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Section 519 Technician Study




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LIUNA Meets with DoD and CNA on the Section 519 Study  
by Ben Banchs


Washington, DC (March 5th, 2012) – LIUNA met today with representatives from research firm CNA regarding Section 519 of the FY12 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which requires a study on the feasibility of terminating the National Guard Technician program. Also present were representatives from the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the National Association of Government Employees (NAGE), the Association of Civilian Technicians (ACT), the Department of Defense (DoD), and the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs (OSD-RA). CNA has been selected by DoD to determine the feasibility of terminating the technician program in favor of another personnel category.
 

The first impression we got from the CNA reps was that, even though the law requires an independent review of the technician program, it’s fairly obvious that DoD is driving the direction of the study. This calls into question the objectivity of the analysis, and what CNA’s findings will ultimately look like. As the briefing progressed and the Unions peppered the CNA representatives with questions, they repeatedly glanced over at Mr. Darryl Robert’s, the DoD Civilian Personnel Advisory Service (DCPAS) representative, as if to determine whether they had permission to answer, or not. In fact, CNA had to verify with DoD on numerous occasions on what was up for discussion and what was out of the scope of the meeting.
   
One of the more interesting revelations to come out of the briefing was that DoD has lumped the Section 519 requirements into another more broad 4-Phase study that DoD has had in the pipeline since at least March of 2011, or earlier, according to a representative from OSD-RA that was listening via telephone. This more comprehensive study is supposed to look at the entire Full Time Support (FTS) structure of the Reserves (civilian and military) spanning across all of the service branches (Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines), and including the Coast Guard, even though they are technically part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). According to DoD and CNA, the National Guard Technician program was going to be evaluated in conjunction with that broader study. The Section 519 requirements simply made said evaluation a priority. The reason the Unions are concerned is because this is how DoD began their march towards the failed National Security Personnel System (NSPS), which was just recently abolished, and that cost taxpayers millions of unnecessarily wasted dollars.  

It is unclear how CNA was chosen to conduct the study. When we asked what criteria or bidding process was used to identify CNA as the best candidate, the answer provided by Mr. Roberts was that “they were just chosen.” As a result, we have concerns about the selection criteria, and about CNA's qualifications since we are not aware of any previous studies they have done on the National Guard Technician program. This is crucial because the National Guard Technician program is very unique; so much so that even those charged with administering it have difficulty understanding the parameters under which they operate. We asked why other research firms, such as RAND, were not awarded the study contract, but we received no real answer.  

The other area of concern came when we asked CNA how far along into the study process they were, and what data they had collected. They responded that, so far, they had asked the National Guard Bureau (NGB) to provide information on the total numbers of technicians in the program, and to identify States that could provide data for the study. According to CNA, NGB provided them with a list of five States that indicated interest in participating, out of which CNA would probably visit only one or two; however neither the DoD nor CNA representatives were willing to say which States NGB identified. This presents some red flags for obvious reasons.  

First, even if the five States that NGB identified to CNA are the largest in terms of technicians, we’re only talking about a fraction of the overall population, maybe less than 10%. While we certainly are not experts in analytical processes, most would agree that a 10% sampling of the technician program would more than likely not be enough to convince Congress, one way or the other, as to what direction to take in regards to technicians, thus opting to leave things as they are. Second, we have concerns as to why CNA didn’t involve the Unions in identifying which States to analyze, and we also want to know why NGB would only identify five out of fifty three individual states and territories that employ technicians.

Furthermore, only asking NGB to provide data does not seem very objective or independent since NGB has a vested interest in the outcome of this study. In fact, not only would NGB like to preserve the status quo, they would probably prefer a slightly modified version of it, perhaps one where technicians have no collective bargaining rights under 5 USC Chapter 71, at all, as alluded to in this white paper written in 2003 by an internal staffer.  

We’re also worried that NGB may have identified “flagship” States, such as those that have not been involved in recent scandals, or perhaps those that have weak Unions. Our opinion is that if a true independent analysis of the program is going to be accomplished, then States such as California and Texas should be at the top of the list of candidates for evaluation. California, for example, is still trying to emerge from a barrage of scandals that involve mismanagement of personnel and criminal fiscal fraud by a slew of senior leaders.    

The general feeling was that DoD felt pressured to hold he meeting. As the briefing progressed, it seemed apparent that DoD’s intent was to simply “check a box,” meaning that they would be able to report to Congress that they fulfilled the requirements of Section 519(b)(8) “to ensure involvement and input of military technicians” by meeting with us and letting us know how the study was going to be conducted, rather than ask us to actively participate in the study. We (the Unions) had to request to be allowed to submit data, and only then were we given two very short and tentative deadlines for submission of information. Even then, we were not assured that our input would be given any weight. In fact, at one point it was inferred by both DoD and CNA that Union input may be considered to be from “outside the agency,” and as such we would not be able to make actual recommendations to CNA, rather our input could only be considered informative. This is an insult considering that the Unions provide the only voice for military technicians, and that we are the legally recognized “exclusive representative” of technicians nationwide.    

In spite of the apprehensions, we were able to get a few specifics on the study itself. CNA analysts will be looking at the types of jobs technicians occupy, what their concerns are, and how they’re affected by current laws, regulations, agency policies, and pending legislation. In order to fulfill the requirements of Section 519, their focus is to determine the “feasibility of terminating the military technician program in favor of another personnel category,” and how that transition (if any) would affect the National Guard’s readiness. As part of their fact-finding and analysis, CNA will be conducting personal interviews of technicians out in the field, however it is unclear at this point how technicians will be chosen, the timeframe during which these interviews will be conducted, and whether the interviews will be individual or focus-group based.     

DoD and CNA are supposed to provide the Unions with more information regarding the progress of the study so far, and where it’s headed. Aside from copy of the PowerPoint presentation given to those present, the Unions are supposed to receive a copy of the program proposal CNA submitted to DoD, any draft working papers, and copies of whatever materials/information CNA received from NGB/DoD. We also requested to be provided whatever questions CNA is planning to ask technicians during the interview process, and what literature they have reviewed so far in support of this project.  

There are many questions that still remain unanswered. For example, while we certainly believe that the Unions are subject matter experts (SME’s) for purposes of this study, DoD and CNA refused to acknowledge this. This is crucial since part of CNA’s study requirements is to involve SME’s in their fact-finding. Without the SME recognition, CNA will not be required to accept recommendations from the Unions, leaving us on the outside, and only able to provide “information,” which does not have to be included in the final analysis.  

We are encouraged that the technician program is being seriously looked at for the first time in over 40 years. However, we remain cautiously optimistic on the outcome, and will remain vigilant to ensure that the study is truly objective in its findings, and that the voice of all technicians, from vehicle maintainers, to aircraft mechanics and supply clerks, is heard loud and clear.  

The next meeting is tentatively scheduled for May 2012. For questions or comments, please click here to contact Mr. Ben Banchs.
  

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