Joint Hearing of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the U.S. Senate and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives at 1:00 p.m. CDT.
Witness Testimony of Roger Tadsen, Wetumpka, AL
Thank you for allowing me to speak with you today concerning my experiences and treatment under the Disabled Veterans Affirmative Action Program (DVAAP) as outlined under 5 CFR 720 Subpart C.
My military career started at the age of 17 with the Air Force (AF) in January 1972. While on active duty I had surgery in 1983, which left me partially paralyzed in both legs. I received a medical discharge from the Air Force in January 1987 with 15 years of active service. As a result of the nerve damage, the Veterans Administration established my service connected disability rating at 70%.
I was hired as a civilian through the AF Palace Acquire Program into the Air Force Audit Agency (AFAA) in June 1991 after graduating college. I started out as a GS07 series 0511 auditor. I felt my previous military experiences would enhance my opportunities for success. Under the Palace Acquire Program, I would receive a promotion (GS07, GS09, GS11) each year as long as I met the program objectives until reaching the field auditor target grade of GS12.
To begin with my first audit resulted in over $3 million in savings for the Air Force. I thought I was doing well. Imagine my surprise in my third year when the AFAA Region Chief, meeting me for the first time told me, “You should be satisfied where you are because of your disability and that you can not handle being an Audit Manager.” His statement took me aback since he did not even know me. I filed an EEO complaint. His reply, “You misunderstood what I said.” However, it was clear to me what he said. I decided to just let it go and let my work speak for itself.
By mid-1995, I became competitive for promotion to GS13. My annual performance ratings during this time were Above Fully Successful (excellent) or Far Above Fully Successful (superior).
Between 1995 and 2004, nine years, I submitted my name more than 15 times for these competitive promotions. All the while the AFAA had continuous openings and requests to fill GS13 positions in California, Ohio, Texas, and the Pentagon. Meanwhile, my peers with less time in grade and service were selected.
Prior to October 2002, I had never heard of the Disabled Veterans Affirmative Action Program (DVAAP) even though the law governing its implementation was enacted in the mid-1980s. I discovered the DVAAP while performing research on an audit project. Then on my own time, I started to delve into this law. My first questions were to my first line supervisor and Office Chief, “How is the AFAA implementing this affirmative action program?” After all, other affirmative action programs were publicized by the AFAA Director of Operations as working well for women and minorities within the AFAA. Unfortunately, everyone I contacted initially had never heard of this affirmative action program. My supervisors were either deferred or were told to defer to Veteran’s Preferences for hiring. I understood the DVAAP is an affirmative action program, but senior managers in the AFAA disagreed.
In December 2002, the AFAA Director of Operations forwarded me information concerning disabled veterans within the AFAA. He stated, “It is true that agencies are required to develop annual DVAAP plans. However, the term “agencies” refers to the AF. Accordingly, AFAA does not maintain any information in this area.” He went on to say, “Financial Management Career Program records indicated that disabled veterans, rated 30% or more, represented 2.1 percent of the auditor workforce in the AFAA.” The representation of disabled veterans has remained constant over the past five years and well below AF established goals. No one in the AFAA has ever provided me any further guidance even though I continue to ask.
Also during December 2002 I contacted the AFAA Assistant Auditor General (AAG) Financial and Systems (FS) Audits, and his Deputy with the same concerns. I was trying to identify how the AFAA collects and monitors compliance with the DVAAP. The AAG responded but did not address my questions concerning the DVAAP. It was apparent the AFAA did not track how well this affirmative action program performed; although they publicized how well they performed under other affirmative action programs for women and minorities.
As a result, I inquired about the DVAAP to OPM in December 2002. I told them the AFAA did not appear to monitor the hiring and promotion of disabled veterans under the DVAAP. I requested further guidance from them since they oversee the DVAAP and approve agency plans. They replied in April 2003 asking if the issue was resolved. My response back was quite lengthy and OPM never replied.
While attending the Professional Military Comptroller School in January 2003, I wrote a research paper on the DVAAP. As part of my research I interviewed over 75 members across DoD, including SES and General Officers, and only one knew of the DVAAP.
During January 2003, I talked to the new AFAA Auditor General. He was unaware of the requirements of DVAAP. He said he would review the information I provided him and get back with me. He never responded.
I also contacted the disabled representative to the AFAA Workforce Diversity Advisory Committee (WDAC). He was unaware of this affirmative action program and subsequently never responded to my inquiry.
The AF Affirmative Employment for People with Disabilities plan stipulates, “the Air Force establishes agency-wide numerical objectives/goals for the hiring, placement and advancement of people with severe disabilities, to include disabled veterans.” However, this AF plan did not reference 5 CFR 720 Subpart C nor did it cite the DVAAP. Nothing I found in any AF publication or AF affirmative action plan cited the DVAAP.
By August 2003 I was trying to work within the AFAA to resolve this issue. However, the AFAA Auditor General stated, “You have made frequent accusations that AFAA is not following rules regarding disabled veterans. The AFAA Director of Operations is in the process of clarifying these rules for you after discussion with AF officials, a review of the appropriate guidance, and confirmation with the Office of Personnel Management. We hope this will explain the program to you and confirm for you, as we have explained on several occasions in the past, that we are indeed complying with the program. In the future, I encourage you to focus your energies on job performance, which is the primary factor to promotion in the AFAA and apply for Audit Manager vacancies. The responsible Assistant Auditor General, as the selecting official, will follow all appropriate personnel rules, make the proposed selection, coordinate with me and then process through the appropriate personnel channels.”
I thanked him for his comments and stated that I used my own time and resources to pursue the DVAAP over the past nine months.
In August 2003, the AFAA Director of Resource Management advised she had contacted AF/DPPH and OPM about my questions and stated, “The disabled veteran's preference (notification and appeal rights) applies to initial appointments only. The references you cited (5 USC 3312 and 3318) as well as the entire subchapter I, Examination, Selection, and Placement, address people who are being initially hired into the civil service. I believe you assumed the word "certificate" as used in the references meant promotion certificates. However, when new employees are hired, they are also selected from a certificate. In fact, 5 USC 3318 describes in detail the process we use to select new personnel--we receive a certificate with the names of the highest three eligibles, and if a veteran "blocks" selection of a targeted individual, we must select the veteran.”
She went on to say, “The AFAA is not required to collect or report DVAAP statistics separately to OPM each year. The Veteran's Employment in the Federal Government lists the agencies required to submit data under this program, and the AFAA's information is contained in the submission from the Air Force. Therefore, while our data are included in the Air Force report to OPM, we have no regulatory requirement to collect or track these statistics at the AFAA level.”
On 14 August 2003, a GS13 audit manager and disabled veteran stated, “He and another GS13 audit managers brought the DVAAP to the attention of the AAG AFAA/FS and his Deputy in July 2000. All they got for their trouble was reduced evaluations and grief. He added, “I made all the GS14 certificates in FS 1996-2001 and was not selected. Since then I've stopped wasting my time filling in surveys, etc., as AFAA has no intention of promoting a well qualified [MBA, CPA, DOD ADP Level II Acquisition Auditor], older , white, male, disabled veteran. Also, I too have received lowered ratings in the past couple of years, to the point I won't make any certificates.” This mirrored the same treatment I was receiving from FS management for inquiring about the DVAAP.
In August 2003, I contacted the Headquarters Air Force/Policy Office (HAF/XC) and they spoke to the Civilian Policy Office at the Air Staff.
Per the Civilian Policy Office, “The AF does not normally have a "plan" to hire or promote a specific number of any types of individual. Each base decides based on a comparison to the local population if it needs to have comparability in certain categories of individuals. The Air Force does not have large DVAAP goals, because DoD hires the most disabled veterans in the Federal Government. Members cannot be given preference over other candidates just because they are disable veteran. The only time that veteran’s preference is used on the civilian side is for an external appointment INTO the Federal government or during a reduction in force (RIF).”
After receiving this response in August 2003, I wrote to the AF Director of Personnel Policy office outlining the discrepancy between their response and what 5 CFR 720 Subpart C stated. I provided a copy of the CFR with my letter.
5 CFR 720.301 clearly states requirements for agency disabled veteran affirmative action programs (DVAAPs) designed to promote Federal employment and advancement opportunities for qualified disabled veterans. Further, 5 CFR 720.303(a) states that, each Department, agency, and instrumentality in the executive branch, shall conduct a continuing affirmative program for the recruitment, hiring, placement, and advancement of disabled veterans.
The Chief Force Sustainment Division Directorate Of Personnel Policy, provided me a copy of the FY03 AF DVAAP plan. I received it on 15 October 2003. This was the first time anyone had ever mentioned the AF DVAAP plan, which established a representative goal for disabled veterans of 8.7 percent.
This DVAAP plan and every annual plan since does not meet the minimum requirements outlined in 5 CFR 720.304(e), which outlines the plan content. It did not establish key measures for monitoring compliance, review, and evaluating planned efforts and was not coordinated with any other AF office. Also, there was no indication the plan was submitted to OPM for approval as required by 5 CFR 720.304(c), and it was apparent that this affirmative action plan was not disseminated as required by 5 CFR 720.304(b) (2). Personnel responsible for implementation of the plan at the local Base Civilian Personnel Office and the HQ Pacific Air Command (PACAF) Civilian Personnel Office had never seen it.
I provided a copy of the plan to AFAA management and asked how they plan to implement and meet the established goal (8.7%) contained therein. There was no response.
In December 2003, I filed an EEO complaint against the AFAA because of their practice of discrimination against disabled veterans. In January 2004, as the EEO process moved forward, I submitted a request for a humanitarian reassignment.
The AFAA/FS Deputy Assistant Auditor General (AAG) contacted me in February 2004 to offer me a promotion to GS13. He stated, “This will kill two birds with one stone.” I assumed he was referring to my EEO complaint and humanitarian reassignment. The position he offered was one that AFAA/FS AAG had previously rejected my self-nomination a few months earlier. As such, I withdrew my EEO complaint.
I continued to inquire how the AFAA was going to implement the AF DVAAP plan. It had taken almost nine years for my promotion to GS13 while the average for the majority of others is three years or less. I continued to track how the AFAA filled GS13 and GS14 positions as well as hiring.
AFAA management never responded to inquires related to DVAAP implementation. In July 2004 I wrote to the AF General Council.
The Associate Director FSD, my 2nd level supervisor, informed me in September 2004 that the AFAA/FS Deputy AAG sent him a pointed email saying he did not want to hear any more about the DVAAP. My supervisor explained, “It is not a matter of truth. Rather, it is perception indicating I am over stepping AFAA senior management’s authority.”
By November 2004, my 1st level supervisor required I take annual leave to visit the EEO office if I was going to discuss the DVAAP or any related issue. She also started to single me out for discipline in front of others in the office. I notified my 2nd level supervisor, Associate Director of our division, in writing outlining her abuses. My 1st level supervisor and AFAA/FS Deputy AAG worked together to try and rein in my efforts on the DVAAP. I notified in writing the AFAA/FS AAG in April 2005 outlining this behavior. Nothing was done and the harassment continued.
By April 2005, the VA Medical Center doctors thought I had heart disease and possibly a heart attack because of the stress my 1st level supervisor and AFAA/FS Deputy AAG were applying. No one in AFAA senior management intervened to stop them.
Eventually, I transferred to a new 1st level supervisor. However, the new supervisor’s perceptions were already tainted.
I filed a formal complaint in November 2005 with the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) to seek relief from the continued attacks. OSC stated, “My case was being referred for whistleblower retaliation.” The case was settled in August 2006.
While the OSC was investigating, I contacted HQ USAF/A1XC, Civilian Policy and Design Division, in February 2006. His office is responsible for implementation of the AF DVAAP Plan. He said, “I met with AFAA Director of Operations, and Chief of Resource Management Division to discuss the DVAAP.” Still nothing changed within the AFAA.
In September 2005 and August 2006, the AFAA Workforce Diversity Advisory Committee (WDAC) debated and decided that “the agency” cited in 5 CFR 720.340(e) is the Air Force and AFAA falls under the Air Force. The committee also debated and decided that veterans with a 30 percent or more disability rating receive additional consideration during hiring and this percentage should not factor in for advancement/promotions.
The AFAA Recruiting Manual is a guide used by select AFAA employees with hiring authority. A review of the 21 plus page guide revealed that it offered only 12 lines of text for hiring the disabled without citing the DVAAP or any other Veterans Preference guidelines. However, the guide did provide specific steps for targeting colleges that contained specific percentages of minorities and women that covered several pages.
In August 2006 I contacted HQ USAF/A1XC, Civilian Policy and Design Division, who referred my concerns to the AFAA Director of Operations. In response to the question – “Who is responsible for monitoring and measuring effectiveness merit system principles including the DVAAP?” - the answer is "agency management." AFAA senior management IS responsible for effective DVAAP implementation and key measures to monitor compliance, perform reviews, and evaluate planned AFAA DVAAP efforts. According to A1XC personnel the AFAA Director of Operations, and Chief of Resource Management Division were informed. He said A1XC can only advise and told me to address concerns to the AFAA Director of Operations, and Chief of Resource Management Division. The same office that over the past four years had done nothing to implement this affirmative action program.
SAF/MR (Manpower and Resources) in November 2006 stated AF/A1XC did make some recommendations (not directives) to the AFAA Director of Operations and Chief of Resource Management Division that includes the following items: (a) mentoring of AFAA Employees, (b) review of AFAA policies, procedures, and programs, (c) possible issue of a supplement to SECAF diversity policy memo (d) become familiar with new directive EEO Management Directive 715 (e) involving key management in developing a pipeline for GS-13 and above positions for a more diverse workforce and (f) integration of EEO into all capital human planning. Nothing changed.
In December 2006, the AF Auditor General (AG) published a memo outlining the need to recruit more qualified disabled veterans. He cited an analysis showing the AFAA currently has 52 disabled veterans (6.5 percent). Current AF goals are 8.7 percent. He also cited special consideration should be given for disabled veterans rated at 30% or more. Disabled veterans in this category represented 2.6, 5.7, and 3.1 percent of Federal, Air Force, and AFAA workforces, respectively.
The AG memo in June 2007 requested help to hire qualified disabled veterans. I contacted the Supervisor of Employment Outreach, National VA Headquarters who said he would be glad to help. He stated there were 1,687 disabled veteran candidates in the accounting program who would qualify for the employment with the AFAA. I provided his contact information to AFAA officials. No AFAA selecting officials had contacted him as of 15 August 2007.
Since January 2000, I have completed 23 projects identifying $54 million in savings for the AF. I have experience in acquisition, field operations, and information systems audits with the AFAA over the past 15 years with total federal service exceeding 31 years. I also obtained a Certified Fraud Examiner professional certification. Yet, each time I get the same comments from the selecting officials.
To continue my career progression in depth and breadth of experience since January 2006, I have applied 11 times for GS13 and GS14 positions and professional military education schools without being selected.
Meanwhile, selecting officials provided a standard response to my inquiry for non-selection, “They analyze the candidates and consider ratings, depth/breadth of experience, training, mobility, certifications, professional military education, and advanced degrees.” Yet, most 2007 selections for GS13 and GS14 position generally went to people with less than 4 years experience with the AFAA.
It all comes back to either AFAA senior leadership (a) truly believes my disabled veteran status hinders my abilities or (b) is tired of me fighting for my rights under 5 CFR 720 Subpart C. I believe this is reflective in the fact that my supervisors would not allow me to have permissive TDY to testify forcing me to use annual leave to be here today.