Federal Building Security Officers in New England Lose Faith in Their Regional Leadership
Region 1 employees at DHS’ Federal Protective Service say they have “no confidence” in their bosses, citing micromanagement and a hostile workplace.
A group of employees working in the New England region of the agency responsible for security in federal buildings has expressed no confidence in the leadership of senior officials there, citing micromanagement, low morale and a hostile work environment.
Twenty-one law enforcement officers with the Federal Protective Service, an agency within the Homeland Security Department, said they did not believe in the “leadership, knowledge and abilities” of the Region 1 management team “to include equitable treatment in the workplace and concern for employee careers and morale,” according to an April 21 letter from David Wright, president of American Federation of Government Employees Local 918. The union held a “no-confidence vote” among bargaining unit employees in mid-April. Five employees abstained from the vote; none of the 26 workers vouched for the region’s leadership, which includes Region 1 Director Timothy Bane and Deputy Director Suzanne MacMullin.
AFGE officials met on May 22 with Suzanne Spaulding, undersecretary of the National Protection and Programs Directorate at DHS, to discuss the problems with Region 1 leadership, Wright said. That directorate oversees FPS. Wright said Spaulding “has ordered regular labor/management meetings to try to resolve issues and develop a positive LM relationship—something that the R1 union leadership is striving for.”
DHS and NPPD would not confirm Spaulding’s meeting with the union. Before the May 22 meeting, however, Robert Sperling, FPS director of communications, told Government Executive that the agency “takes any allegations of potential misconduct seriously and will respond directly to the AFGE Local 918.”
The Federal Protective Service, which is divided into 11 regions across the country and is responsible for guarding more than 9,500 federal facilities, has struggled with low morale, staffing shortages, and a lack of funding for the better part of the last decade, according to a 2008 report from the Government Accountability Office. Its parent agency DHS has been under pressure lately to bolster morale within its massive workforce; its employees consistently give agency management low marks on the annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey. In 2014, the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service ranked DHS the worst place to work of 19 large agencies.
In late April, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson had this to say to a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing about the matter: “I have discovered that as a leader of an organization of 225,000 people, one of the ways to ensure that we continue to have low morale is to continue to say to my workforce that ‘you have low morale.’ ” He added that he is on an “aggressive campaign” to “improve the experience” of DHS workers.
The complaints against FPS Region 1 leadership listed by the union in Wright’s April 21 letter included threats of firing in response to an Equal Employment Opportunity filing, “significant delays” to get approval for overtime and official travel that have threatened the agency’s mission, and an internal affairs investigation into “a minor incident” that didn’t follow proper procedure and wasted taxpayer dollars. In an interview with Government Executive, Wright described the incident as involving a GS-12 canine explosive detection handler who, on a routine walk through a building, let his dog hop up on a public water foundation and drink from it. “Somebody saw it, and reported it to his chain of command,” Wright said, adding that he did not condone the handler’s action, but said it was done “out of habit.”
The typical procedure in misconduct cases, Wright said, is to report it to the DHS inspector general; in this case, the employee, who works in Connecticut, was subjected to an interrogation under oath by an agent who drove from Boston where Region 1 is headquartered. It should have been “a phone conversation,” Wright said, but instead, “we’ve got the special agent driving from Boston to Connecticut to confront a GS-12 inspector about allowing his dog to drink out of a water fountain.”
Another incident involved an excessive amount of red tape to approve official travel resulting in an “excess of four hours documenting a detailed itinerary and arbitrary changes by middle management,” Wright wrote in the letter to Spaulding.
Wright said there are about 28 to 30 bargaining unit employees in FPS Region 1, which includes Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. He also said labor-sponsored votes of no confidence in management are uncommon. “In my varying capacities with the union I have filed probably six in 15 years,” Wright said. Sperling would not say how many employees and contractors work in Region 1. Wright was unsure, but said he thought it was “less than 100.”
Wright said Bane, MacMullin, and their “subordinate management team” have created a work environment that “has led to retaliation and assumed fears of retaliation for complaints or any meaningful discourse aimed at benefiting workforce morale, benefiting the taxpayer, accomplishing the FPS mission in an efficient and effective manner and protecting workforce rights.”
Sperling, Bane and MacMullin issued a joint statement to Government Executive on the allegations, but did not speak directly to the no confidence vote in their leadership. “The issues the local union raised have to do primarily with their disagreement of how requests for overtime approval are handled, the volume of compensatory time off approved in lieu of straight overtime payments, and the substitution of certain protective gear,” the statement said. “Regional management remains committed to a continuance of ongoing dialogue with local union leadership regarding these and any other issues.”
Calling their staff “exceptionally talented, professional and dedicated,” Bane and MacMullin said they “look forward to increased communication with the local union to ensure that no confusion exists by either party.”