- Posted October 8, 2013 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Bullying awareness: Your story
Bonneville Power caught in their own net!
Here is an exert from the current Office of Inspector "General Dept of Energy findings.
RESULTS OF SPECIAL INQUIRY
We found that Bonneville's hiring practices disadvantaged veterans and other applicants. Bonneville's actions were inconsistent with concerted efforts by the Federal government to ensure that veterans received appropriate preferential treatment in the hiring process. Specifically, we found that:
• Bonneville consistently manipulated the applicant rating process. This practice involved modifying the "best qualified" category after all applications were received; actions that
resulted in the inappropriate exclusion of veterans and other applicants from consideration for job selection. While a final determination has yet to be made, information provided by Bonneville revealed that these prohibited practices occurred in at least 117 of 240 cases (49 percent)1 of recruitments conducted from November 2010 to June 2012.
• Despite specific requirements to do so, Bonneville did not fully disclose to the Department that the inappropriate personnel practices had occurred, nor did it disclose the adverse impact on veterans and other applicants.
• Bonneville neither notified the affected applicants nor did it initiate corrective actions required to remedy the inappropriate practices.
In addition to the serious problems in its category rating process, we discovered that Bonneville disadvantaged at least one veteran by closing a delegated examining announcement and re- announcing the position in such a way as to exclude the veteran from consideration. In this particular case, Bonneville recruited for and subsequently referred a group of "best qualified" candidates for a senior position to the selecting official. After conducting interviews, the selecting official identified a candidate who he wished to select. At about that same time, the category rating practices at Bonneville were exposed. HCM officials told us that they then identified a veteran that would have been ranked as best qualified had the category rating process been correctly applied. That veteran was then referred to the selecting official for consideration. The selecting official decided, however, that the veteran was not qualified and indicated that he did not wish to hire him. After being advised by an HCM staff member that the stated reason for bypassing the applicant was insufficient to justify granting a waiver of the veteran's preference, the selecting official elected to close the vacancy announcement and reopen it with additional selection criteria that the veteran could not meet.
One of Bonneville's staff attorneys provided guidance that likely facilitated this action. Specifically, the attorney's advice to an HCM official described how to modify the announcement so that the veteran would be unlikely to qualify. The attorney also provided advice on the risks associated with proceeding in that manner. The attorney noted that the veteran might not reapply once the position was re-announced. Rather than providing general advice regarding the propriety of closing announcements and reopening them with more restrictive selection criteria, the guidance appeared to target the particular veteran that the selecting official considered bypassing. Notably, the attorney opined that if the veteran did reapply, it would have been difficult for the veteran to prevail under the new criteria. Bonneville subsequently executed the plan and, as predicted, the veteran did not qualify. The selecting official rationalized his decision to proceed in this manner by noting that it would have been unfair to hire the veteran and then terminate him during his first year if he had been unable to do the job. Recent reviews by both the Department and OPM found that Bonneville misused overly restrictive qualifications to improperly eliminate qualified applicants from job consideration. Thus, the case highlighted here may reflect a more extensive problem.
1Calculations of numbers of cases and impacted individuals listed throughout our report are based on best estimates. We were unable to determine with absolute certainty exact statistics because of data integrity and record keeping problems at Bonneville.
The management culture at Bonneville contributed to an environment that enabled the prohibited practices to occur. Notably, we observed that Bonneville officials spent considerable effort trying to distance the organization from Departmental procedures, processes and oversight. For example, although Bonneville was required to comply with Department directives related to its delegated human capital authorities, we found that Bonneville management officials considered such policies to be unnecessary administrative burdens. Our review of emails and interviews with Bonneville management confirmed that deflecting Departmental oversight was ingrained in many aspects of Bonneville's human resources operation, and, that this practice had been the case for many years.
Bonneville officials indicated they had not advised the Department of the extent of the prohibited practices and, as a matter of general policy, would not report issues to the Department if Bonneville officials felt they could handle the issues internally. This stance was taken despite OPM regulations requiring reporting and immediate remedial actions in these and related matters. Even when Bonneville did formally communicate the category rating problems to the Department, nearly a year after the problems were first discovered, Bonneville failed to notify impacted individuals, did not advise the Department that a large number of individuals had been disadvantaged, and failed to indicate that significant remedial actions would be necessary.
Compounding problems associated with the general environment and culture, our inquiry revealed that Bonneville exercised inadequate oversight and accountability of its own personnel recruitment functions. Specifically, we found that Bonneville:
• Failed to ensure that there was sufficient Federal human resources experience within the ranks of HCM management;
• Did not adequately maintain or track training information for personnel specialists and was, as a result, unable to identify skill gaps;
• Relied on informal, undocumented practices to govern its category rating process; and
• Did not ensure that a safeguard designed to detect or prevent prohibited practices, the quarterly audit process, was properly implemented.
In short, there was a massive breakdown in procedures, processes and management attentiveness at several levels of Bonneville's operation.
Bonneville's questionable human resources management practices were at the heart of the failure to: (1) correctly execute the category rating process; (2) make appropriate and required notifications to the Department and affected job applicants; and (3) take actions to address the large volume of hiring errors that occurred in the 18 months preceding discovery. In fact, Bonneville officials engaged in an active, months-long campaign to avoid reporting the impact of the category rating problems, thereby delaying needed remedial actions.