Homeland Security’s Future Home: A Former Mental Hospital
Some are beginning to wonder if the move to the DHS was such a good idea.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has became a case study in mismanagement. DHS’s top ranks swelled with appointees with questionable credentials, such as, the Civil Rights Officer. A more famous political appointee was Michael Brown, who totally mismanaged the Government's efforts following Hurricane Katrina. The former FEMA director had been previously employed for a decade by the International Arabian Horse Association. There were frequent interagency tussles. For instance, two separate agencies—the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)—were supposed to safeguard the nation’s peripheries together. It didn’t go well. “It’s vital to recognize that the two bureaus barely interact,” David Venturella, former director of ICE’s office of detention and removal operations, told a congressional committee in 2005. “When they do, they argue over budget, operations, and jurisdiction.” DHS’s goof-ups were spectacular and sometimes comical. In 2005, Congress chastised its Directorate of Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection for including mini-golf courses, petting zoos, and a bourbon festival alongside nuclear power plants on its list of places in danger of terrorist attacks. DHS also had a habit of entering into no-bid contracts with politically connected companies.
Chris Mills frequently gives tours of St. Elizabeths Hospital, a former mental institution where the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is building a $4.5 billion headquarters. It’s the largest construction project in the District of Columbia since the Pentagon was completed in 1943. So there’s a lot of ground to cover. Mills prefers to chauffeur his guests around the place in a golf cart.
A cheerful 55-year-old with a neatly trimmed mustache, Mills, who is managing the project for DHS, tells visitors to look out for animals. There are loads. Herds of deer, a flock of wild turkeys, and a bald eagle reside in the fenced-in facility. They might not last long outside. St. Elizabeths is located in Anacostia, one of D.C.’s toughest neighborhoods. But they have little to fear inside the high-security fences. “It’s like the wild kingdom in here,” Mills says with a chuckle.
Then he’s off in his golf cart with his passengers. His boss, Jeffery Orner, DHS’s chief readiness support officer, who oversees all of the department’s real estate, has come along for the ride. There’s a DHS public-relations person on board, too. She sits in the back, smiling and saying nothing. Everybody is wearing hard hats and DHS safety vests.
As Mills meanders through the leafy campus on a splendid June morning, he explains that the headquarters is mission-critical. He says DHS is currently scattered in 50 locations throughout the capital. After its dismal performance in Hurricane Katrina in 2005 under FEMA's Michael Brown, the agency decided it would be better able to fight terrorists and respond to natural disasters if its leaders worked side by side in one place. “We really needed a consolidated headquarters,” Mills says.
(Courtesy National Archives
He explains that DHS will use many of the old hospital buildings on the 176-acre campus. He pulls up to the dining hall where inmates once took their meals. It has been painstakingly restored and will serve as a festive 300-seat cafeteria for Homeland Security employees. The kitchen has been completely refurbished and the dining room is now lit with hanging pastel-colored globes. “As you can see, this is ready to go,” says Mills proudly.
From there it’s a quick trip to the future seat of the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Until recently, that would have been Janet Napolitano, but she announced her retirement on July 12. Whoever runs DHS will occupy the former office of the St. Elizabeths asylum superintendent. They were surrounded by the inmates.
It isn’t ready, not by a long shot. There aren’t lights, for one thing. Mills passes out flashlights and leads the way inside. There are holes in the floors. The ceilings are collapsing in some areas. Mills says St. Elizabeths moved patients out of the building in the 1960s, but somebody forgot to turn off the heat. “The steam was left on for years and years and years and years,” Mills laments. “The building literally rotted from the inside. The floors collapsed on each other.”
“This renovation of this building would make a great HGTV episode,” Orner says, “except they tend to complete their work in one show.”
It’s a clever line, one that Orner has undoubtedly uncorked previously. But he raises an important issue. The project is moving slowly, even by the geologic standards of the U.S. government. It’s been plagued by delays and mounting costs. People might not even remember Napolitano when the building is completed, which might be around 2026.
In the months after the Sept. 11, 2001attack on the World Trade Center, the Bush administration and the U.S. Congress decided that Americans would be safer from terrorists if they combined 22 federal agencies into a single unit—including the Coast Guard, the Customs Service, the Secret Service, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), the Transportation Security Administration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the National Infrastructure Protection Center, the Federal Computer Incident Response Center, and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, to name just a few. It was the largest reorganization of the federal government since the creation in 1947 of what would become the U.S. Department of Defense.
The new Department of Homeland Security would have 180,000 employees and a $36 billion budget, but its supporters promised it would be nimble. There were a few dissenters in Congress. One was Representative John Mica, a Florida Republican. “I gave a little speech at the time,” he remembers. “I said anyone who thinks you can combine 22 agencies and 200,000 people and it’s going to be more efficient and economical needs to have their head examined.”
Webster Smith Took A Hit from CG Office of Civil Rights.
It took a long time for the Dept Homeland Security, Office of Civil Rights to make a decision on the Webster Smith Discrimination Complaint. Today, Webster Smith is on the ropes after receiving a sucker punch from Ms Carmen Walker, the Deputy Officer for EEO Programs in the Department of Homeland Security. The big question is will he be able to survive a "standing 8 count", or will this be the final round in his fight to get justice from the Coast Guard Academy and the Coast Guard?
Carmen H. Walker, DHS, Deputy Officer for EEO Programs, Office of Civil Rights and Liberties, in her 20 August 2007 letter says that because Webster Smith was court-martialed, he could not have been discriminated against, as a matter of law. Well, that is just flat out patently wrong. A court-martial does not bar a civil rights action. The court-martial was just one act in a chain of events, each of which constituted racial discrimination. The same set of facts can give rise to actionable relief in two different arenas, as here. The several discriminatory actions taken against Webster Smith before he was even charged under the UCMJ are completely separate and distinct from any possible legal errors that were committed during the course of the court-martial.
Only the legal and procedural errors committed by the prosecution at trial are the subject of the appeal to the Coast Guard Court of Military Revue. This decision by Ms Walker is the dumbest decision I have ever seen, and the shortest. There was more meat on the shadow of the chicken that died of starvation than in this Report. There are no Findings of Fact. There are no Conclusions. There is no Rationale, or any reasoning whatsoever. There is nothing in the Final Report to show how she arrived at her decision. No comparisons are made with any other cases or sets of facts. This was a pure anal extraction.
H. Jerry Jones, the Coast Guard’s director of the Office of Civil Rights in Washington D.C., authorized an inquiry Dec. 7 of last year into whether former cadet first class Webster Smith, who is Black, was treated differently during the investigation into his case than whites who had committed similar offenses.
After reviewing Smith's complaint, Jones dismissed 16 separate claims but authorized an investigation into the alleged inequity of treatment, headquarters spokesman Cmdr. Jeff Carter said Dec. 15.
The Coast Guard hired JDG Associates Inc., a San Antonio-based consultant company that specializes in equal opportunity and civil rights issues, to examine the complaint, Carter said.
Carter explained that the Coast Guard does not maintain a large Equal Employment Opportunity Commission staff and needed to hire the firm to ensure fairness.
Consistent with 29CFR 1614.107(b) when an agency dismisses some but not all of the claims in a complaint, the dismissed claims will not be investigated and the dismissal is not immediately appealable. The Department of Homeland Security was supposed to review them together with the Report of Investigation when it prepared the Final Agency Decision (FAD) on the accepted claims. It does not appear that Ms Walker has done this. She does not appear to have followed the letter or the spirit of the regulation.
Webster Smith has the right to request reconsideration of the FAD, including the dismissal determination if it is sustained. It appears that Ms. Walker has done that by default. Even though the dismissed claims were not processed as discreet and separate claims, the information regarding the dismissed claims were required to be used as evidence during the investigation of the accepted claim. Ms. Walker certainly could not have done that. However, it is hard to tell just what Ms Walker did, if anything. She gives very few clues as to what she did, if she did anything. She could have flipped a coin, or rolled the dice for all we know. The FAD is brief and uninformative. It gives very little insight into the inner workings and hidden mechanisms of her mind.
Ms Carmen Walker was faced with a living room full of pink elephants. She chose to ignore all of them. She ignored what would have been obvious to even a child, and instead she grasped at two invisible straws. She chose to hang her hat on a technicality that will prove to be a gross embarassment to her and her Agency. She had a chance to be on the right side of History. She followed the path that leads into the woods, and she chose the most frequently traveled path. That might prove to make all the difference in the world.
It looks like Ms Walker has not looked at this complaint since it first arrived on her desk. She must have noticed that the First Anniversary of the filing of the complaint was fast approaching. On 5 September, it will be one whole year since the complaint was filed. Ms Walker was required by Agency Regulation to provide Webster Smith with a copy of the investigative file, to notify him in writing that he has a right to request a hearing and a decision from an administrative judge or may request an immediate final decision from the agency (29 CFR 1614.110). This Final Decision looks like nothing more than it really is, and that is, a half-hearted attempt to avoid letting the 360 day period run out without taking the required agency action.
Oscar Wilde said that the easiest way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. Ms Walker obviously believes the easiest way to get rid of a complaint is to simply say that it does not state a claim for which relief can be granted.
In her decision no evidence was evaluated. Statements were taken by the Investigating Officer, but no Facts were deduced. There were two apparently implied facts: One, that Webster Smith had been in the military; and, Two, that he had been court-martialed. From those two apparently implied facts, Ms Walker concludes that Webster Smith's Discrimination Complaint fails to state a claim for which relief can be granted.
Is this woman a lawyer? Where did she go to law school? She said that Webster Smith cannot challenge the results of a court-martial through the employment discrimination complaint process. Well, Ms. Walker, we were well aware of that fact one year ago. If Webster Smith were trying to overturn his court martial conviction by filing a civil rights complaint, then he would not have filed an appeal to the Coast Guard Court of Military Review. That is a separate action. It is designed to remedy the errors committed during and after the court-martial conviction for disobeying an order and extorting sexual favors from Shelly Raudenbush.
The Court of Military Review has no jurisdiction to render a finding concerning whether Webster Smith was discriminated against when he was forcefully removed from Chase Hall at midnight in December 2005 by Coast Guard Intelligence, or when he was prevented from attending class, or when he was made to work on the boat docks in June 2006, or when he was forbidden to speak to any other classmates or cadets, or when he was forbidden to go within 100 yards of Chase Hall. Moreover, it was discrimination when a press release was distributed to the media with his photograph calling him a sexual predator and saying that his presence created an intimidating environment in Chase Hall. All of these prohibited actions occurred long before a charge sheet was drawn up, and well before a court-martial was convened and most certainly before a verdict was rendered. On these acts alone Webster Smith was discriminated against because of his race. These all occurred long before the court-martial and the other related acts occurred.
The Court of Military Review is a military forum and can only give a military remedy. It has no jurisdiction to give relief in the administrative, employment area. That is why there is a civil rights complaint procedure. It is designed to address those areas where one has been treated differently than others based on his race, or sex.
A comparison may be drawn between a civil court and a criminal court. O J Simpson was found not guilty in a Los Angeles criminal court of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. That did not prevent a civil court in Santa Monica using the exact same facts from finding him liable to the Goldman family for the wrongful death of Ron Goldman. By the same token, if O J Simpson had been found guilty in criminal court that would not have been a bar to trying him in civil court for damages.
The fact that Webster Smith was court-martialed and appealed the court-martial proceedings, in no way can lead to the unnatural conclusion that he is trying to overturn his criminal conviction by using a civil rights complaint. If he succeeds in his criminal appeal and is able to reverse the conviction, that still does not mean that he was not treated differently than Matt Bialuk, and John K. Miller, and about 12 other cadets whose cases were handled differently. Even if Webster Smith had not been court-martialed, he would still have a valid claim of discrimination. Just being removed from the cadet barracks at midnight in hand cups, and forced to work at hard labor on the boat docks, and not being allowed to continue going to class would constitute a case of disparate treatment.
Is it any wonder that Department of Homeland Security waited so long before responding to Hurricane Katrina? With this caliber of decision making, we should be surprised that they showed up at all. We are left scratching our heads at the range of inefficiency and ineffectivness that characterized the Department Homeland Security and FEMA’s behavior right before and after Katrina. The failure of initiative cost lives, prolonged suffering, and left all Americans justifiably concerned our government is not prepared to protect its people. It does not appear to be any more capable, or willing to defend our civil rights either. I sleep a little less securely just knowing who is in charge.
There is something else quite unusual about this Decision. It was sent Certified Mail Return Receipt Request and it was date stamped 20 August 2007. It had to be signed for, so we know exactly when it arrived. It did not arrive at the Smith residence until 4 September. That is more than two weeks. If we can send a man to the moon in a week, why did it take Ms Walker’s decision more than 2 weeks to go from Washington DC to Houston, Texas? This is yet another example of the sterling performance of the men and women on the front lines of Homeland Security. How can the American people sleep soundly at night with this caliber people on watch? If I were on a ship, I would sleep wearing my life preserver. We have some difficult days ahead.
It took this long to spin a lie that someone would believe. All history is spin. Some spin you can believe, some you cannot.
For example, we have been taught that Abe Lincoln freed the slaves; but the truth is before the outbreak of the Civil War, Lincoln believed in freeing slaves only on condition that they be immediately exported to Africa (Liberia). He once boasted: “I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, not of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people.
Also, we have been taught that Thomas Jefferson believed that all men are created equal ( except for Blacks, Native Americans, and men without property); but the truth is Jefferson was kept busy spinning how the author of the Declaration of Independence could also own slaves, let alone force one of them to sleep with him and bear him children.
Finally we have just been told that Webster Smith, Matt Bialuk, and John K. Miller were all treated the same; but the truth is that they were not. They were all cadets; they were all suspected of having committed sexually related offenses. But, only Webster Smith was taken out of Chase Hall, forced to work at hard labor at the boat docks, prevented from continuing with his academic classes, and prevented from coming within 100 yards of Chase Hall. They were most certainly treated very differently.
And, oh, by the way, on top of all that, Webster Smith was also court-martialed. He could have very easily been court-martialed without being discriminated against, but he was not. But, if it makes you feel any better, you can drop that one allegation from the civil rights complaint. He has already been found not guilty of rape, and he has already served his 6 months in the brig. And, his appellate lawyers have appealed the conviction to the appropriate forum. So, now all you have to do is deal with the discrimination complaint. Anyone who cannot see that has been promoted up to their level of incompetence. They are not capable of critical thinking. How many people have been irreparably harmed by this person's bad decisions and incompetent advice?
There is an old Sicilian Proverb that says “if you sit by the river long enough, you will see the bodies of your enemies float by”. How long will Webster Smith have to sit by the river before he sees the bodies of Van Sice, Wisniewski, Kristen Nicholson, Shelly Raudenbush, et al float by?
THIS JUST IN:
The Day was a day late and a dollar short. In an article written by Jennifer Grogan on 9/11/2007, The Day reported that “The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has ruled that Webster Smith was not discriminated against on the basis of his race when he was court-martialed for sexual assault last summer.” That is not true, nor is it correct.
She reported that “The Smiths declined to comment.” That is true; however, when they saw what she had written, they had plenty of comments. Mainly, they commented that Ms Grogan’s article was not correct. And they were right. The Day was forced to print a correction on 9/12/2207. As one might expect, the CORRECTION was not as conspicuous, nor as easy to locate as the first blatantly erroneous article. The damage had been done. As Webster Smith’s mother, Belinda, said”After the article has gone nationwide with the Associated Press, they quietly corrected the article but the damage is done.”
The Day, unlike the Navy Times, printed an article short on facts, but long on quotes from the people who had slandered Webster Smith, and who are trying to save face. The same people who tried to label Webster Smith as a sexual predator and released his private cadet photograph to the news media to be beamed around the world. At the Coast Guard Academy,” Chief Warrant Officer David M. French, an Academy spokesman, on Monday, 10 September, was quoted as saying “We feel the Department of Homeland Security's final decision on the civil rights complaint from Webster Smith validates the academy's actions in this matter as appropriate.”
The CORRECTION buried in the B Section of The Day simply said “The U.S. Department of Homeland Security denied a discrimination claim filed by Webster Smith, a black man expelled from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy following his court-martial for sexual assault. The department ruled that the complaint was not filed in the appropriate forum.”
To deny a complaint and then to give 30 days for one to appeal the denial, is a long ways from saying there was no discrimination. There has not yet been a decision on the ultimate issue of whether Webster Smith was a victum of racial discrimination.
Personally, I like The Day. I used to read it when it was named The New London Day. It and the New York Times were the only newspapers that I read for four years. They have a lot more coverage of the Coast Guard Academy now than then. I wonder why.
Beverly Herbert wrote on 3/31/2008: "I attended the Easter service at Connecticut College and was glad that I did. I was pleasantly surprised at the positive message by the former-Gov. John G. Rowland in which he spoke of his journey from the high to the low and how faith brought him through.
I know many people think of John Rowland as the worst governor ever. However, during his administration I remember writing to him and actually getting an answer and getting the issue addressed. Also, I remember when calling the governor's office that his staff was always courteous, gracious, knowledgeable and helpful.
Many people seem to want to make the former governor the poster boy for political corruption in Connecticut.
Making him the poster boy can no more solve the problem of political corruption in Connecticut than making Webster Smith the poster boy for all the sexual misconduct and abuse that had gone on at the Coast Guard Academy for years without anyone being held accountable."
(Feb 24, 2009)Independent Audit Finds USCG Office of Civil Rights Incompetent.
Carmen Walker issued the dumbest and the shortest decision in the history of the Civil Rights Office.
Employees in the Coast Guard’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) do not have the skills or up-to-date training to handle many of the service’s cases and formal discrimination complaints are not adequately handled, according to an independent report presented to the Coast Guard on February 5.
Terri Dickerson, the office’s director, requested an independent review April 25, 2008, less than one month after an investigation by the Coast Guard Investigative Service, Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the FBI failed to determine who left nooses for a Black Coast Guard Academy cadet and an officer conducting race-relations training in the summer of 2007.
At the same time, an unofficial Coast Guard blog was posting regularly about the office and the director’s alleged inefficiencies, reducing morale among employees and casting OCR in a negative light, according to the report.
The findings are “deeply disturbing and completely unacceptable,” Cummings, D-Md., wrote in a letter to Commandant ADM Thad Allen. Cummings, the chairman of the House subcommittee on the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, said he plans to call a hearing in April to further discuss the report.
“The findings of this report demand decisive and comprehensive action to correct what appear to be a number of significant shortfalls in the administration,” he wrote.
The Coast Guard retained Booz Allen Hamilton, a consulting firm with offices throughout the country, to review the entire civil rights program in September 2008, according to a letter from Dickerson to the Department of Homeland Security’s Equal Employment Opportunity Programs.
Coast Guard spokesman Cmdr. Ron LaBrec said the service is thankful for the feedback and is conducting a thorough review of the report and its recommendations.
“The [DHS] Office of Civil Rights and Liberties periodically conducts assessments on its civil rights components and the [OCR] director wanted to do this report now with the ongoing modernization initiative to look across the board and improve the practices in the office and address any allegations that were coming out of blogs or even internal discussions. We take allegations of mistreating [privacy issues] seriously,” LaBrec said.
According to the report, the Coast Guardsmen assigned to ORC often come in with little civil rights experience and serve two-year tours, and “often they leave their post just as they are becoming oriented to the position.” The other Coast Guardsmen in the office are on collateral duty, with the same limited backgrounds, according to the report.
Although training is available, the report said, many employees have not completed the legislatively mandated initial or refresher training. In some instances training was behind up to five years.
“Some staff members lack the requisite skills, abilities, and training to effectively perform the duties of their positions, thereby diminishing effectiveness of the divisions/teams,” according to the report.
LaBrec said the “decentralized” structure led to the delinquency in training and the Coast Guard is looking to “standardize” and “improve” its training program. There are 22 full-time positions within OCR, five of which are military, but that likely is not enough to sufficiently handle the additional responsibilities related to the increased caseload, according to the report.
Although Booz Allen acknowledges that some of the recommendations listed in the report cannot be accomplished with the office’s $788,459 budget, OCR’s Web site says the recommendations are under review and lists some that have either already been completed or can be accomplished in the near future.
• Restructuring the office to “optimize the use of our military personnel” and take advantage of existing training and resources.
• Analyze the workload to ensure statutory and non-statutory obligations are being met.
LaBrec said it is too early to determine what recommendations would require additional funding or how much additional money would be needed to accomplish those goals.
“The review reaffirmed many positive aspects of the Coast Guard civil rights program. The report also makes clear there is work ahead,” Dickerson wrote in Thursday’s Alcoast. “Foremost, consistent with past similar studies, the BAH team found we must restructure the [equal employment opportunity] function, and secondarily, shore up our equal employment opportunity/equal opportunity product lines so that they more optimally support our civil rights service providers and work force.”
LaBrec also said the 58 formal civil rights complains OCR received in fiscal year 2007, roughly one per 1,000 people, shows the office is doing some things right, since several of the other DHS departments have a much higher number of civil rights complaints per capita.
Allen told Coast Guard Academy cadets and faculty in October 2007 that racial bigotry will not be accepted and goes against the service’s ethos and humanitarian mission. In August 2008, he released a service-wide message outlining plans to improve diversity throughout the service.
As part of the new initiative, every flag officer and senior executive service member is required to attend one diversity conference a year and they are expected to build relationships with minority-based “institutions of higher education.”
The first noose, which garnered national attention, was left in the bag of a Black cadet in July 2007 onboard the Coast Guard cutter Eagle. The second was found in August on the office floor of a white female officer who had been conducting race relations training.
The Honorable Elijah E. Cummings, Chairman
Subcommittee on the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation
“Civil Rights Services and Diversity Initiatives in the Coast Guard”
April 1, 2009
We convene today to consider the state of the Coast Guard’s provision of civil rights services to its military and civilian workforce and to applicants for employment. We will also examine the initiatives being undertaken by the service to support expanded diversity among both its military and civilian personnel. As part of that examination, we will assess what the service has done to benchmark its diversity-related initiatives following a hearing we held on this subject last year.
In April 2008, the Director of the Coast Guard’s Office of Civil Rights asked the Department of Homeland Security to commission and supervise an independent assessment of the Office and of civil rights programs within the Coast Guard. The proximate motivation for this request was the posting of derogatory blog entries on the web. However, as the Subcommittee has come to learn, there have long existed challenges far more central to the provision of effective civil rights services within the Coast Guard than those discussed in recent blog comments.
In February 2009, Booz|Allen|Hamilton, the firm ultimately commissioned to undertake the study of the Coast Guard Office of Civil Rights, issued its report to the Coast Guard, which subsequently released it to the public. I note that the Subcommittee invited Booz|Allen|Hamilton to testify today and also invited its representatives to meet privately with staff; they declined both offers citing their duty of confidentiality to their client and, rather perplexingly, their internal policy against lobbying. Despite Booz|Allen|Hamilton’s total unresponsiveness to the Subcommittee’s inquiries about a report it prepared on a federal agency and for which it received compensation from U.S. taxpayer funding, the firm’s report speaks for itself.
Among other findings, the Booz|Allen|Hamilton team’s review identified at the Coast Guard a civil rights program that does not fully protect confidential personal information, that does not conduct thorough analyses of barriers to equal opportunity in employment or develop specific plans to break these barriers down, and that has a number of inadequately trained service providers who cannot ensure implementation of a complaints management process that is in full compliance with regulatory requirements.
While these findings are obviously deeply troubling on their own, as the Subcommittee has learned in its extensive review of the Coast Guard’s civil rights programs, they are certainly not new. Previous reviews of the Coast Guard’s civil rights programs, and even the self-assessments the Coast Guard submits annually to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, repeatedly identify many of the same problems noted in the Booz|Allen|Hamilton report.
For example, a 2001 review conducted by KPMG found that:
complaints were not handled in an efficient manner;
individuals who provided civil rights services as a collateral duty showed “great variation in … quality;”
affirmative action-related reports were disseminated “but report interpretation and action is left up to the individual unit commands, who may or may not have the required time and knowledge to legally apply the affirmative action program as a factor in hiring and promoting;” and
equal opportunity reviews were being conducted, but there were “no measures or metrics . . . by which to evaluate local command’s program performance.”
A review conducted by PriceWaterhouseCoopers more than a decade ago concluded that the Coast Guard’s “current civil rights program is relatively ineffective at preventing civil rights complaints and the current program office at headquarters is inefficient in discharging their responsibilities.”
In May 2008, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sent a feedback letter to the Coast Guard identifying the trends it observed in the Coast Guard’s annual
self-reports from fiscal years 2004 through 2006. Again, the comments sound very familiar. EEOC stated that in its 2004 report, the Coast Guard admitted that “EEO officials did not have the knowledge, skills, and abilities to carry out the full duties and responsibilities of their positions.” In fiscal years 2005 and 2006, the service “reported that there was insufficient staff to conduct adequate analysis of civilian workforce data,” and in 2004, 2005, and 2006, the service noted it “has not implemented an adequate data collection and analysis system and had not tracked recruitment efforts.” The EEOC found that the Coast Guard’s recruitment practices for positions in the civilian workforce created “unintended barriers” to diversity.
Having read all this, what was perhaps most disappointing to me was not just the devastating nature of these individual findings, but the fact that the problems they describe have apparently persisted for nearly a decade. Put simply, the picture that emerges from the reports available to us shows that despite knowing that its equal opportunity programs did not ensure full compliance with U.S. law and regulations, the Coast Guard has taken little to no action to ensure full compliance. Further, there have apparently been no consequences for these failures – except perhaps the individual consequences that Coast Guard personnel may have borne, some of whom may have been denied the opportunity to effectively challenge what they may have felt was discriminatory treatment.
Discrimination is an evil that destroys the dignity of fellow human beings and robs them of the opportunity to achieve what their abilities would otherwise enable them to achieve. In this, the 21st Century, any agency that tolerates any failure in the implementation of effective equal employment opportunity processes or in the effective management of complaints is an agency that is willing to tolerate the possibility that discrimination may exist in its midst.
While I applaud the decision of the Director of the Office of Civil Rights to ask for an independent assessment of Coast Guard civil rights practices, it is also obvious that further study is not needed. Back in 2001, the KPMG team that assessed the Coast Guard’s civil rights program reported that the wide gaps between how the service’s equal employment opportunity program was described in manuals and how the program was actually
implemented “created a perception that the program is not necessarily a priority among senior leadership.” It is LONG PAST TIME that these gaps be closed.
Importantly, as the Booz|Allen|Hamilton report makes clear, successful implementation of the reforms needed to correct the gaps that their team found “will need to be openly endorsed at the highest level of the Coast Guard organization to ensure the cooperation of, and participation by, key stakeholders.” I know that the Coast Guard is undertaking a variety of initiatives to expand diversity, and I commend the written testimony of Admiral Breckenridge, which details these efforts. I also commend the individual efforts of Coast Guard personnel to support the service’s diversity goals. I note that Admiral Allen himself recently visited Morgan State University in my district and gave a very inspiring address to students at that Historically Black University.
What I didn’t find in Admiral Breckenridge’s testimony, however, was a statement that the MD-715 process will now be used as intended to identify all barriers to equal access and to inform the development of the plans that will eliminate these barriers, or that a similar process will be implemented on the military slide. While I appreciate discussion of an “upward glide slope,” progress cannot be measured until specific goals are in place – and to think that goals would need to be defined as “specific representational objectives” is simply to think too narrowly.
I also commend Director Dickerson’s testimony, and her decision to request the Booz|Allen|Hamilton review. I emphasize that I understand – as the Booz|Allen|Hamilton report indicates and the evidence clearly shows – that many of the problems with the Coast Guard’s civil rights program have long pre-dated her appointment.
That said, it is now our watch and the failures and deficiencies that exist with the Coast Guard’s civil rights programs CANNOT CONTINUE. For the Coast Guard to truly be “Semper Paratus” – always ready – it must take all necessary steps to ensure that it is not handicapped by discrimination in its ranks or the divisions that discrimination produces.
As I said when I addressed the Coast Guard Academy following the discovery of nooses there, “Diversity – and our mutual respect for each other – are our greatest strengths as a nation.” They must necessarily be the greatest strengths of those who defend this nation, but they can be so only when an agency makes the achievement of diversity and the provision of effective civil rights services a top priority, rather than what appears to be a second thought.