Thursday, April 4, 2013

DHS IG Report – Perceptions of Retaliation


I did not delve too far into the DHS IG report on Wednesday; there is a lot of information there and there are a number of other things going on as well that deserve some attention. But this is a blog about chemical facility security and some readers have taken me to task for glossing over some of the apparent inadequacies of the report, particularly as it deals with (or doesn’t depending on how you look at things) with a variety of personnel issues.

Locality Pay

I did mention the locality pay issue and that was principally because I have heard about that issue from a number of Chemical Security Inspectors (anonymously) and headquarters folks over the years. A number of attempts (with varying success) to shift blame from management to CSI poisoned the atmosphere in ISCD and left many outsiders with suspicions about the integrity of the inspection force. The detailed description of the problem in the IG report will help correct the latter problem, but will do nothing to ease the first. More importantly (to an admittedly limited number of CSI) the IG made no recommendation to address the inequities of the repayment problem.

Retaliation

One of the problems that I have heard about from a number of sources within ISCD (past and present) is the long history (spanning the rein of a number of acting and actual directors) of management retaliation against employees and staff that have had the temerity to point out the shortcomings of whatever short-term manager was sitting in the head office.

The most obvious example was the firing of Assistant Secretary Todd Kiel when the questioning in Congress got too heated. One has a hard time feeling sorry for a political appointee that gets fired when the political heat gets too hot, but this is certainly resulted in a retaliation complaint that made the national news. It is not, however, surprising that the IG ignored this complaint; their mission is not to protect politicians.

I haven’t reported on the large number (my subjective opinion) of complaints that have made their way to my electronic mailboxes about personnel inequities encountered at ISCD. I have been around long enough to be well aware that many (maybe even most) such complaints are realized only in the mind of the offended party. Since I have no way of conducting any kind of investigation I did not want to be guilty on incorrectly besmirching someone’s reputation on the basis of an imagined slight.

I have received a number of reports about inequitable personnel actions that appeared to have been caused (according to the admittedly one-sided reports) by an attempt to punish the individual for complaining about or questioning the legality or efficacy of a management decision. I have heard that a number of these had been referred to OIG, the DHS EEOC office and a variety of Congressional offices.

This OIG report only notes that a number of complaints had been filed at and the OIG was “unable to substantiate any claims of retaliation or suppression of nonconforming opinions” (pg 84 Adobe). Unfortunately, the report does provide a partial answer to the reason for not being able to substantiate some of those claims; the OIG did not initiate a thorough investigation of the reported problems until after they received multiple congressional requests for an investigation.

Now I understand that a small number of these complaints have made their way into the court system from the EEOC complaints process. Now I haven’t actually seen any of the complaints or depositions, so I can’t comment on the ‘legitimacy’ of the action involved. But to get before a judge a lawyer has had to review the evidence and decided that the complainant would have a reasonable chance of succeeding in the action; after all, in most cases the lawyer will not get paid unless the action prevails.

Now that limited number of federal court cases were unlikely to have been examined to closely by the OIG. Most federal judges have an almost knee-jerk reaction against having an executive agency review their proceedings before a judgment has been rendered. It looks too much like interference in the execution of their office.

Poor IG Record Keeping

Given the five pages of detailed information and explication provided by the DHS OIG dedicated to the coverage of the locality page issues, it seems odd that so little space is given to a problem that so completely undermines the trust of the field force in its management. Upon closer examination the answer is relatively obvious, the complaint record maintained by OIG does not arrange information in a manner that is designed to allow for an investigation to logically access the information.

The OIG report notes that:

“The DHS OIG Hotline received complaints from NPPD employees, but hotline staff could not provide us an accurate count of the complaints received. This is because DHS OIG’s Office of Investigations uses a database that is name or case number driven, and it is not searchable by topic or beyond a DHS component level.” (pg 50 Adobe)

Remediation Suggestions

Because the OIG was unable to substantiate any specific claims of retaliation due to their inability to actually investigate most such claims, they made no suggestions for NPPD and ISCD for correcting the underlying mistrust issues. That is a shame because without trust between management and the field inspection force, this program is probably destined to die a slow and politically agonizing death.

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