International Broadcasting: Construction of U.S. Radio Relay Station in Israel

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1990-03-14.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                       United   States   General   Accounting   Office
                       Fact Sheet for the Chairman,
  GAO                  Subcommittee on International
                       Operations, Committee on Foreign
                       Affairs, House of Representatives

  March   1990
                       Construction of U.S.
                       Radio Relay Station in

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                   United States
                   General Accounting  Office
                   Washington, D.C. 20548

                   National Security and
                   International Affairs Division

                   March 14.1990

                   The Honorable Mervyn M. Dymally
                   Chairman, Subcommittee on
                      International Operations,
                   Committee on Foreign Affairs
                   1Iouse of Representat ivtbs

                   Dear Mr. Chairman:

                   On November 2, 1989, you asked us to obtain certain information
                   regarding the 175%radio relay station project in Israel funded by the
                   Board for International   Broadcasting (BIB). Specifically, you asked us to
                   ( 1) compare the cost of the project, as currently envisioned, with the
                   rest of other alternatives that had been considered and (2) determine
                   the reasons for selecting 1~11as the lead agency to manage the project.

                   In 1987, the [Jnited States and Israel signed an agreement to allow the
                   construction of a short-wave radio relay station in Israel. The station
                   will be for the joint use of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, a grantee
                   of FAIR,and the ITS. Information Agency’s Voice of America (WA). The
                   new station will cnhancc, Radio Liberty’s shortwave broadcasts into
                   Soviet Central Asia and \‘0.4’s broadcasts to Eastern Europe, North and
                   East Africa, and Southwest Asia. HIISwas designated the lead agency to
                   oversee the design and construction of the pro,jcct.

                   According to HIII and vo;\ officials, in the late 1970s and early 1980s sev-
Results in Brief   eral Middle East, rount rics were contacted to determine their receptivity
                   to hosting a radio rcllay facilit,y. Only Israel responded positively to the
                   1J.S. request. These offil*ials told us that, cost, alternatives were not a
                   major consideration m selrcting the current site in Israel. They indicated
                   that technical requirernt~nts were the primary consideration in choosing
                   the Israeli site. In addit ion, we were told that cost was not a major con-
                   sideration in assigning t hr lead agency responsibility to IUH. Appendix I
                   provides additional details regarding the cost of the project versus alter-
                   natives and cost considt*rations in designating 151~as the lead agency for
                   the prqject.

                   To obtain information on I he process leading to the construction of the
Scope and          radio relay station in Israel we interviewed key HIH and VOA officials and
Methodology        reviewed pertinent rlwrmwnts.    We did not verify the accuracy of the

                   Page I                           GAO/NSIAD90-123FS   International   Broadcasting   in Israel
Page 3   GAO/NSIAIMO-123FS   International   Broadcasting   in Israel
                     Appendix     I
                     RIB/USIA      Radio Relay Facility   in Israel

                     The Chairman asked us to compare the cost of the project, as currently
First Committee      envisioned, with the cost of other alternatives that had been considered.
Concern -
Alternatives             According to IUII and vo.\ officials, there were no akcrnatives to estab-
                         lishing a relay station site in Israel. Other countries in the Middle East
Considered               were not rcccptivf to hosting a ITS. installation.

                         Since the late 1970s. ISII~had been looking for a site in the Middle East to
                         build a shortwave radio relay site for IGTXU. to improve its ability to
                         broadcast to the Central Asian and Kazakhstan region of the Soviet
                         IJnion. Working through the Department of State, HIH made several
                         inquiries in the Middk Nast but was unsucctlssful in gaining permission
                         to build a relay site

                         In 1982, the National Security Council (NW) reviewed the 17,s. interna-
                         tional broadcasting system and set priorities for the future program-
                         ming of both RFE:f<I.and LYM. In the fall of 1982, the Reagan
                         administration   and t ht\ Congress agreed that VOA needed a large-scale
                         modernization. As a p>lI’t of this mandate, VOA assessed its needs and
                         concluded that it also ncc>d(,d a Middle Eastern site to meet hx’s requirc-
                         ments for the CCYltl’ill Asian area.

                         Hecause of the diff’ic~rllr Its in locating sites for ITS. radio relay facilities,
                         the Reagan administration        decided in 1983 that it was both politically
                         and t,echnically feasibk to develop a ,joint site to meet the needs of RFE~
                         RI. and vo;\. According to HIS and VOAofficials, establishing a joint relay
                         st.ation rather than hrlilding sc,parate facilities would reduce the overall
                         cost to the 1J.S. go\~c~rnrnrn~. This would also set a precedent for future
                         cooperation betwrtbtl I(II~ and I ~sI,+in sharing radio relay facilities.

                     HII%and ~0.4 again rnad(\ inquiries through the State Department to all t,he
                     countries in the Middlt~ l&t that were considered friendly and had pos-
                     sible sites. Before Dc~c~cmbor1984, the ITnitcad States was unable to nego-
                     tiate any agreements to establish a site. However, in December 1984.
                     President Reagan sent a personal let.tcr to the Israeli Prime Minister
                     requesting that Isrxll reconsider its initial opposition to a site. In Febru-
                     ary 1985, the Israeli government gave its approval, and negotiations fol
                     t,he site concluded in a[~ agreement signed in .Junc 1987.

                     According to IIIH and L(I)\ officials, cost considerations were not a major
                     element in the initial phasr of seeking a relay station site in the Middle
                     East. The primary consideration was finding a site suitable to meet tech-
                     nical needs. Once the Israeli government agreed to allow a relay station

                         Page 5                                 GAO/NSlAD90-123FS   Intrmational   Broadcasting   in Israel
Appendix   1
BIB/USIA   Radio Relay Facility   in Israrl

As a small oversight agency, 131~does not have the staff to administer
the Israeli project directly. Therefore, RIB worked with IIFE/RL and USIA
to establish the International  Broadcast System, Inc., a nonprofit corpo-
ration, to manage the project under BIB’S direction. The International
Broadcast System has a staff authorization of 22 people, including sev-
eral from EWE/RI,. According to RIB officials, International Broadcast Sys-
tem, Inc., will cease operation when the station is completed in 1993.

Page 7                                   GAO/NSlAlb90-123FS   International   Broadcasting   in Israel
                      Appendix   I
                      BIB/USIA       Radio Relay Facility   in Israel

                      to be built in Israel, eight locations in Israel were considered for the sta-
                      tion. According to BIB and VOA officials, the total project cost was not
                      arrived at until the actual site was selected because of unknown vari-
                      ables, such as lease of the land, site preparation, power suppiy, and
                      security requirements.

                      When the agreement with Israel was signed in June 1987 and specific
                      plans were developed, the cost was placed at $310 million. The cost was
                      later reduced to $290 million based on a decision to reduce the number
                      of antennas. This decision was made primarily because of the cessation
                      of jamming by the Soviet Union. BIB has stated that if jamming were
                      resumed, it would seek the necessary funds to add the antennas that
                      were cut.

                      The $290 million cost estimate for the station includes $274 million for
                      planning, designing, and constructing the relay station and $16 million
                      for the government of Israel. In exchange for the $16 million payment,
                      the government of Israel, for the duration of the agreement, will pay all
                      land-lease costs associated with the site; payments to the communities in
                      the site region; land-use charges; municipal and regional taxes, exclusive
                      of fees for services actually provided; and security costs, exclusive of
                      on-site security during the design and construction phase of the project.

                      The Chairman asked us to look at the reasons for selecting                                 to oversee
Second Committee      the project versus WA.

Concern - Choice of
Lead Agency           BIH was designated the lead agency after consultation   with the appropri-
                      ate congressional authorization and appropriation    committees, the
                      Office of Management and Budget, and NSC.The arrangement was for-
                      malized on December 1, 1987, with the signing of a Memorandum of
                      Agreement between the HIH and IJSIA.

                      According to RIB and v‘o~ officials, BIB was designated the lead agency
                      because (1) IJSIA was facing budget constraints at the time and felt that
                      to take on another large project would cause other IJSIA programs to be
                      cut, (2) VOA was involved in an $800 million modernization of its world-
                      wide transmission facilities and felt that it could not staff another major
                      project, and (3) RFF:/IU. would be the major user of the station.

                      Cost was not a major consideration in assigning lead agency responsibil-
                      ity to BIB. According to BIB and VOA officials, the cost of the project
                      would be the same regardless of whether BIB or VOA managed it.

                      Page 6                                       GAO/NSL4B9O-lZ3FS   International   Broadcasting   in Israel
Appendix   I

BIB/USIA Radio Relay Facility in Israel

                Negotiations betwctcn the governments of the United States and Israel to
                establish a U.S. shortwave radio relay station in Israel began in March
                1985. Engineering studies by the Board for International   Broadcasting
                ( I(IH) and the Voice, of America (WA) had shown that a new relay station
                located in the Middle East would deliver a reliable signal into the IJSSK’s
                Central Asian republics. Eastern Europe, the sub-Sahara region, and
                Southwest Asia. Negotiations were concluded in the spring of 1987, and
                an agreement was signed on .June 18. 1987, providing for joint use of the
                station by IUI~‘Sgrantee Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFWI,)     and
                the I-.S. information Agency’S (rlsliz) VOA.

                The terms of the agrc,emrnt call for the facility to bc designed by a ITS.
                or Israeli company and built by an Israeli contractor using 17%
                mamlfdctured transmitters and antennas. The agreement runs for 25
                years from the dat c of the first operational broadcast and is renewable
                by mutual consent. (‘onstruction of the station is scheduled for comple-
                tion in 1993.

                As of February 1990. the technical design of the relay station had been
                completed. The ac,tual construction awaits the approval of the Environ-
                mental Impact Stat(lment and National Outline Scheme by t,he Israeli
                government and t hc awarding of four major contracts. The contracts are
                for site preparation and a water system, a super high voltage substation,
                a facilities and scc.urit y system. and the broadcast system.

                The new radio relay st,ation will be located on a 2,XOacre desert site in
                the Arava Valley. approximately        20 miles south of the Dead Sea. The
                station will have sizt t’cn X)0-ki1owat.t high-powered, shortwave broad-
                cast transmitters ( 10 for HI%and 6 for YOA) and 37 curtain antenna
                arrays (15 for HIH and 22 for YOA). The station will enhance broadcasts
                of IZFI$~~, and ~‘0.4to ICastc,rn Europe and the Soviet. IJnion and of WA to
                Central Asia, Central and East, Africa, and Southern Asia. The station
                will also require administ rativc and maintenance facilities, satellite
                ground stations, and a power substation and distribution system.

                In December 1987. tiIf( was designated as the lead agency responsible for
                all design, construc?ion, funding, and personnel activities, as defined by
                the Memorandum of i\grc,ement between IWA and HIH.

                Page 4                       GAO/NSIAD-SO-123FS   International   Broadcasting   in Israel

information provided by these officials. We discussed the information
contained in this fact sheet with responsible BIB and VOA officials and
incorporated their views where appropriate. As agreed with your staff,
we are separately addressing your request regarding the need for the
relay station, given the recent developments in Eastern Europe and the
Soviet Union.

IJnless you publicly announce its contents earlier, we plan no further
distribution of this fact sheet until 5 days from its issue date. At that
time, we will send copies of the report to interested parties and make
copies available to others upon request.

This fact sheet was prepared under the direction of Joseph E. Kelley,
Director, Security and International  Relations Issues, who may be
reached on 2754128 if you or your staff have further questions. Other
staff who made major contributions to this report were Jess T. Ford,
Assistant Director, and Paul G. Atkins, Evaluator-in-Charge.

Sincerely yours,

Neal P. Curtin
Director, Planning and

Page 2                        GAO/NSIAD90423FS   International   Broadcasting   in Israel