‘Fired’ fed: Fall guy or incompetent?

May has been a tough month for federal executives in a bubbling brew of politics and real questions.

Let’s see:

Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald continues to battle Congress over how to deal with senior executives. The long-running tug-of-war among VA, Congress and veterans groups entered absurd territory over whether McDonald compared long waits for appointments to the long lines at Disneyland.

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen is facing now a legal complaint from Cause of Action over the fact that IRS doesn’t retain text messages for official business, an apparent violation of federal records laws. This while the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee — at least the Republicans on it — push to impeach him over incidents in the aftermath of the never-fully-resolved non-profit scandal.

Federal prosecutors arguing in favor of President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration against states who oppose it have gotten excoriated by a federal judge for lying in court. How’s that?? The prosecutors are down the food chain from cabinet secretaries and commissioners. But Judge Andrew Hanen also zinged Attorney General Loretta Lynch, ordering her to come up with a plan for improving Justice Department ethics.

And now ongoing problems at the Transportation Security Administration have claimed at least one scalp. TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger yanked Kelly Hoggan from the job as assistant administrator for the Office of Security Operations. Neffenger and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee go at it again today.

Hoggan apparently isn’t departing TSA. To the contrary, Neffenger says he wants to use Hoggan’s talents somewhere else in the agency.

Fall guy, totally incompetent or just bad — it’s hard to tell. But the issues did pile up for Hoggan.

  • Those airport lines. Clearly this is not the fault of a single individual. TSA has thousands fewer screeners than a few years ago. Many don’t walk away from the job. They run. The lines have several sources. Among them, the fact that inspector general auditors were able to get little things like guns past means screeners have to slow down. That happened under Hoggan’s watch.  A larger issue is the fact that way fewer people have signed up for TSA’s Pre check program than the agency estimated. I also blame the idiotic airlines for incentivizing carry-on baggage.
  • Alleged whistleblower retaliation. A GS-15 supervisor from Minneapolis, Andrew Rhoades, alleges Hoggan urged supervisors to reassign Rhoades to Tampa, Florida, believing Rhoades was leaking information to the press. Rhoades denies this. He tells me his original whistleblowing related to the fact that screened suitcases were not all receiving TSA stickers, which meant unscreened bags could make their way into airplane bellies.
  • How TSA paid Hoggan a $90,000 bonus irked Congress. Management did it in nine increments of $10,000 to sort of hide it.

For Rhoades, the issue with Hoggan remaining employed by TSA is what he calls the discrepancy between how the brass and the rank-and-file are treated in cases of misconduct or poor performance. “There’s a clear and blatant double standard,” Rhoades says. “The lack of accountability is killing our agency.”

More may come out yet on retaliation charges concerning Hoggan and the chain of command between him and Rhoades . Rhoades is expecting a decision by the Office of Special Counsel in what he says is the OSC’s first case of a disputed directed reassignment at TSA.

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