Category Archives: Volunteering

Military Kills Recruiting Contracts for Hundreds of Immigrant Recruits

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Thirty-seven service members from 22 different countries take the Oath of Allegiance during a naturalization ceremony held at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan on July 4, 2013. (Army/Sgt. Anita VanderMolen)  

“WASHINGTON POST”

“Many of these enlistees have waited years to join a troubled recruitment program designed to attract highly skilled immigrants into the service in exchange for fast-track citizenship.

U.S. Army recruiters have abruptly canceled enlistment contracts for hundreds of foreign-born military recruits since last week, upending their lives and potentially exposing many to deportation, according to several affected recruits and former military officials familiar with their situation.

Now recruits and experts say that recruiters are shedding their contracts to free themselves from an onerous enlistment process, which includes extensive background investigations, to focus on individuals who can more quickly enlist and thus satisfy strict recruitment targets.

Margaret Stock, a retired Army officer who led creation of the immigration recruitment program, told The Washington Post that she has received dozens of frantic messages from recruits this week, with many more reporting similar action in Facebook groups. She said hundreds could be affected.

“It’s a dumpster fire ruining people’s lives. The magnitude of incompetence is beyond belief,” she said. “We have a war going on. We need these people.”

The nationwide disruption comes at a time when President Trump navigates a political minefield, working with Democrats on the fate of “dreamers” — undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children — while continuing to stoke his anti-immigrant base. It was not immediately clear whether Pentagon officials have taken hard-line immigration stances from the White House as a signal to ramp down support for its foreign-born recruitment program.

Stock said a recruiter told her there was pressure from the recruiting command to release foreign-born recruits, with one directive suggesting they had until Sept. 14 to cut them loose without counting against their recruiting targets, an accounting quirk known as “loss forgiveness.”

The recruiter told Stock that the Army Reserve is struggling to meet its numbers before the fiscal year closes Sept. 30 and that canceling on resource-intensive recruits is attractive to some recruiters, she said.

On Friday, the Pentagon denied ordering a mass cancellation of immigrant recruit contracts and said there were no incentives to do so. Officials said that recent directives to recruiters were meant to reiterate that immigrant recruits must be separated within two years of enlistment unless they “opt in” for an additional year.

But some recruits among half a dozen interviewed for this article said they were not approaching that two-year limit when their contracts were canceled, sowing confusion about the reason they were cut loose. The Pentagon declined to address whether messages to recruiters contained language that could have been misinterpreted.

Lola Mamadzhanova, who immigrated to the United States from Kyrgyzstan in 2009, said she heard that Army recruiters in Evanston, Ill., texted immigrant recruits last week asking whether they still wanted to enlist, with an unusual condition: They had 10 minutes to respond. She never received the text message.

“The recruiters did some dirty trick just to get me out so I won’t be trouble anymore,” Mamadzhanova, 27, told The Post on Thursday. Her active-duty contract was canceled Sept. 7, according to a separation document obtained by The Post that said she “declined to enlist.” She later learned the recruiters used a wrong number to text her.

The senior recruiter at Mamadzhanova’s station contacted by The Post declined to comment and called Mamadzhanova seven minutes afterward to reverse previous guidance, saying her unlawful immigration status was the reason she was released. She enlisted in December 2015, which puts her three months outside the two-year limit.

Mamadzhanova was assured by other recruiters that her status would not be an issue and that she would ship for training soon after her immigration status slipped, around her enlistment date. Mamadzhanova, who is fluent in Russian, said the shifting and unclear rules have blindsided her.

“Joining the Army was a dream of mine since America has treated me so well,” she said. She applied for asylum in April, joining other recruits who have sought asylum or fled.

Some anti-immigration sentiment has swirled in the Pentagon for years, former staffers have said, with personnel and security officials from the Obama administration larding the immigrant recruiting process with additional security checks for visa holders already vetted by the Departments of State and Homeland Security.

“Immigrant recruits are already screened far more than any other recruits we have,” Naomi Verdugo, a former senior recruiting official for the Army at the Pentagon, told The Post.

“It seems like overkill, but there seems to be a sense that no matter what background check you do, it’s never enough,” she said. Verdugo, along with Stock, helped implement the recruitment program.

One Indian immigrant, a Harvard graduate and early recruit who is now a Special Forces soldier, was called back to undertake the updated security checks, she said.

“Even though you’re in the Army, even though you’re naturalized, these policies say ‘we’re not going to treat you like any other soldier,’” Verdugo said of the concerns over immigrants held by some at the Pentagon.

Internal Pentagon documents obtained by The Post have said the immigrant recruitment program, formally known as the Military Accessions Vital to National Interest (MAVNI) program, was suspended last fall after the clearance process was paralyzed and officials voiced concern over foreign infiltrators, though it remains unclear whether any threats have ever materialized.

Experts say the relatively small number of recruits in the MAVNI program possess skills with outsize value, such as foreign languages highly sought by Special Operations Command. The program has rotated 10,400 troops into the military, mostly the Army, since its inception in 2009.

Although the military says it benefits from these recruits, they can generate a disproportionate amount of work for recruiters who must navigate regulations and shifting policies. The layered security checks can add months or years to the enlistment process, frustrating recruiters who must meet strictly enforced goals by quickly processing recruits.

In a summer memo, the Pentagon listed 2,400 foreign recruits with signed contracts who are drilling in reserve units but have not been naturalized and have not gone to basic training. About 1,600 others are waiting to clear background checks before active duty service, the Pentagon said.

The document acknowledges 1,000 of those troops waited so long that they are no longer in legal status and could be exposed to deportation. That number probably has climbed since the memo was drafted in May or June. Lawmakers have asked Trump and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to intervene on behalf of those recruits.

Sens. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) and Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) filed an amendment in the defense authorization bill Tuesday to retain MAVNI recruits until their lengthy background investigations are finished.

“These brave men & women enlisted & the Administration turns its back on them,” Harris tweeted Friday. “We must pass Sen. Durbin’s & my bill to protect these recruits.”

During July 19 testimony in a lawsuit filed by recruits who said the federal government unlawfully delayed their naturalizations, Justice Department attorney Colin Kisor assured a district court in Washington that recruits would see their contracts canceled only if “derogatory” information was found in extensive background investigations.

Mamadzhanova and others said their screenings, which take months to complete, have begun recently and could not have returned results.

Meanwhile, confusion reigned for recruits in multiple states.

At one office in Illinois, a senior recruiter restored a contract less than two hours after The Post inquired about a case. In Texas, a recruiter did the same 12 minutes after a call seeking to confirm whether a recruit’s contract was canceled.

An immigrant recruit who came to the United States in 2006 and enlisted in Virginia said her contract was canceled Tuesday after she had waited for two years, just as her legal immigration status expired. She asked to opt-in for another year, but her contract was dissolved days later, she said.

Recruiters had assured her, saying her contract was a shield from federal immigration authorities, she said. She spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.

She now fears deportation to her native Indonesia, which strips native-born people of citizenship if they enlist in a foreign military or pledge loyalty to another country, as she has done.

“I feel devastated,” she said. “The Army was my only hope.”

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Military Veterans Take to Twitter to Fight Discrimination

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(Photo Credit: Douglas E. Curran/AFP)

“MILITARY TIMES”

“A group of veterans are fighting anti-immigration messages one tweet at a time.

Vets Fight Hate has partnered with Southern Poverty Law Center with the goal of reminding people that they are all much more than just their looks or ancestry.

Their Twitter account  @VetsFightHate targets users who post hateful messages and possess a large number of followers. They reply to these hateful messages with personalized messages of their own — messages of immigrants who have served in the U.S. military.

“Veterans are one of the most respected and honored groups of Americans, and they have an important voice in fighting back against those spreading hatred,” SPLC spokeswoman Wendy Via told the Huffington Post.

The organization’s very first post introduces us to Roy who tells his story: “I joined the US Army at 17 to defend America. I’m from Germany, but I was willing to fight for this country because it accepted me. Immigrants are what make America great.”

Another veteran named Lawrence responded to a hateful message that said “immigrants are a disease to this country.”

“I’m an immigrant; I’m a citizen; and I’m a veteran. I served in the U.S. Air Force and fought for you, your family, and people I don’t even know. I risked my life for a free and inclusive country. This country was built by immigrants. Respect us. This is our home too,” Lawrence replied.

Approximately 11 percent of all U.S. veterans come from an immigrant background, whether they immigrated themselves, or their parents did. That’s the equivalent to nearly two million veterans, according to  migrationpolicy.org.”

http://www.militarytimes.com/articles/military-veterans-take-to-twitter-to-fight-discrimination-with-vetsfighthate

Legislation Must Support US Military Reserve Component Personnel

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Images:  Army National Guard/Defense News

“DEFENSE NEWS”

“It’s time to be honest about the Guard and the Reserve.

It’s been a long time since serving as a member of the Reserve component, or RC, has truly consisted of one weekend a month and two weeks of training in the summer.

The RC has been a consistent source of boots on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, used to ameliorate the operational tempo and strain on the active-duty force. However, rhetoric surrounding the “total force” concept is only now catching up with reality, and there’s a moral imperative for legislation and policy to do the same. Congress should update the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, also know as USERRA, to reflect the increased training commitments of today’s force and consider additional tax benefits such as deductions for hiring reservists and tax exemptions for “differential pay.”

The role of the RC has shifted from “a strategic reserve to an operational force.” High-demand Army National Guard units are facing an increase of training days up to 60 a year over the course of four years, while the Air National Guard is trying to negotiate with employers, recognizing that airmen often work 60-80 days a year to meet necessary training demands. As training increases, leaders cite a focus on predictability to try and mitigate the impact on families and employers, yet this may not be enough.

Though the RC is more operational than ever, there has been no legislative action reflecting this change to ensure the men and women serving in the Guard have the necessary legal protections to do so effectively. A recent memo to the Massachusetts National Guard notes: “We will constantly be challenged by operational demand, the urgency of readiness requirements, and the constraint of time as a reserve component of the Army.”

his commitment places both employers and service members alike in a bind. Particularly for small businesses, there can be reticence to employ a person who may be gone for a significant portion of the year, with fears over staying open, the bottom line and the requirement to hold a job even if someone must be replaced due to a deployment. While substantial tax credits exist for employing veterans, it might be prudent to consider similar benefits for employers who endeavor to employ members of the RC. Though USERRA compliance is the law, efforts should be made to reward employers who go above and beyond current requirements.

Current tax credits for employing a veteran range from $1,200 to $9,600 and should be matched for hiring a member of the RC. Additionally, the government should consider providing incentives for employers who enact “differential pay” policies that help offset any salary difference when reservists are activated. This could include making those salaries tax-free or tax-deductible, as many states already do for active-duty military salaries. More than simply incentivizing the employment of our citizen soldiers, this could help further the bond between communities and those who serve, as well as offering additional economic benefits. No one is well-served by small businesses who suffer as a result of USERRA compliance, perhaps even leaving service members without a job to which they can return.

Though initially these efforts may seem costly, it could quickly prove cost-neutral to the government by improving recruiting, retention, and readiness. It’s critical to maintaining the total force that we ensure reservists are able to maintain their civilian careers and that businesses are not jeopardized by hiring reservists.

Just as the demand on the armed forces has continued to increase, so has the strain placed on those who bridge the civil-military divide by blending civilian careers with service to nation. It is incumbent upon both service leadership and Congress to more explicitly acknowledge the shift in mission, and accompany this shift with a broader plan as to how to enable personnel and businesses to continue to bridge this divide.

Members of the reserve component must grapple with the demands of both worlds — bearing the burdens of those who serve while also maintaining a civilian job, often working for employers with little understanding as to the commitments of military service. Congress needs to play its part in supporting reservists by updating USERRA and insisting on compliance.”

http://www.defensenews.com/articles/we-need-legislation-to-cover-the-us-guard-and-reserve-commentary

The Rewards of Mentoring – Helping Success Stories Like “Thunder Road”

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It was a pleasure to assist with the business plan for “Thunder Road” seven years ago.

Today it is a vital, growing organization, serving veterans, the disabled and a tri-state community out of Decorah, Iowa.

Photo:  Michelle McLain-Kruse at “Thunder Road”

Thunder Road

PLEASE ENJOY THE VIDEO BELOW

http://www.thunderrode.org/

 

National Service Narrows Military-Civilian Divide

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Basic Training Photo Credit: Spc. Emily R. Martin/Army

“AIR FORCE TIMES”
“Since 1974, America has depended on an all-volunteer military for our national defense.
Even in the face of 15 years of war (and counting), the all-volunteer force has proven to be sustainable at the present levels with relatively little adjustment to its selection criteria.
Overall, this force has performed magnificently, in many cases exceeding the expectations of the original architects and surprising many of the naysayers.
While this is good news, especially for those who abhor a draft, it has not been without unintended consequences.

Our nation today faces a growing military-civilian divide, both cultural and societal. Less than one-half of one percent of Americans currently serve in uniform, while the 99-plus percent realize the benefit while bearing none of the burden. Not only do most American families have no one in the military, most do not even know someone who is now serving. This is especially true within the higher economic strata, to include the majority of our nation’s lawmakers.

As a result, most Americans know little or nothing about what life is like for our military families who serve and sacrifice on our behalf. This does not make for a healthy society.

One ray of hope to offset this divide has been a growing interest in national service in a civilian capacity as a way to get more Americans involved. Only about one in four young Americans can even meet the requirements for military service, which makes non-military service options even more important.

While there is much to be said for requiring all young people to serve a year or more in some capacity of national service, that is simply a non-starter in today’s environment. It turns out, however, that a purely voluntary program is already enormously successful.

In fact, demand for very poorly paid national service positions, such as those supported by AmeriCorps, exceeds the availability of these positions many times over. There is an increasing thirst among our nation’s 18- to 24-year-old population to get involved in something bigger than themselves, and, yes, altruistically to “make a difference” in this world.

National service in a civilian capacity still requires a degree of sacrifice on the part of its participants, including financial deprivation and what we might call the “opportunity cost” of a year or more of their lives. The benefits, however, far outweigh these costs, and that’s one reason the demand is so high.

One need look no further than the “greatest generation” and what they subsequently achieved for themselves and for the nation as a direct result of their having served in World War II.

Of course, these veterans, as today’s, were “battle hardened,” which is not likely to be the case for those engaging in civilian national service.

The real benefit to those who served came in the form of maturity, self-discipline, management and leadership experience, and the camaraderie that derived from shared experience, especially with teammates of diverse backgrounds to which they might never have otherwise been exposed.

The thousands of businesses who have been hiring our current generation of veterans have quickly discovered it is not an act of charity, rather it’s the smartest thing that they could be doing for their enterprises. The same can be said for those who hire young Americans coming out of a year or more of national service.

The benefits of national service are legion. What makes the case more compelling is that, by doing their share, these young men and women are actually helping to bridge the military-civilian divide and adding to the moral fiber of our communities and our nation.

We’re stronger as a nation because so many of our young men and women selflessly serve, whether in uniform or in a civilian capacity. Both contribute to “providing for the common defense.”

The recently released federal budget proposal, however, would wipe out this critical element of our national strength by zeroing out both AmeriCorps and the Corporation for National and Community Service, the little-known federal agency that runs national service programs, including AmeriCorps and Senior Corps.

This proposal ignores the enormous return on investment that these very small budget lines represent, especially in comparison to the defense budget, which these programs actually complement.

This would be a tragic outcome for both the nation and those individuals in national service.

There is nothing partisan about national service, which for over eight decades has enjoyed bipartisan support at all levels of government. The Kennedy-Hatch Serve America Act of 2009 came about following the 2008 election campaign during which both John McCain and Barack Obama gave their enthusiastic endorsement of national service.

The subsequent passage of that legislation significantly increased the number of AmeriCorps positions available for young Americans to serve their country. We must not lose this momentum.

The signatories to this piece have all proudly served our country in uniform. We strongly believe that a national civilian service program is a vital component of our strength as a nation. We urge the administration to rethink this small, but critical, budget item, and we urge our congressional representatives to ensure that both the AmeriCorps program and the Corporation for National and Community Service are fully funded.
Air Force Gen. John A. Shaud (ret.)
Army Gen. William G. T. Tuttle (ret.)
Salisbury is chairman of the Critical Issues RoundTable, an informal non-partisan group of retired senior military leaders who meet regularly in Washington to discuss contemporary issues of national importance. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Military Times or its staff.
Co-signers:
Army Lt. Gen. Henry J. Hatch (ret.)
Navy Rear Adm. Cameron Fraser (ret.)
Navy Rear Adm. David T. Hart Jr. (ret.)
Army Maj. Gen. Leo M. Childs (ret.)
Army Brig. Gen. Clarke M. Brintnall (ret.)
Army Brig. Gen. Gerald E. Galloway (ret.)
Air Force Brig. Gen. Thomas L. Hemingway (ret.)
Air Force Reserve Brig. Gen. John A. Hurley (ret.)
Army Brig. Gen. Richard L. Reynard (ret.)
Army Brig. Gen. Anthony A. Smith (ret.)
G. Kim Wincup
Army Col. Charles B. Giasson (ret.)
Army Reserve Col. Herman E. Bulls
Army Col. George W. Sibert (ret.)
Army Col. John P. Walsh Jr. (ret.)
Army Col. Francis A. Waskowicz (ret.)
Army Lt. Col. William T. Marriott III (ret.)
Army Lt. Col. Palmer McGrew (ret.)
Army Capt. Douglas A. Cohn (ret.)
Army Capt. Joan S. Grey (ret.)
Glen L. Archer III
Jan C. Scruggs”

Survivor’s Guide to Being a Successful Whistleblower

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“THE PROJECT ON GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT” by Nick Schwellenbach

“Whistleblowers do a difficult thing.  However, the decision to blow the whistle can be immensely patriotic.

They often put their career and livelihood at risk standing up against their organization and disclosing information that may embarrass their colleagues and supervisors. It could save lives, defend our constitutional rights against government overreach, and help preserve our democracy.

But how do you blow the whistle and avoid retaliation? And if you end up facing reprisal from management, how do you maximize your chances of surviving professionally? This article aims to provide some general guidelines and practical considerations for federal employees who may ever consider making a disclosure of wrongdoing.

I recently left a government office that reviewed whistleblower disclosures and investigated complaints of retaliation, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC). My current organization, the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), was founded by Pentagon insiders concerned about the Department’s procurement of ineffective and overpriced weapons. Throughout POGO’s history we have served as a resource to federal whistleblowers and promoted improvements to better protect military, civilian, intelligence, and contractor whistleblowers. Employees at many agencies are concerned about this administration. Many people are reaching out to POGO for the first time to learn about how to safely and meaningfully disclose wrongdoing. This article is an on-ramp for understanding whistleblower protections and some of the practical risks many face in trying to do what is right.

A couple issues upfront: This article is geared toward most federal civilian employees in the executive branch under the framework of statutory whistleblower protections. However, the considerations discussed below generally apply to other types of employees too. And while there are similarities in legal protections and how whistleblower reprisal investigations work in the FBIintelligence communitycontractor, and military contexts, there are significant differences as well (including the fact that intelligence contractors do not have protections). Anyone thinking about blowing the whistle should strongly consider talking to experts at POGO, the Government Accountability Project, or Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

The following is not legal advice—for that, seek the services of an attorney with relevant experience who can speak to your specific circumstances. For those seeking very in-depth legal information, please see Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner and Jason Zuckerman’s paper, “The U.S. Office of Special Counsel’s Role in Protecting Whistleblowers and Serving as a Safe Channel for Government Employees to Disclose Wrongdoing.” It extensively details the prohibition on whistleblower retaliation in the federal workforce, which is the eighth “prohibited personnel practice” under the relevant federal statute. 5 U.S.C. § 2302(b)(8). Let’s turn to the fundamentals and practical concerns.

Whistleblower Reprisal Investigations – 101

First—What’s a protected whistleblower disclosure under the law? For federal employees, you are protected for disclosures where you have a reasonable belief of:

  • A violation of law, rule, or regulation (this includes the Constitution);
  • Gross mismanagement;
  • Gross waste of funds;
  • Abuse of authority;
  • Substantial and specific danger to public health and safety; or
  • Censorship related to scientific integrity that evidences one of the above categories.

Major caution: Policy disagreements themselves are not protected disclosures under whistleblower law, unless the employee reasonably believes that an executive branch policy creates one of the problems in the bullet points above (e.g. a disclosure about an Interior Department policy that will lead to $200 million in waste).

A whistleblower doesn’t have to be correct to be protected, but they do need to have a reasonable belief in what they’re disclosing. This is a relatively low legal bar. But, in practice, the more proof they can offer, the better. Documents trump verbal assertions, especially official documents. First-hand accounts made soon after an event are better than second-hand rumors long after the event occurred.

Thanks to the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA) of 2012, whistleblowers are also protected now if they make lawful disclosures to their co-workers and supervisors even if they are implicated in the wrongdoing. This is particularly significant since most employees raise concerns internally first. The WPEA also clarified that federal employees don’t have to be the first to make a disclosure to receive protections, that their motive does not matter, and that the protections they receive can include disclosures made in the normal course of their job duties.

Some employees who would not have received protection before the WPEA now can. An OSC official recently testified before Congress that:

…a whistleblower in the Department of Treasury filed a complaint with OSC because of alleged retaliation he suffered after he reported to his supervisor that the supervisor had allowed improper expenses to be incurred by the agency. Prior to the WPEA, his disclosure would not have been deemed protected because it was made to a supervisor involved in the alleged wrongdoing. After the WPEA, however, OSC is able to pursue this case and has an active, ongoing investigation into the claim.

Most federal employees don’t set out to become whistleblowers or want to be known as one, they just want their serious concerns to be resolved internally. It’s important to emphasize that they’re protected under the law too, even if their situation doesn’t fit what we normally view as whistleblowing.

What’s the relationship between disclosure and reprisal?

The disclosure is the underlying wrongdoing on which an employee blew the whistle (such as the agency wasted millions of dollars) and reprisal is the personnel actions taken against that employee for blowing the whistle (such as the employee got fired by the agency after he disclosed that millions of dollars were wasted). Some individuals make disclosures and don’t face whistleblower reprisal. An employee can’t face whistleblower retaliation if they didn’t make a disclosure (the rare exceptions are perceived whistleblower cases when management wrongly suspects someone is a whistleblower—these non-whistleblowers can get protections too). For context, in the last major official study on the topic in 2010, about one-third of federal employees said they faced retaliation, to one degree or another, after being identified as making a disclosure.

Many entities can receive disclosures, but the main place for federal employees to seek relief if they are retaliated against is OSC. If the retaliation involves severe personnel actions such as suspensions of 14 or more days, demotions, or termination, employees can go directly to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), which is a quasi-court in the executive branch for handling certain employment disputes. When an employee faces lesser employment actions—such as reprimands, suspensions shorter than 14 days, or a change of job duties—they must first go to OSC before having a right to appeal to MSPB. OSC will evaluate the complaint and, if OSC finds there is a basis to the retaliation claim, OSC will investigate or mediate the case. Individuals with retaliation complaints who go to OSC first can appeal with MSPB if OSC closes their case or after OSC has it for 120 days.

My personal view is, even with severe personnel actions, it may be worth it to go to OSC first since they may be able to facilitate a favorable outcome. Retaliation cases often contain a lot of gray area where negotiated settlements are the best way to resolve a case. If OSC’s process doesn’t yield a good outcome for the employee, they can appeal to the MSPB for a new review. However, it does not work the other way around. OSC does not generally review complaints if MSPB has already decided on the issue, since MSPB is OSC’s court of appeal.

It is worth consulting with a qualified attorney in order to file an effective retaliation complaint. In addition to OSC and MSPB, employees can also seek relief through a union’s grievance process. But it’s important to note that there are election of remedies issues in certain cases, meaning employees have to choose one venue—OSC, MSPB, or union process—to hear their concerns.

While MSPB and OSC are the executive branch agencies officially empowered to investigate and seek relief for federal employees, congressional offices often play a less official but powerful role in attempting to shield whistleblowers. For instance, Franz Gayl, a Marine Corps civilian scientist who blew the whistle on the lack of armored vehicles in Iraq, obtained relief by working with OSC, a number of Senate offices such as that of then-Senators Joe Biden (D-DE) and Kit Bond (R-MO), as well as GAP and POGO. Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has been a champion of whistleblowers for decades, and with two House Republicans he recently emphasized in a letter to President Trump the importance of whistleblowers. Congressional assistance is most powerful for whistleblowers when it is bipartisan.

What does a reprisal investigation look for?

An investigation seeks to answer four basic questions:

  • Did the person make a protected whistleblower disclosure?
  • Did they suffer from or were threatened with an adverse personnel action?
  • Did management know or suspect the person was the whistleblower?
  • Was there a legitimate, non-retaliatory reason for the adverse personnel action?

Many retaliation investigations hinge on that last question. Some factors that may have to be examined are: Did management care about performance or conduct issues only after disclosures were made? If so, that may indicate retaliatory motive. How were other employees with the same performance or misconduct issues treated? If our whistleblower is facing harsher punishment than others with similar job performance problems, that could indicate retaliation. It is helpful for the whistleblower to be aware of these comparisons in documenting and building their case.

Considerations

With the above established, what should an ethical federal employee consider when deciding whether to blow the whistle?

Talk to Your Partner

Would-be whistleblowers should discuss with their spouse or anyone else that might be drastically impacted by the professional consequences of whistleblowing. Move forward with eyes wide open, together.

Anonymity

The classic and often best method for protecting oneself is to stay anonymous as the source of a disclosure that may anger one’s management. This can be easier said than done.

The traceability of digital communications have created liabilities for employees wishing to stay anonymous. In response, a number of tools have been created that make it harder to establish the digital fingerprints on information communicated electronically. Right now, there are questions being raised about whether government employees communicating with these tools on official time or involving official business might violate federal records laws. The safest course for any employee may be to communicate on private time with a private device using one of these secure tools.

Low-tech means of making disclosures should also be considered and often are preferable. In-person meetings, mailing documents, slipping envelopes under doors. Sometimes the old ways are still the best. They may seem time-consuming, but they could prevent larger (and even more time-consuming!) problems.

Then there’s the issue of who knew the information that was disclosed. If the information is widely known within an agency, it might be virtually impossible for management to identify the source. If very few had access, those seeking out the source are more likely to be successful. There are some ways around this challenge. Providing a congressional office or a reporter with enough information to ask the right questions or make document requests might be possibilities to strongly consider. This is often the safest route for insiders since it does not involve actually passing along any documents, including potentially sensitive information.

The anonymous route can make follow-up difficult with whoever receives the disclosure. Reporters, IG investigators, and congressional offices may want to know who the source is to assess the disclosure’s credibility and to ask questions. While there are situations where one-time anonymous disclosures lead to changes, they typically do not. Figuring out how to communicate while preserving your anonymity can be key to making an impact.

Another potential downside is that if a whistleblower is later retaliated against and they can’t show that the person who retaliated against them knew they blew the whistle it poses a challenge to their retaliation complaint.

For more, please review “The Art of Anonymous Activism,” by PEER, GAP, and POGO. The book’s discussion of the federal whistleblower laws is now out of date, but the rest of the book generally is on point.

When Being Public Might Make Sense

Sometimes the negative publicity that can stem from retaliating against a whistleblower can give an agency pause. The choice to go public can make sense when management knows who the whistleblower is even if they attempted to stay anonymous. But managers have long memories and when the story fades from the headlines, the press might not be paying attention when management decides to finally take action.

Pros and Cons of the Press

The press often pays more attention when there’s a person at the center of their story since it helps create a narrative. At times this can lead to better coverage and, in certain circumstances, help protect a whistleblower. But sometimes the story becomes more about a person rather than the issue that they raised. This can also backfire if an agency leaks information that impugns a whistleblower’s motive. It’s possible that skeletons in your closet could come out. It may be that individuals with motive to retaliate may make what you might have done in the past appear worse than it was. And going public may raise the ire of managers even more.

Deciding on whether to get involved in a public relations battle is a major decision. I’ve been involved in a number of cases where it has been critical to a whistleblower’s professional survival, including their legal strategy, but it isn’t without risk.

It’s important that whistleblowers understand most journalists are not advocates. Some consider actively protecting their source to be beyond their role as objective journalists (you may want to find out which do and which don’t). Many simply move on to the next story and are no longer interested or available when the hammer falls.

Whom to Disclose To

With some important exceptions (please read below for more), the federal whistleblower protection laws allow employees to make protected disclosures to a wide variety of entities, including the press and the public. Inspectors General (IGs), Congress, the Office of Special Counsel, agency leadership, supervisors, and coworkers can receive disclosures. When deciding on where to go, it’s worth considering the substance of the disclosure and what entity is best suited to take appropriate action. Look for offices or reporters that may have conducted previous quality investigations on similar issues. Research their reputation for working with whistleblowers.

Before making a formal disclosure, consider summarizing the essence of the problem in writing in plain English–on one page. Better yet, one paragraph. While there may be a whole story behind the wrongdoing being exposed, get to the point as early as possible. This exercise will help anyone blowing the whistle communicate their concerns succinctly.

Congress and the press can be important allies even when a whistleblower also discloses to an IG or within their agency. With numerous Department of Veterans Affairs whistleblowers, in the Jason Amerine case, and with many other employees, congressional pressure and media coverage were key to protecting whistleblowers and prompting improved investigations of their disclosures.

Be Careful What Information You Disclose to the Press and the Public

Generally, federal employees are protected for making the types of disclosures described above. But the law carves out exceptions for classified information or information “specifically prohibited by law” from public disclosure. For example, this latter provision covers sensitive medical information protected under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and tax return information protected under the Internal Revenue Service’s statute. Whistleblowers who disclose these types of information are not protected. Indeed, one can easily be fired for disclosing information prohibited by statute from public disclosure. There are some categories of information created by agency rules and regulations that can still be legally disclosed to the press or the public. In January 2015, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of an air marshal who disclosed “Sensitive Security Information,” a category of data created by a Transportation Security Administration regulation. The Supreme Court ruled that Congress did not intend to give agencies a unilateral means of defanging whistleblower protections. But there is enough nuance in the Court’s decision to warrant serious caution since some information categories created by agency regulations may have sufficient basis in statute and thus are excluded from whistleblower protection.

However, Offices of Inspectors General, Congress, and the Office of Special Counsel all can receive sensitive information that cannot legally be disclosed to the press. The whistleblowers who disclose to these channels simply cannot be punished for those disclosures.

Whistleblowing Is Not a Blank Check for Misconduct or Poor Performance

For those identified or even suspected as being a whistleblower, they will come under scrutiny from management and co-workers. It’s a human reaction and many well-meaning people become upset when concerns are taken outside of the chain of command, especially when they’re made public.

While overzealous management with animus can likely find a problem with almost any employee, we advise whistleblowers not to hand them ammo. If you blow the whistle, try to do your job the best you can.

That can be hard to do if management and co-workers socially isolate you and make it hard to do your job. But it’s important to try to be as professional as possible despite the hostility that you might confront. In fact, the pressure that may lead to losing your cool and/or not doing your job effectively could be used as justification for discipline. Hostile work environment claims are difficult to establish, especially if there are no official personnel actions that accompany the hostility. But if it can be shown that the hostility was bad enough to interfere with your ability to do your job despite your best efforts, it may be possible to make a viable claim.

Get An Attorney That Works for You

Agency attorneys ultimately work for their client, which they see as their agency and their leadership. Don’t count on them if you think you’re going to be at odds with management. Indeed, be wary. They don’t have an attorney-client relationship with you and they are conflicted if such a situation develops. At the end of the day, they know who the boss is.

When looking for a private attorney, find one that has previous experience working on federal employment law. POGO provides a list of attorneys.

Don’t Lie—Ever

When dealing with investigators, congressional staffers, reporters, your own attorney, your management, don’t lie to any of them, especially if you work in a national security context. If you lie to management or to investigators, it’s easily a basis for losing your security clearance—if the government can’t trust you, why should you be allowed to see secrets? For many positions, the loss of a clearance is the kiss of professional death. Neither the Office of Special Counsel nor the Merit Systems Protection Board can investigate security clearance determinations due to a Supreme Court decision, Navy v. Egan (484 U.S. 518 (1988)). That said, there are administrative ways to have security clearance decisions reviewed separate from the context of a whistleblower reprisal investigation.

Lying to investigators can result in criminal charges too.

If you lie to reporters or congressional staffers, your credibility will dry up quickly with these potential allies. If you lie to your own attorney, you may cripple their ability to defend you.

Taking Care of What’s Important

The stress of blowing the whistle can be overwhelming and can take a toll on a whistleblower’s personal life outside the office. Many whistleblowers become, understandably so, engrossed by their retaliation case. Prioritize the important people–family and friends–in your life and protect your physical and emotional health. Exercising, hobbies, socializing—these are some ways to renew your psychological well-being.

All federal employees swear an oath to the Constitution and serve the nation, not any one person or political party. Our system of government and its institutions were designed to provide checks and balances. But institutions are only as strong as the people that give them life–and whistleblowers are the conscience of those institutions. Hang in there.”

http://www.pogo.org/our-work/articles/2017/survivors-guide-to-being-a-whistleblower-federal-government.html?referrer=https://outlook.live.com/

 

 

Intelligence Watchdog Finds Contractor Abuses

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“POGO”

“Dozens of instances when contractor employees fudged their timesheets, billing the government for time they were not at work or when they engaged in activities either personal in nature or outside the scope of the contract.

38 substantiated cases  – loss to the government of more than $2.5 million.

Last week brought news that another Booz Allen Hamilton employee was accused of improperly removing sensitive material from the National Security Agency (NSA). Harold Thomas Martin III was charged with theft of government property and unauthorized removal and retention of classified materials. The government alleges Martin took documents and digital files containing information that, if disclosed, “reasonably could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security of the United States.”

It was another black eye for Booz Allen, which was NSA surveillance program whistleblower Edward Snowden’s employer. It was equally embarrassing for the U.S. intelligence community, which pays contractors like Booz Allen billions of dollars each year to help run its global operations and keep a tight lid on our country’s more sensitive secrets.

Just days after the Harold Martin story broke, U.S. intelligence contractors were again in the spotlight. On Sunday, VICE News reporter Jason Leopold posted hundreds of pages of Intelligence Community Inspector General (ICIG) investigative reports. The documents contain the juicy—and occasionally disturbing—details of misconduct investigations conducted by the ICIG, the watchdog office that oversees the federal intelligence agencies. Most of the cases involved employees of Booz Allen and other prominent contractors.

Specifically, the documents contain dozens of instances when contractor employees fudged their timesheets, billing the government for time they were not at work or when they engaged in activities either personal in nature or outside the scope of the contract.

The ICIG also found that some contractor employees, while working on extremely sensitive intelligence programs and operations, risked exposing classified information by using non-secure networks and computers. They did so while working for some of the government’s most trusted private sector partners: Booz Allen and SAIC are among only a handful of private firms that collectively employ nearly all of the intelligence community’s contractor workforce.

The implications of the VICE News revelations are enormous. Not only did the contractor employees rip off taxpayers, they also compromised national security. The ICIG reports bolster POGO’s concern that contractor timesheet fraud is especially rampant among intelligence programs due to a lack of transparency and insufficient contract oversight. However, they also give us a reason to be optimistic: they show that the intelligence watchdog takes its role seriously and doggedly pursues allegations of wrongdoing.”

http://www.pogo.org/blog/2016/10/intelligence-watchdog-finds-contractor-abuses.html

 

 

Get As Engaged In Communities As Veterans

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“TASK AND PURPOSE.COM”

“In the world examined by veterans advocacy group Got Your Six, veterans are not broken.

They are not dangerous. They are not troubled. Instead, they are diligent community members. They vote. They volunteer. By all accounts, they are more engaged in their communities than non-veterans.

In the second annual Veterans Civic Health Index, Got Your Six — in partnership with the Harry and Jeannette Weinberg Foundation, American Express and the National Conference on Citizenship — delves into the copious data on the American population provided by the 2014 Census Current Population Survey, Volunteering Supplement, and Voting Supplement to examine how the influence of military service is reflected in veterans’ contributions to civic health and community engagement.

The findings are reassuring for those who believe that military service turns young men and women into valuable contributors to society. Across a number of metrics — volunteerism, voting, charitable giving and community involvement — veterans of all generations tend to be more involved and more generous than non-veterans, even if not always overwhelmingly so. Clearly, veterans care, and communities benefit because of the lessons that military service teaches and the values it instills.

The Index captures some key positive traits of veterans that are likely attributable to the self-selecting nature of volunteer military service, where veterans are more likely to ascribe to patriotic ideals that can go hand-in-hand with community service. At the same time, the picture is incomplete, much like negative portrayals of veterans, because it freezes the community in isolation, looking in this case at its most positive and contributory traits.

The lesson we cannot lose sight of, and which Got Your Six executive director Bill Rausch has commented on in the past, is that veterans are three-dimensional. They have been shaped by a specific commitment they made to serve, but they also share many life experiences and traits with non-veterans. They may do more in their community than non-veterans, but they also face challenges that non-veterans do not face. They are not simply heroes or victims.

While the Civic Health Index focuses on the community involvement of veterans, there are other ways in which veterans are making a difference in their communities and contributing to civic health. For example, veterans have historically been 45% more likely than non-veterans to be self-employed, and unlike nonprofits and volunteer groups, small businesses are the primary drivers of job creation in communities. Joblessness is a major contributor to unrest in communities, so when veterans start businesses and hire both veterans and non-veterans, they can have a substantial impact on civic health. We should not just be advising businesses on how to interact with and hire veterans, but encourage veteran business owners to employ their companies as forces to generate not just profits, but also generate positive community impact.

There is one giant question mark that is left unaddressed in the Civic Health Index. While the data Got Your Six has collected clearly indicates that veterans have been and continue to be more active in their communities than non-veterans, there are simply fewer veterans alive today than at any point over the last three decades, and the decline will continue to be steep over the next decade. According to the RAND Corporation, “the total number of veterans is expected to decrease by 19 percent between 2014 and 2024, assuming no major policy changes or large-scale conflicts. The median age of this population will continue to increase, and veterans are projected to become more geographically concentrated over this period.” That means that by 2024, the veteran population could dip to 17.4 million.

There is nothing to be done to change this basic demographic reality. That means that the net positive contributions of veterans to community and the benefits accrued will decline as well, no matter the lessons learned from this report.

The Civic Health Index is a positive contribution to the debate about veterans’ roles in society. It provides reasonable, thoughtful recommendations for all sides to maximize the benefits of veteran involvement. But we must recognize that the veteran population is aging and shrinking, and consider how we can maintain overall civic health when there are fewer veterans around to set a positive example.

Given these demographic shifts, even as we celebrate civic-minded veterans, we must teach non-veterans not just how to appreciate and collaborate with veterans in their communities, but how to learn to imitate the mission-driven mindset that pushes veterans to make a difference, to be heard and to be seen in their communities.”

http://taskandpurpose.com/civilians-need-get-engaged-communities-veterans/?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Early%20Bird%20Brief%2010.4.2016&utm_term=Editorial%20-%20Early%20Bird%20Brief

Ten Success Traits Common to Small Government Contractors

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Small Business Success Traits

As a volunteer counselor over the last decade, I have noted common traits among the most successful small business federal government contractors.  The following are 10 of the most prominent traits and tips on how successful small companies developed them

Commercial success before entering government contracting.  From maintaining buildings to keeping the lights on, from grounds maintenance to flight maintenance, look for niches that can be pursued based on successful past performance, transitioning via industry teaming via subcontracts, partner roles with larger companies or in small business set aside orders for minor items and simpler services provided directly to the government.  Your Entry Points

Willingness to concede there were things they did not know and seeking advice early.   You may download the book, SmallBusiness Federal Government Contracting and its supplement from the “Box” in the left margin of this site.  You may also benefit from the free “Reference Materials”. Contract agreements, incorporation instructions for all the US states, guidance on marketing and business planning are also included.   Free Books and Supplements

Recognition of the value in industry teaming. Synergism is paramount in teaming with any size company, whether in a lead or subcontracting role. There should be technical, management and market segment similarities between you and any company with whom you are considering teaming. Your prospective team member ideally will not be a direct competitor; rather a business in a related field with whom you share a mutual need for each other’s contributions in pursuing large-scale projects. Small Business Teaming in Government Contracting 

Strong capability statement (CAPE) development, networked prudently among government agencies and large government contractors. Your CAPE targets contracting officers and prime contractor buyers who are seeking to fulfill their small business buying goals. It is a way to get you in the door and speak to, or correspond with, the management and technical personnel who are the decision makers in sourcing small business buys.  A good quality CAPE is the spearhead of your marketing campaign and your visual image;  focused and direct, it must be informative, concise and a snapshot of the very best you can offer. Your Capability Statement

Maximizing set-aside qualifications in seeking both prime and subcontract opportunities. Small business group-designated procurements are far more frequent than sole source contract awards.  Agencies must prepare special justifications for sole sourcing and those most frequently approved are for Hub Zone and Small, Disadvantaged [8(a)] firms.  Small business group designations are beneficial to firms who hold them by enhancing the probability of an award through agency restrictions on prime contractor bidding to only those who hold the group designation. Others may bid as subcontractors to the prime but the prime small business contractor must be capable of performing at least 51% of the total effort in terms of work scope, hours and dollars. Marketing to Achieve a Small Business Set-aside Contract

Prudent bid/no bid decisions. Government contract proposal preparation is time consuming and can be costly. Meeting agency Request for Proposal (RFP) requirements with a responsive proposal can be well worth the effort if a winning strategy can be formulated.  When considering a proposal to a given government solicitation, conduct a bid/no bid exercise. By going through that process you will begin formulating your win strategy or you will discover that your should not bid the job for lack of such a strategy. Making an Astute Bid/No Bid Decision

Ethical business conduct and avoidance of conflicts of interest. A small business ethics image is different than a product or service “Brand Identity”. The latter focuses on that which the customer receives from you in the way of products and/or services. A company ethics image is how the organization is viewed in general from a public perception as positive or negative.  That view is held by customers, your industry partners or prospective partners, regulators and the average citizen. If carefully sculpted your public ethics image can be a vital element in business success; if neglected it can pose a high risk to your enterprise.  Maintaining an Ethical Company Image

Excellence in risk analysis. The challenges and difficulties for the small business in government contracting are not so much in the areas of barriers as  they are in lack of knowledge (which I concede is a form of barrier but one that can be dealt with) Large business and government agencies take advantage of the small enterprise lack of knowledge or make poor assumptions regarding what a small business knows about the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) and associated Cost Accounting Standards (CAS). This leads directly to abusive practices. Managing Small Business Risk

 Solid long range planning and plan maintenance. The time to consider separating government from commercial work and/or establishing new cost centers for bidding, accounting and billing purposes is when the enterprise is generating a long range marketing plan to determine rates for bidding new long term contracts. The location of the work (both geographic location and whether performance is in or out of a government facility, its duration, skill set requirements, government-mandated fringe benefits for workers and the competition are all factors to consider).Strategic Planning for Small Business

Excelling in meeting the past performance challenge, building a performance record with solid customer service and sensitivity.  How can a new organization or one that is new to government contracting muster a response to the past performance challenge? The answer lies in historical projects that may be similar in the commercial arena and a high quality proposal that clearly demonstrates an understanding of the requirement at hand, a unique and cost effective project plan and high performing personnel and/or products tailored to the statement of work to offset an interim, light past performance record. Meeting the Past Performance Challenge

 

Cuts Proposed To Post-911 G.I. Bill

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Image: Rep. Tammy Duckworth who lost both legs in Iraq, used the GI Bill for education benefits 

“STARS AND STRIPES .COM”

“The House cut a section of the benefits in February to pay for a massive veteran reform package and the Senate is now weighing whether to take up the measure.

[Rep Tom  Walz (D) MN] suggested Congress instead cut bonuses to Department of Veterans Affairs employees, which have been mired in a scandal over wrongdoing for two years.

More than one million veterans who served on active duty since the 9/11 attacks and their family members have used the GI Bill benefits to get an education since it was created in 2009.

“When we ask our troops to make a promise to us to run into battle, we don’t accept it when they turn around and say, ‘You know what, now that the bullets are flying the cost is a little bit high,” Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., said. “So how dare we decide years later after we’ve made this promise, after people have enlisted or stayed in the military partly partially because of this benefit, to say, ‘You know what, we decide it’s too expensive, you cost us too much.’”

The 50-percent reduction in housing stipends proposed in the House bill would break what they consider a sacred trust with veterans, the veterans and lawmakers said.

Paul Rieckhoff, the founder and CEO of IAVA, said the proposal is a new low point for Congress and that the GI Bill has never faced any cuts up until now.

“We are drawing a line in the sand,” Rieckhoff said. “Do not use the GI Bill as a piggy bank.”

The reduction in housing money is one measure in a much larger omnibus bill aimed at improving veterans’ services. The larger bill was written by various lawmakers and sponsored by Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio.

To pay for the veterans bill, the Republican leadership in the House required lawmakers to cut spending within veterans programs and the GI Bill became the target, said Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., who rallied against the cuts Thursday.

The rally was an attempt to apply pressure to leaders in the Senate, such as Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., the chairman of the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, who are now considering the legislation.”

http://www.stripes.com/news/veterans-lawmakers-decry-proposed-cuts-to-gi-bill-1.404570