Archive for October 9, 2010


From the Washington Post

The right way to reward federal employees

This week’s questions come from federal managers at the U.S. Small Business Administration and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Please continue sharing your ideas and questions by emailing me at

How can I reward a high-performing employee without making other employees upset? -Federal manager (GS-14) at the U.S. Small Business Administration

It’s important that you support and reward your high performers. But as a leader, you also need to consider team dynamics and the impact these rewards will have on others.

When deciding to reward your employees, consider these three variables: whether the criteria for the reward are clearly defined; whether the reward is for an individual or a team; and whether you want to publicize the reward.

First, if your decision for rewarding your high performer is unclear, other employees may feel slighted and overlooked. Make sure you clearly define to your team the criteria for which you make an award.

Second, determine if this is an individual or team award. If others can claim partial credit, you may want to consider recognizing the whole team. Even if your high performer is primarily responsible–and thus deserving of a bigger reward–others may deserve a reward as well.

Finally, consider whether the reward needs to be publicized. The conventional wisdom is to recognize your high performers publicly so you can demonstrate the behaviors, performance and results that are most valued to the team and the agency. However, this does not take your unique team dynamics into account. If you think that the reward is better delivered in private, then you should do so.

At the end of the day, you must stand by your high-performing employees. Without them, your team and your agency will not succeed.

What is the best course of action when a peer–who is a manager–does not manage her staff well? Her employees fail to show up for meetings on time and perform joint tasks that affect the work of my team. – Federal manager (GS-15) at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services

You must talk with your colleague directly about her team’s behavior and their effect on your team’s performance. It’s a difficult conversation to have, but here are a few steps to help you prepare:

• Approach the conversation with an open mind and a joint approach to problem-solving. It is possible that your colleague may be unaware of the situation. Start the dialogue by letting your colleague know about their team’s behavior, how it’s affecting your team’s performance and that you need help to fix the situation.

• Do your homework and have a set of very specific examples of your colleague’s behavior and its impact on your team. Quantitative measures are always better than qualitative, but both are necessary to make an effective case. Again, you don’t want to approach the conversation in an accusatory tone, but your colleague will undoubtedly need some specific examples around which she can provide guidance and coaching.

• Prepare a joint plan of attack around communication with one another and the members of your teams so that feedback is delivered in real-time. This will ensure that everyone understands what success looks like and will prevent frustrations from building over time.

If your colleague is unwilling to work through the problem, approach your manager with a plan for resolving the issue. I suggest that your plan includes finding a mediator to help your teams engage in a healthy, productive conversation about working together more effectively. Whatever your plan, you’ll need your manager’s support to make it work. Good luck!

Link to original article and many public comments:

Super Wants AHHS Whistleblower Fired

by Betty Brink

It is not official yet — the Fort Worth school trustees as well as a Texas Education Agency hearings examiner will still have to hear his case — but if they uphold district superintendent Melody Johnson’s recommendation, former Arlington Heights High School assistant principal and whistle blower Joe Palazzolo will soon be looking for work. Johnson wants him fired.

“Melody Johnson should resign or be fired herself for her handling of this case,” said Jason Smith, Palazzolo’s attorney. “This is a classic institutional response [to a whistle blower] – don’t fix the problem, attack the messenger. … Joe has been a teacher for 12 years, been with this district for three years. He reported violations of the law, misuse of funds, and only after that did the district go after him.”

Last spring, allegations of sexual harassment, attendance fraud and mishandling of booster club funds were among the most serious charges brought against persons in principal Neta Alexander’s administration by Palazzolo and a dozen or more teachers at the school, triggering a lengthy, internal investigation. Johnson, sources close to the investigation say, has also recommended that Alexander be fired as well for her role in the scandal that has shaken the venerable old school to its foundations. 

Those allegations were first made public by Fort Worth Weekly in August. Shortly after, Alexander and assistant superintendent Chuck Boyd, who was also alleged to have been involved in the scandal, were placed on administrative leave with pay.

Sources within the administration say that the district has upheld most of the allegations, first reported to the district in May by Palazzolo and the teachers, many of whom said in their signed statements that they had been reporting the problems to Alexander and even to its board representative Judy Needham for years to no avail.

The attendance fraud, which included changing the attendance records of more than 20 seniors with high truancy rates allowing them to graduate in order to keep the school’s completion rate high,  is being laid at the feet of Izzy Perry, the former Heights girls’ athletic director, and former Heights assistant principal Harold Nichols, sources said. Both resigned in June. Boyd, a long-time friend of Perry’s who was accused of protecting her, is likely facing a non-renewal of his contract, these same sources said.

Adding to the district’s woes, the Tarrant County district attorney’s office is currently investigating the misuse of the school’s booster club funds. 

Despite the fact that so many of the allegations reported by Palazzolo and the teachers have been upheld, Johnson has recommended that Palazzolo be fired on the grounds that when he was hired by the Fort Worth district three years ago, he failed to report two misdemeanor convictions that happened in Oklahoma 13 and 20 years ago. One was for failing to pay past-due child support following a “rough period of unemployment,” he said. The money was repaid and he became current with his payments, he said. A check of federal and state court records show that there have been no other child-support issues filed against Palazzolo since that time. The second had to do with a security firm he owned in 1988 when an employee allowed her security license to expire without his knowledge.   As the owner, he was charged with a misdemeanor violation of a state licensing act and fined, he said.  

The “failure to report” accusation has replaced the district’s earlier reason for placing him on administrative leave shortly after school began this year: an alleged complaint filed against him a year ago by a former Heights student who has since graduated. She said that Palazzolo refused her entrance to a school dance on grounds that she had been drinking, which the student denied, and that Palazzolo put his hands on her shoulders during the incident.

Palazzolo and his representatives say both charges are without merit, both on procedural and factual grounds.

According to both Palazzolo and Larry Shaw, head of the county’s largest teachers’ group, administrators who told Palazzolo on Wednesday that his firing was being recommended said it was because he had failed to report felonies. But Palazzolo, Shaw, and Palazzolo’s attorney Jason Smith all said that Palazzolo has no felonies on his record in any state. A computer search of federal and state court records appears to bear out their contention.

“When I questioned an administrator about this, she told me his crime was a felony,” Shaw said. “I said ‘No, it is a misdemeanor.’ She insisted, ‘No, it is a felony.’” 

Palazzolo said it is true that he did not list the misdemeanor convictions on his employment application three years ago – because he believed he was only required to report felonies. Although the district’s current application asks for felonies and misdemeanors, Shaw said that for years the applications for employment in the district only asked applicants to report “felony convictions.”

Palazzolo understood that he had to report any felony convictions and did not know that he had to report misdemeanors, he said. A copy of the two-year contract that Palazzolo signed as well as the employee handbook in force at the time of his hiring specify that only felonies or  certain other crimes that relate to an employee’s fitness for dealing with children, such as sex- or drug-related charges or crimes against children are reportable.

Moreover, the district did a criminal background check on Palazzolo at the time of his hiring and again a year later when he was promoted to assistant principal. Nothing appeared.  Palazzolo passed criminal checks that were done in earlier years when he served for 14 years in the U.S. Army and when he worked for the Government Services Administration.

The complaint against Palazzolo by the former student was based on an incident that allegedly happened at the homecoming dance last year. After  the district told Palazzolo about the complaint that they said was filed a year ago, officials refused to tell him who had filed it.

When he learned the specifics of the complaint this week (after reading the names of the complainants in the Star-Telegram) Palazzolo said he remembered the incident, and that he never touched the young woman, who at that time was the Heights’ student body president.

“I was one of five assistant principals at the dance, along with about three Fort Worth police officers,” he said. “We [the principals] were not checking the students for alcohol, the police officers were. I remember this young woman, and she was not accused of drinking, her date was. I think the parents were called, since that would have been the policy, and if it had been my daughter, that’s exactly what I would have wanted done.”

 Shaw, head of the United Educators Association, said firing Palazzolo is the administration’s way of sending a message to employees not to bring forward any allegations of wrongdoing.  “This has happened too much in the past,” he said, “with this administration finding a way to get rid of people it doesn’t want. But this time Joe is fighting back.”

The past year has been a roller coaster for Palazzolo and his family. After he first reported the wrongdoings, the district transferred him to a lower position at another school with a cut in pay, citing a “poor evaluation” from his principal Alexander. When Palazzolo refused the transfer and filed a grievance against the district charging retaliation, Johnson pulled back, allowed her deputy superintendent to change the evaluation to a positive one and sent him to an assistant principal’s job at Western Hills High School. The job at Western Hills lasted about a week before he was put on administrative leave with pay because of the complaint that had surfaced that dated back more than a year — even though district policy and state law state that any complaint against a teacher must be filed within ten days and that during that time the teacher must be given notice of the complaint and its contents.

The district chose to ignore its own policy and state law, Palazzolo, Smith and Shaw all pointed out. Not only was it out of time, Palazzolo said, he never heard of the complaint until the district used it to justify his suspension in late August. Even then, the district would not tell him who the complainant was nor would they tell him its contents.

When this paper asked for a copy of the complaint, it was told that the information was confidential and part of “an investigation.”

Shaw said that when Palazzolo was first transferred in early June, his group represented him.. “I sat with him and Neta Alexander and asked her if there were any complaints against Joe in his file, she had the file in her lap, and she said ‘No, none.’”

“Now a year later a complaint pops up? No way,” Shaw said. “I believe the district is going to have a very tough time proving they have grounds for termination once Joe’s case gets before the TEA hearings examiner. …That hearing will be completely independent, and in the past the Commissioner of Education has set the bar very high on termination cases,” Shaw said.

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Here are comments posted about this story as of 10-10-10:



DSS has long being the dumping ground for “entitled” personnel in the DOD that needed to be pushed up (promoted) but were not considered for vital national security positions. Following a push to rid the organization of the “old guard” (former DOD intelligence and security males) the Clinton Administration pushed for and got more women in upper management positions and as new hires. The old system of hiring military veterans from the intel and security arena no longer applied.

Consequently after many mishaps with the new management personnel pushing out the legacy staff, DSS went though a series of Directors, all without a clue to the actual mission of the service. The name was changed on a whim from the Defense Investigative Service to the Defense Security Service or DSS, thereby forcing the DOS’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) to change their acronym.

The dual mission of the service was never understood by management and the Industrial Security side of the service which had 15% of the service assets and its mission to protect government classified information at contractor facilities were shunted aside for the larger Investigations side of the house.

Only later when after a series of new directors (and new senior staff, usually old friends brought in) came the realization that the investigative side of the service (3,000 agents) would be going to OPM and all that would remain was the 500 or so Industrial Security Representatives. A realization was also made that the number of 500 field representatives could not justify the extremely high amount of SES, GS-15, and GS-14 positions at the headquarters of DSS.

At that point the decision was made to hire more field representatives, but instead allowed transfers from the investigative side to the industrial side.

What was not understood was that the experienced representatives had been pressured to retire early leaving only inexperienced reps and with the influx of investigative agents into the industrial side, there was no one left with any experience.

Also not understood by DSS management was that the years it takes to train a field rep. The industrial reps required years as a physical security, information security, computer security, signals or electronic security, as well as an understanding of business structures and the impact of foreign owners.This requires years of experience (think experience in military service).

What Kathleen Watson inherited was a dysfunctional agency with an inexperienced middle management and unknowing senior management.

The field reps on hand were largely inexperienced and untrained. Coupled with a management with an attitude, security issues were not recognized nor addressed, and unfortunately in many instances, ignored or covered up.

My suggestion would be to go back to the pre70’s approach to have each user agency with classified at contractor locations do their own security assessment.

Posted by: dodavatar | October 5, 2010 10:10 PM |


forget about classfied information, where will they get money for pens and paperclips?

Posted by: beltwaybandit2 | October 6, 2010 1:41 PM  


RECOMMENDATION:  A few years ago, the military departments (Army, Navy, Air Force) expressed their concerns about the performance of Defense Security Service (DSS) and proposing the disestablishment of DSS and having the military departments assume the security oversight of the contractors.The USD(I) looked at the proposal and decided to continue security oversight with DSS and to maintain the status quo. At the time, the military departments were not specific in how they would implement the security oversight.Maintaining DSS is the focus of its senior management and not the mission to protect the classified.There needs to be some consideration again to disbanding DSS and having the military administer their classified in the hands of cleared defense contractors. This may be the best alternative if DSS does not return to their stated mission and re-establish their integrity. As a veteran, taxpayer, & concerned citizen, it is recommended that DSS be disestablished and the military departments assume the functions and responsibility for the National Industrial Security Program (NISP) for these reasons:
ABUSE OF POWER:Former agency Dir. Kathleen Watson and her subordinates have successfully rid the organization of knowledgeable personnel. Watson actively participated in the ugly treatment of employees in this process. Her Director of Field Operations, Richard Lawhorn conducted the purge with malice and forethought. He doles out promotions or creates “do little” positions to keep his select employees beholden or “loyal” to him. Long time industrial security field staff or field office chiefs/middle managers with experience were shut out from promotions. Lawhorn’s management selectees have less than 2 years experience with DSS or are from the ranks of the unemployed and are desperate for a job. Once employed or promoted these persons may be called upon to lie about someone targeted for removal. Then another such beholden or “loyal” employee will swear to the lie and is subsequently rewarded with an appointment to a position such as Field Office Chief, Regional Director, or Deputy of this or that created SES position. This orchestrated duplicity is how Lawhorn has ensured the loyalty of his management staff. They are loyal to him for the sake of job retention and not mission driven. This environment is ripe for DCIPS abuse and that has already been demonstrated.
DSS has a daunting task with over 12,000 CDCs in the NISP and 400 field personnel to implement the program. There are another 400+ HQ employees and managers that never set foot in the field. The agency has been understaffed for years and minimal efforts have been made to actively recruit let alone retain qualified candidates. This has become a national security vulnerability.DSS needs to return to its mission of protecting the warfighter by securing the classified and be lead by persons with ethics and integrity; OR it needs to be dissolved and the mission returned to the military departments.

Posted by: TracyVerdi | October 6, 2010 11:15 PM


I agree with much of what dodavatar said. There are a couple of additions and clarifications I wish to add.

The period of time I view as the era of PSI trying to co-opt the entire agency, roughly from the early 1990’s to the mid 2000’s (reference the A-76 Studies). Even before PSI was sent off en masse to OPM, there were problems. In some cases, PSI employees with no understanding of the importance of the Industrial Security Mission were put in place as Office Chief’s of combined PSI/ISP offices.

There appeared to be some insider good old boys thing going on with at least some of those office chiefs. From what I have learned, a lot of waste, fraud, abuse and just plain arrogant irresponsible actions were committed during that time by them.

PSI managers made a run for ISP program money, and took it at will at the local/regional office level. ISP employees were left with insufficient funds to meet the requirements of their stated official mission. ISP reps were not given what they needed to do their jobs, and then were beat up by managers for not doing their jobs. There are many compelling and quite horrifying stories that employees from those years can relate.

These ISP reps suffered at the hands of these unqualified office chiefs, who made up what they did not know about the National Industrial Security Program with bullying and empire building.

This went on for some time, and no one in upper agency management did anything to address the problems, seemingly because the good old boy network extended into upper management. Richard Lawhorn was in management at that time, and was fully a part of those shenanigans. Some of the others were forced out or allowed to retire, as the corrupt and destructive management behavior continued. Richard Lawhorn is still there; it appears to me he has built himself an empire which has allowed him to remain pulling the strings and manipulating the workplace for the field offices, while directors have come and gone.

Hiring people who have the prerequisite knowledge, skills, ability and the aptitude and attitude to continue to learn new information, develop new specialized skills and expertise is extremely important in the type work that DSS ISR’s must do if they are to fulfil their real mission, as defined by Executive Order 12829 and delegated by OSD. I do not agree that military experience is necessarily the key to being a competent and skillful ISR. DSS has hired former military into ISR and other positions, but that background is not a guarantee of ability to excell in performing challenging ISR responsibilities.

The reinvention effort of the 1990’s though not all negative, opened the doors to major problems,of increasing influence of contractors on the inspection and oversight roles of DIS/DSS employees. It appeared to this observer that there was a a lot of revolving door use between DSS and defense contractors as well. Quality training in DSS has ceased to exist.

Posted by: gfs2010 | October 7, 2010 1:57 AM


If anyone can contribute to real factual information about past and present waste, fraud, and abuse within Defense Security Service, or other DoD agencies, please comment at the Washington Post article site, or email me at this site or you may go to Project On Government Oversight (, and anonymously leave a message there for Nick Schwellenbach.  Ongoing investigations will be aided by additional reports of information and additional investigations could be inspired.  I believe there are a lot of you out there, including retired or former DoD employees who know a lot about these problems.   Thanks, GFS