Politics & Government

GAO blasts Radio, TV Marti over contract award

The investigating branch of the U.S. Congress has accused the federal agency that oversees radio and television broadcasts to Cuba of awarding more than $1 million in contracts to two Miami broadcast outlets without following normal contract-bidding procedures.

In a report issued Tuesday, the Government Accountability Office said the International Broadcasting Bureau failed to follow proper federal contract-awarding regulations when it authorized the no-bid deals totaling $1,069,451 for WAQI Radio Mambi 710 AM and TV Azteca.

The 30-page report is the first in a series of GAO reports on the operations of Radio and TV Marti, which beam commentary, entertainment and news to Cuba under the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, which is based in Miami.

GAO released the report as part of an ongoing broader probe into the management and broadcasting practices of the controversial Radio and TV Marti services. GAO opened the probe in response to a formal request from Rep. William D. Delahunt, D-Mass., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on international organizations, human rights and oversight.

''IBB's approach for awarding the Radio Mambi and TV Azteca contracts did not reflect sound business practices,'' according to the GAO report, titled Broadcasting to Cuba: Weaknesses in Contracting Practices Reduced Visibility into Selected Award Decisions.

Federal officials involved in the contracts did not dispute the findings but noted that regulations give federal agencies flexibility in awarding contracts during emergencies. They said the contracts were awarded in the aftermath of ailing Fidel Castro's decision in 2006 to surrender power to his younger brother Raul.

At the time, the Broadcasting Board of Governors said, the Bush administration ''sought a surge in broadcast transmission'' to Cuba as a result of Castro's ''deteriorating health'' and an ''expected transition in leadership'' in Havana.

''The GAO's findings are extremely troubling,'' Delahunt said in a statement. "The report says that major contracting decisions did not follow good business practices. Furthermore, there is insufficient evidence to support hiring and contracting decisions. With millions of taxpayer dollars spent on these programs, it is critical that they be managed with full transparency and accountability — to do otherwise opens the door to waste, fraud and abuse.''

Delahunt requested the GAO investigation amid widespread allegations of irregularities and corruption in the operations of the Radio and TV Marti services that date back decades. Since 1985, the Office of Cuba Broadcasting has delivered radio programs through Radio Marti and since 1990 on TV Marti.