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Supended Agency Leader Says Veterans Were Denied Preference by Accident

The dam breaks on Bonneville Power Administration's discriminatory hiring practices and whistleblower retaliation. More: Bill Would Allow VA to Disinter Capital-Criminal Vets

Bill Straub


August 2, 2013 - 12:01 am
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WASHINGTON – The chief operating officer for the Bonneville Power Administration, suspended for discriminatory hiring practices and allegedly seeking to punish whistleblowers, insists her agency failed to give preference to job applicants who are military veterans as a result of an innocent misreading of federal regulations.

Appearing before the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee on Thursday, Anita Decker said the misstep occurred because of a failure to properly interpret a May 11, 2010, White House memorandum on the agency’s recruitment and hiring process. Once the problem was identified in May 2012, she said, the improper hiring practices were stopped.

“It’s my understanding that BPA’s hiring of veterans has been roughly comparable to other non-defense executive agencies,” she told the panel. “I have actively supported veteran personnel and was extremely proud to have received recognition for BPA and me personally for support of veterans at BPA.”

Decker and Bonneville administrator Bill Drummond were suspended on July 16 after the inspector general’s office in the Department of Energy issued a preliminary report finding numerous violations of federal hiring practices and possible retaliation against employees who objected to the practices. A full review currently is underway.

The IG report uncovered evidence indicating that the rights of applicants for federal positions at Bonneville were violated, most notably affecting those entitled to veterans’ preference. During the course of its review the IG learned that Bonneville employees who had raised questions to their management regarding violations of personnel practices may have been subjected to retaliation.

The initial inquiry determined that the allegations were credible and that management’s coercive behavior continued while the investigation was underway. The Department of Energy has assumed control of Bonneville’s hiring and promotion authority

According to the IG report, Bonneville management engaged in prohibited personnel practices in 95 of the agency’s 146 competitive recruitments — 65 percent – from November 2010 through June 2012. Those practices excluded several veterans from being selected despite laws that granted them preferred status.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the Oversight Committee, said he called the hearing as part of its role to keep governmental institutions accountable.

“We have a responsibility to the American people to understand what happened at BPA and ensure that it does not happen elsewhere,” Issa said.

Bonneville, a component of the Department of Energy, was established in 1937 as a self-funding agency that covers its approximately $4.4 billion in annual costs by marketing electric power to all or parts of eight Pacific Northwest states — Idaho, Oregon, Washington, western Montana and parts of eastern Montana, California, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming – covering about 300,000 square miles and borrowing from the U.S. Treasury.

The electric power is generated by 31 hydroelectric projects operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation. The administration also includes a nuclear plant not owned by the federal government and a handful of small non-federal power plants.

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All Comments   (9)
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" innocent misreading of federal regulations..."


But, if she had hired vets in the first place, she'd have in-place staff that can read, even those confusing Federal Regulations - Military people do it, and abide by them, every day; something that seems to have escaped the vaunted civilian employees of the Bonneville Power Administration.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
On the other hand, these are federal bureaucrats educated in gummint schools. Most of them can't read past a 2nd grade level.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"One hiring principle Bonneville was required to follow involved the development of a “best qualified list” of applicants, which had to be finalized before the vacancy was publicly announced and couldn’t be changed once the vacancy occurred to ensure fair and equitable treatment."

Can someone please help me understand how it's possible to develop a “best qualified list” of applicants BEFORE the vacancy is publicly announced.

Does this regulation even make sense? Or is something missing from the explanation here?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The grapevine will tell you who is thinking of leaving, allowing you to compile a list of your cronies to fill the vacancy before any of the evil public can even form a line.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
If I had to guess, I would speculate that the jobs already done in the organization were fairly well understood in terms of the responsibilities and qualifications. Therefore, if there were a list of qualified applicants - basically, anyone who had sent in a resume or whatever equivalent they have in government bureaucracies - it should be possible to say if the person doing Job X were to leave, which of the people on the list would be best qualified to do it.

Of course, that would seem like a pointless exercise in the absence of an actual vacancy. Why figure out who on the list would best to Job X if the person currently in the job shows no signs of leaving? Even if that person DID leave, a year or two after the exercise had been done, I would imagine that the content of the list would have changed in the meantime: some people would have gotten other jobs, one or two might have died, new people would have applied, etc. Even then, the rules might well call for more applications to be solicited, perhaps from other branches of the government or even from the general public in that area. So, overall, it probably doesn't make much sense to match people on a list today to a job that might not go vacant for years, especially when the list may well change in the meantime.

But maybe those factors don't apply as much in government bureaucracies. Maybe few people remove themselves from lists over time. Maybe the bureaucracies aren't required to post jobs in other departments or areas. Perhaps it is just a case of getting your name on a list and then waiting your turn. Art Chance would be the expert on this.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Well, thank you for the kind words!

The traditional "merit system" employment scheme allows you to apply for any job in the government's classification plan, have your application scored, and then be placed on a "register" in rank order based on your scoring for knowledge, skill, and ability. When a hiring manager wants to fill a vacancy, s/he justs asks HR for a register of qualified applicants in rank order. My government, and most are similar, gave an honorably discharged veteran an additional 5 points in addition to his/her merit score and a disabled veteral an additional 10 points. 5 or 10 points is pretty significant because the successful applicants all cluster just over meeting the minimum qualifications for a given job and hiring managers are reluctant to hire significantly over-qualified applicants for both good and bad reasons. In a pool of applicants all of whom qualify but none of whom are exceptionally qualified, the common case, the veteran will get hired because of his/her preference points. The only exception is classifications where some "protected class" is "under-utilized," a nice euphemism for none of them are qualified. I guess if I were investigating this for the IG I'd be curious about the hiring manager's social and romantic afffiliations and to what degree the successful applicants coincided with those social and romantic affiliations. Funny how if the boss is a lefty, the staff is lefties; if the boss is black, the staff is black; if the boss is gay, the staff is gay, and often if the boss is female, the staff is female. Only straight white guys can't do that. But then, I'm a redneck honky dog.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Oh, and from what I've seen, the federal government is incredibly parochial. Above the entry levels only two things really qualify you; knowing somebody or federal experience. Unless you know somebody, the Widgetmaker III job will always go to the person who's been a Widgetmaker I and II for the requisite time.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Sparky, you are only partly correct. Here in DC, job vacancies are known weeks and months in advance, by those iin-the-know.
I used to ride the commuter train from my town into the city. Most of the riders were federal employees, using subsidized tickets, who spent the time chatting. Just a little eavesdropping let me stay abreast of the hiring opportunities with in the gov.
An outside applicant then does the multipage application, sends it in, and gets a friend to check on it, to see if it needs any updating etc.
Now, you must also know the Fed HR, especially the hiring side, knows little or nothing about the jobs themselves. The use a software package to select key words from an application. They also rely heavily on the 'credential' process. Credentials outweigh real expertise and experience three or four to one.
For jobs below the political appointee level hiring is based on a point system that can be gamed. Points for credentials, points for experience and supposedly points for vets, to name a few. Then there is the interview. Points there too.

It is a crooked system as it has always been.

The ultimate question: Why is BPA still federally owned? Sell it and pay off some debt. Sheesh.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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