to do personal work and used government resources for his private racehorse operation, a new report by the State Department’s inspector general indicates.

Forced to resign last year as head of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting amid revelations of impropriety, Tomlinson also doubled-billed the Broadcasting Board of Governors for working some of the same days as at the CPB, according to the report, a summary of which was obtained by The Times.

“This is serious stuff,” said Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Valley Village), who requested the investigation last year and was among three Democratic lawmakers who on Tuesday asked President Bush to remove Tomlinson.

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“The role of the Broadcasting Board of Governors in the context of the current international situation ... is of the highest priority,” Berman said. “This is not some backwater.”

The Broadcasting Board of Governors oversees all U.S. government and government-sponsored international broadcast programming in 61 languages, including Voice of America, Radio and TV Marti and two services directed to the Middle East, Radio Sawa, or “Together” in Arabic, and the satellite television network Al Hurra, or “the Free One.”

Tomlinson, who was traveling out of the country, refuted the allegations in a statement released late Tuesday.

“I am very proud of what I have accomplished for U.S. international broadcasting,” said the former editor of Reader’s Digest and friend of Bush political strategist Karl Rove.

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“I believe it will become clear this I.G. investigation was inspired by partisan divisions inside the BBG.”

A White House spokeswoman said Tuesday that Bush continued to support Tomlinson, whose renomination as chairman of the broadcasting board is pending before the Senate.

Federal prosecutors have declined to investigate the case for criminal wrongdoing, according to the State Department report. But the new allegations seemed to portend more trouble for Tomlinson and the White House.

The Bush administration’s campaign to build support in the Middle East and other areas of the Islamic world have already been derided as crude propaganda by some critics.

U.S. efforts have been undermined by a series of public relations disasters, including the appearance in April 2004 of graphic photos showing abuse of detainees at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison.

More recently, Al Hurra has been investigated for misuse of money, reportedly for procurement and contracting.

Tomlinson, 62, became the focus of unwelcome publicity last year amid allegations that he broke federal law, along with internal rules and ethics codes, in his efforts to bring more conservatives into the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

He resigned as chairman of CPB in November ahead of an internal investigation that showed he worked with Bush administration officials, including Rove, to find a president for the agency, which is supposed to act as a buffer between Congress and public broadcasting stations.

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Tomlinson denied any wrongdoing at the time.

The State Department investigation found that Tomlinson helped secure nearly $250,000 worth of business at the Broadcasting Board of Governors for a personal friend without the knowledge of other board members and staff. Investigators could find no written reports of what the friend did.

The investigation also revealed that Tomlinson used the board’s computers and telephones for work on his private racehorse business.

Investigators found that Tomlinson overbilled the Broadcasting Board of Governors for work by claiming compensation for more than the 130 days per year that the law allowed him to work and double-billed the board of governors and the CPB for work done on the same day.

Tomlinson dismissed the allegations Tuesday, noting that he “made diligent efforts to bill each board only for the work I did for each board.”

He said his work on the horses while at the broadcasting board came out to “an average of one e-mail and two and a half minutes a day.”

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Times staff writer Johanna Neuman contributed to this report.

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