The U.S. Agency for Global Media announced Tuesday the appointment of James M. Miles to serve as acting chief executive officer of the Open Technology Fund, a grantee organization of the agency.
The OTF “funds internet freedom, technologies and initiatives,” according to a USAGM press release.
In the statement, USAGM CEO Michael Pack said Miles will bring “a wealth of knowledge” and expertise to OTF.
“Bolstering firewall circumvention is a top priority of my three-year term at the agency, and Jim will bring much-needed new leadership to OTF, which has a critical role to play in advancing global freedom of expression and the American national interest.”
The USAGM statement said Miles was secretary of state of South Carolina from 1991 to 2003 and a founding partner at a South Carolina law firm that specializes in labor relations law.
Miles’s appointment was announced after U.S. House Democrats published an open letter Friday expressing concern about the recent firings of heads of several news agencies under the USAGM, urging more transparency in its strategy and suggesting lawmakers should “consider fencing portions of USAGM funding.”
Eleven representatives sent the letter to the heads of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs, declaring they were “deeply concerned about the firings of qualified leadership” and “reports that USAGM has frozen funds and grants" for programs aimed at evading censorship and providing tools for internet freedom in Hong Kong and elsewhere.
Signed by Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff and other top Democrats, the letter expressed alarm about changes made by Pack, whom the Senate confirmed last month to lead the USAGM.
Beyond personnel and budgetary matters, the lawmakers expressed concern that the agency's "truth-based reporting and programming" would be jeopardized if its editorial independence was eroded.
The letter was sent ahead of Monday’s scheduled congressional hearing on oversight of the agency by the subcommittee that helps set funding for America's outreach to the world.
Earlier in the week, a bipartisan group of senators sent a letter to Pack last week saying they planned to review USAGM's funding in light of recent developments. The senators said they were “deeply concerned” by Pack’s decision to fire the chiefs of Radio Free Asia, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks, as well as the Open Technology Fund, which supports the free flow of information to countries that restrict press freedom.
“These actions, which came without any consultation with Congress, let alone notification, raise serious questions about the future of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) under your leadership,” the senators wrote.
Neither Pack, nor USAGM have responded to questions from VOA about the lawmakers’ letters.