Saturday, January 15, 2011

Personnel Problems at ISCD

For the last couple of months or so I have been trying to get an official statement from the Infrastructure Security Compliance Division about the status of the memorandum of understanding between the Coast Guard and ISCD concerning the treatment of security at MTSA covered chemical facilities. It’s been kind of a low priority thing; send off the occasional email, make the occasional telephone call. Unfortunately, I have been unable to get an official response; not a ‘no comment’, just no response. No return emails, no phone calls answered. Just an ISCD information black hole.

So this week I started to do some unofficial checking, checking with some people that can’t give me an official answer. Even there, I’ve been having problems getting information, but apparently there are some internal problems at ISCD, problems that are causing people to tip-toe around and only talk in whispers and to be careful about who they talk to.

Management Problems

Let’s start at the Top. Ever since the Obama administration came to town, ISCD has been run by acting folks; an acting director and acting assistant director. This was because the Director, Sue Armstrong, had been temporarily pushed upstairs to fill another acting position. Now this is not unusual with a change in Administration. The political appointees at the top leave with the old administration and the career folks step up into acting positions to fill the void. Then they return to their old jobs when the new political appointees step in.

It has been two years now and the political appointment at the top of the chain that leads to ISCD has yet to be made. Everyone knows that Obama has had problems getting appointments confirmed in the Senate. There have been additional problems in finding appointees willing or able to take on these positions without running afoul of the internal administration rules on lobbyists. I don’t know what the cause is here, but there is too much acting going on in NPPD this late in the game.

This delay in making political appointments at DHS causes problems. Political decisions are not being made about policy, they are either being put on hold, or being kicked upstairs for resolution. Even worse, somewhere down the line, the stepping up process has created an empty management position and routine decisions there are being delayed or just not happening.

To make matters worse, I’m now hearing that the acting director and the acting deputy director were relieved last month. I’ve heard no details on why or exactly when, just that they are gone. Instead of pulling someone up from inside ISCD (and to be fair it is not a real large group to begin with) the Administration brought in two other career people from outside of NPPD to fill the acting positions.

Being from outside of NPPD, one would assume that they have very limited, if any knowledge, of the CFATS program, but I’m also hearing that they don’t even have a background in security or chemistry. That means that whatever their skills and experience they had in their old jobs, here they are nothing but bureaucrats.

Hopefully this problem will be resolved when Sue Armstrong is able to step back down into her role as Director. She has the experience with CFATS and the two new people can get brought up to speed under her tutelage.

Labor Problems

Now, as if this management issue were not causing enough problems, it seems like there are additional problems down in the ranks. I’m hearing that the chemical facility inspectors are going to be voting on unionization in a couple of weeks. Whatever your position on unions in general, a union vote in today’s environment is a clear sign of a basic disconnect between labor and management.

I don’t know what the issues are here (and I would love to give the union folks a chance to air their grievances, they at least should be able to talk publicly about the issues; management can’t, not with a vote scheduled), but I can imagine that the daily life of a CFI is going to be rough, just because of the nature of the job. They have to spend most of their life on the road and the atmosphere on-site is going to vary from strained to confrontational. That makes for a tough work environment.

Add to that the political dissatisfaction with the pace of the inspection process, and I’m sure that there are enormous pressures put on these folks. Finally, they are still having to make-up the inspection process as they go as no one has done this kind of thing before. Complicating that further, each new facility that they go to is different than the ones before. That adds a whole new set of intellectual pressures, particularly with people that care about the mission.

That kind of work environment demands a management team that is involved and cares about the worker bees. It would help if they were experienced in the field and understood the work environment, but that is not possible here. There is no one with the experience or background. So it’s going to take a management team with an unusual amount of empathy and understanding to prevent the discord that leads to a unionization vote.

This brings to mind an interesting question. Did Deziel and Klessman get canned because their bosses felt they were the cause of the union vote? Or perhaps it was a move to address some of the apparent management issues by bringing in a new management team, one with perhaps more labor-management experience. In any case, if it was in part to deal with this situation, that would explain the current strained relationships in the offices at ISCD.

Problem Resolution

Both of these problems, whether or not they are linked, have got to be having a negative effect on work being done by the folks at ISCD. The CFATS program and the yet to be completed Ammonium Nitrate regulations are just too complex not to be delayed and held-up by these issues. And, they are too important to be delayed any further.

Since these problems appear to be at least partially political in nature, maybe it is time to take a political look at the issues. A congressional hearing or two might bring the problems out into the public focus where it apparently needs to be.

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