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GOAD-ing Civilian Employees

 

 

 
 
   
   
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(Credit: istockphoto.com/Planet Flem)

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In the Army, the concept of Good Order and Discipline (GOAD) began, perhaps, with its first commander in chief. While commander of the Virginia Regiment during the French and Indian War, then-Lieutenant Colonel George Washington wrote in a letter to his regiment captains, “Discipline is the soul of an army. It makes small numbers formidable; procures success to the weak, and esteem to all.”1

The eventual criminalization of conduct deemed prejudicial to GOAD has been challenged at, and upheld by, the Supreme Court—who recognized “the fundamental necessity for obedience, and the consequent necessity for imposition of discipline” in the military . . . .”2

The Army’s policy regarding GOAD is set forth in Army Regulation 27-10, where paragraph 17-2 states: “The military justice system is designed to ensure good order and discipline within the Army and also to protect the lives and property of members of the military community and the general public consistent with the rights of the accused.”3

It’s the next-to-last clause that I focus on in this article: the protection of “the lives and property of members of the military community.” Specifically, if the Uniform Code of Military Justice is designed to preserve GOAD on installations and within the military community, yet only applies to members of the uniformed services, then what about the rest of the men and women who work for the U.S. Army? What about the 300,000 Civilian employees working shoulder to shoulder with Soldiers, and what can we do when their conduct is prejudicial to GOAD?

On 7 September 2016, Army Civilian employee Clifford Currie walked into First Lieutenant (1LT) Katie Blanchard’s office—his supervisor—and doused her with a water bottle of gasoline.4 “As she stood up to run, he tossed two lit matches at her and there was a burst of flames.”5 Blanchard “stumbled out of the room and ran down the hall screaming.”6 A coworker grabbed a blanket and smothered the flames.7 Currie ran back to his office, then reappeared with a pair of scissors and straightedge razor.8 Currie put his foot on Blanchard’s neck and began stabbing at her before a sergeant grabbed Currie and restrained him.9

The attack wasn’t out of the blue. In fact, while lying on the ground burned and bloody, 1LT Blanchard screamed, “I told you this would happen!”10 As witnesses would later relate, Blanchard, a first-time supervisor of fifteen military and Civilian staff, had difficulties supervising Mr. Currie from the start.11 She kept telling herself it would get better, but it only got worse as time went on.12 “He was blowing up twice a day or not coming into work,” she said.13 First Lieutenant Blanchard related Currie’s erratic and aggressive behavior to her leadership, who encouraged her to stay the course.14

For months, she warned her supervisors and coworkers that something would happen to her.15 She told them that Currie scared her; that he would yell and physically intimidate her.16 The report Blanchard provided media related that on multiple occasions, Blanchard told her chain of command she felt unsafe around Currie.17 Over twenty-five witnesses supported her claim that she’d warned her supervisors.18 And, it wasn’t just Blanchard. “The report noted that Currie was the subject of 53 complaints from patients between 2013 and 2016—31 of which occurred in 2016 while Blanchard was his supervisor.”19

Can you imagine the immediacy at which the chain of command would react if a Soldier behaved as Currie did in the months—no, for more than a year—leading up to the attack? Imagine a Soldier in your office accumulating over fifty negative Interactive Customer Evaluation (ICE) comments from customers and behaving erratically and physically aggressive toward his or her officer in charge (OIC)? My guess is after just a couple negative ICE comments or one, possibly two, outbursts directed toward the OIC, appropriate, effective action would be taken.

I know what you’re thinking. “It’s different with Civilians.” “It’s too hard to take action against a Civilian.” “It’s impossible to fire a Civilian—don’t even try!”

Only the first thought is correct. But, even that thinking is flawed if you combine it with the next two ideas. In fact, as Ms. Rebecca Ausprung explained at this year’s WWCLE, taking appropriate action against a Civilian is more like taking adverse action against a Soldier than you think. All you need to be successful is documentation of the poor performance or misconduct, and a desire to hold the employee accountable.

The Players: supervisors of Civilians have two primary advisors when it comes to Civilian employee (poor) performance and (mis)conduct: (1) the Labor Management-Employee Relations (LMER) specialist at the Civilian Personnel Advisory Center (CPAC), and (2) the installation or organization’s assigned Labor Counselor. Think of them as your brigade paralegal and assigned trial counsel, respectively. They are there to listen to your dilemma; look at your documentation; advise a course of action; and assist in execution. Under normal circumstances, you go to your CPAC first, and they’ll pull in the labor counselor at the appropriate time.

The Process: it’s just like you tell the platoon sergeant or company commander who wants to take action against a Soldier—“you need documentation.” For misconduct, you will need ICE comments, witness statements, a memorandum for record memorializing what you observed, a 15-6 investigation—whatever documentation there is to support the action. If it’s a performance problem, you’ll need the employee’s Performance Plan from the Defense Performance Management and Appraisal System and, most likely, the most recent progress review and assessment as well as samples of the employee’s work product.

The Pain: yes, it takes time. Yes, it’s not pleasant—especially with long-time employees who you work with every day and with whom you have to maintain a professional relationship. And, yes, eventually most supervisors who do the right thing and hold employees accountable to the appropriate standards of professional behavior and performance have some sort of complaint filed against them. Grievances, Equal Employment Opportunity complaints, Inspector General complaints—those mechanisms are there to protect employees against mistreatment, with good reason, and as long as you’re taking action for the right reasons and have your supporting documentation together, the action will be upheld.

For those of you who either are a senior leader, or advise one, and are worried about delays in favorable personnel actions due to being named in some complaint and that coming up through various scrubs: there is a process in place for assessments (of any complaint) to be completed and provided to Army Senior Leadership as soon as possible, so they can decide to proceed or not with whatever action is being contemplated. Meanwhile, take the appropriate action—do the right thing—it’s why the Army put you there in the first place.

The Payoff: take the right action, at the right time, and the payoff is immediate. Either the employee straightens up and returns to drama-free productivity, or doesn’t . . . and you now have reason to take the appropriate next steps, up to and including removal from federal service. Either way, you and, perhaps more importantly, your workforce will know you’re taking action for the good of the organization. Morale will improve and, in the long-run, the office will trust you as a manager who cares about everyone doing their fair share and acting professionally while doing so.

So, now what? Here is advice to deputy and staff judge advocates:

  1. Take action when appropriate. Take it promptly.
  2. Get to know your labor counselor’s case load. Have at least bi-weekly meetings with them, just like your trial counsel. Get a copy of the tracker and review it for unexplained delays or outcomes. Knock down obstacles, whether it’s a reluctant manager or commander, or an uncooperative staff member—intercede and facilitate.
  3. Instill confidence in the system. Talk to your colleagues at command and staff. Mention significant cases to the Commanding General (CG) (beware—much like we guard against unlawful command influence, it’s best to keep adverse action decision-making at the lowest practical levels, so briefing the CG will be information-only, in most cases), or, better yet, have your labor counselor come brief the CG on a case or two.

Good order and discipline is the bedrock of the U.S. military and applies to not only military personnel, but also to Civilian personnel. It is important to develop good relationships with your CPAC L/MER specialist and labor counselor now, so that, should there ever become a problem, you can take swift action. Being more knowledgeable about the options you have available to you regarding Civilian personnel actions creates a healthier working atmosphere for everyone and makes you a better leader. TAL

 


Mr. Koon is the Corps’s Senior Civilian and the Director, Civilian Personnel, Labor and Employment Law, Office of The Judge Advocate General, Pentagon, Washington, D.C.



Notes

1. U.S. Army Center of Military History, Washington Takes Command of Continental Army in 1775, Army.mil (June 5, 2014), https://www.army.mil/article/40819/washington_takes_command_of_continental_army_in_1775.

2. Parker v. Levy, 417 U.S. 733,758 (1974); see UCMJ art. 134 (2018).

3. U.S. Dep’t of Army, Reg. 27-10, Military Justice para. 18-2 (11 May 2016).

4. Elaine Sanchez, Workplace Violence Survivors Unite to Turn Tragedy Into Hope, Defense.gov (Oct. 24, 2017), https://www.defense.gov/Explore/News/Article/Article/1352092/workplace-violence-survivors-unite-to-turn-tragedy-into-hope/igphoto/2001773969/.

5. Id.

6. Id.

7. Id.

8. Id.

9. Id.

10. Tony Rizzo, 20 Years in Prison Ordered for Man Who Set Fort Leavenworth Army Nurse on Fire, Kan. City Star (Nov. 2, 2017, 10:49 AM), https://www.kansascity.com/news/local/crime/article182270571.html.

11. Sanchez, supra note 4.

12. Id.

13. Id.

14. Id.

15. James Clark, The Army Ignored Her Warnings About a Dangerous Colleague. Then He Set Her on Fire, Task & Purpose (June 5, 2019, 12:28 PM), https://taskandpurpose.com/katie-blanchard-feres-doctrine.

16. Id.

17. Id.

18. Id.

19. Id.