Defense contract audits manager accused of unprofessional behavior

Another Defense Contract Audit Agency manager has been rapped for using unprofessional and inappropriate language against subordinate employees in a public setting, according to a report released on Tuesday by the Defense Department inspector general.

The report, one of several released during the past three years documenting abusive managerial behavior and quality concerns at the Pentagon's premier audit agency, focuses this time on DCAA's Central Region field office in Irving, Texas.

The IG substantiated four of six allegations filed by a complainant to a Defense Department hotline, including claims that a DCAA field office manager created an unprofessional work environment, unnecessarily delayed a 2003 promotion opportunity, provided inadequate supervision and improperly removed an audit finding. Two other allegations -- that a security reinvestigation was used as harassment and that the supervisor based her rating entirely on metrics -- could not be proved, the IG said.

In response, Director Patrick Fitzgerald said DCAA had taken corrective actions, including improving its on-the-job training program. Fitzgerald also advocated retroactively correcting the complainants' promotion, a position the IG suggested is not supported by case law.

"The failure of the supervisor to properly monitor eligible promotion dates represents a laxity in supervision and failure to comply with the agency written policy," Fitzgerald wrote. "Laxity in supervision is misconduct subject to potential disciplinary action …. and the complainant should be made whole as a result of the management misconduct."

Many of these same allegations of supervisory wrongdoing also were investigated in February by DCAA's internal review team, which examines workplace-related concerns.

In 2011, the DCAA deputy director planned to discipline the manager of the Central Region field audit office for unrelated misconduct. The manager, however, resigned before the discipline could be implemented.

Investigators found that the manager "engaged in verbal and written disrespectful, offensive and unprofessional language toward employees. In some instances, the unprofessional language was made in a public setting where other employees heard it."

The supervisor also "inappropriately" mentioned the salaries of certain employees while discussing their performance, the IG found. For example, the manager reportedly told the complainant she "probably gets paid around $80,000 and that DCAA pays benefits of around $50,000 and that is a lot of money to pay to do that audit."

In an email exchange with the complainant, the internal review team also concluded the tone and language the manager used were unnecessary and inappropriate. A supervisor who witnessed the manager's behavior failed to report the behavior to upper management, the IG said.

"While management has the right to question subordinates about the status of audits, they must remain professional in doing so," the report stated. "The manager acknowledged to us that he yelled at one employee in a public area and probably used inappropriate language. He also acknowledged asking about salary amounts during performance conversations. Yelling and other forms of inappropriate and unprofessional behavior by any agency employee should never be tolerated. Management, in particular, must be held to a very high standard of conduct."

Allegations involving questionable managerial behavior by DCAA supervisors are nothing new. A July 2008 report by the Government Accountability Office noted that managers at a California field office threatened a senior auditor with personnel action if he did not remove negative findings from a report criticizing a large federal contractor.

Another auditor, Diem Thi Le, said she was the victim of repeated harassment and intimidation by supervisors, including having her performance evaluation downgraded, and being transferred to another auditing team and told to see a psychiatrist. A follow-up GAO report in 2009 noted that nationwide audit quality problems were rooted in DCAA's poor management environment and culture.

The barrage of unflattering findings led the Pentagon to replace Director April Stephenson with Fitzgerald, who previously served as the Army's auditor general.

The agency has made several substantial changes to improve its audit quality and whistleblower protection in recent years. But only a scant number of supervisors implicated in reports GAO and the Defense IG issued have been removed from their position.

In an interview with Government Executive last July, Fitzgerald said, "bringing resolution to any possible disciplinary action" was a top priority, but he declined to set a timetable or discuss ongoing investigations. "Some of these actions occurred a long time ago. We are working very hard to bring final resolution to these issues and I am optimistic we are close," he said.

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