Sunday, November 22, 2015

It's Who You Know

James Dean of Florida Today reports that “Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana and other senior leaders were more involved than previously disclosed in illegal spaceport hires that may still be subject to federal investigation, according to records FLORIDA TODAY obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.”

Auditors found the hires of three administrative assistants supporting Cabana and two other high-ranking officials on the fourth floor of KSC headquarters suggested a deliberate effort to get around federal laws requiring competition and priority consideration for certain military veterans.

The article cites emails sent by Cabana to KSC's Human Resources Director asking that lesser qualified individuals be given preference in hiring, while ignoring more qualified candidates, some of whom were military veterans entitled by law to preferential hiring.

Florida Today posted a copy of a June 12, 2014 reprimand sent to Cabana by NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot. In his letter, Lightfoot wrote:

While the report identifies many failings on the part of the KSC Human Resources office in its handling of these hiring actions, the report also indicates a recurring cultural issue that exists between the HR office and many elements of KSC senior management. The HR office has lost sight of its primary professional function and seems convinced that its value to KSC is judged by its ability to please individual managers. As you know, this incident has had serious repercussions for the Agency, and for the individual managers, selectees, and passed-over candidates involved.

Florida Today reported in March 2015 that, after auditors found evidence of illegal hires, “The U.S. Office of Personnel Management's findings prompted NASA Headquarters to place KSC's Human Resources Office under special oversight for six months last year, during which it monitored and approved all hiring decisions.”

NASA said that intervention was necessary because KSC's problems, if not corrected, could have put the entire agency at risk of losing the hiring authority granted to it by OPM.

When the article was published last March, Cabana's personal involvement was not known. Here's what Cabana told reporter James Dean in March:

Cabana said everyone that KSC hired was qualified.

“The key was that there were folks that should have been on the lists in addition to them that were not,” he said.

That was the case for two secretaries and an administrative assistant hired to support Cabana, Deputy Director Janet Petro and Associate Director Kelvin Manning, all of whom are veterans.

Cabana said he interviewed the three candidates referred to him and was assured in writing that proper hiring procedures were followed.

“I'm not an expert in all the OPM rules on HR hiring,” he said. “I trust my HR director. When I tell them to do something or ask them to do something, I expect them to do it within the rules, by the book. And I assume it's being done that way.”

The new evidence obtained by Florida Today shows that Cabana himself told the H.R. director to flout the rules. According to today's article:

As a result, the final interview lists for both Cabana’s and Petro’s jobs, which had been open to all qualified U.S. citizens, included just three names: Cabana’s “primes.”

“That works,” Cabana said of the outcome in an e-mail to Anania Wetrich, Petro and another employee. “All three on both lists is the right answer.”

Lightfoot's letter concluded:

Your e-mails to the HR professionals, which focused on particular desired candidates after the recruiting process had been implemented, undoubtedly contributed to the extreme lengths that the HR office went to in order to achieve certain results. At a minimum, the e-mails show a significant lack of awareness of how statements can be perceived and contributed to the HR office's loss of focus on the competitive process. Combined with your recent discussions on performance expectations for your struggling HR office, I believe this influenced their adherence to the process and subsequent outcomes.

Elsewhere in Personnel, Keith Cowing at NASA Watch reports that disgraced former commercial crew program Ed Mango will return to Kennedy Space Center.

In December 2013, Mango pleaded guilty to a felony charge of illegally intervening in a personnel matter in which he had a financial stake.

James Dean reported on the Mango affair:

Mango admitted taking out a cash advance on his credit card to loan an undisclosed amount of money to a program colleague to hire a law firm after she was arrested in 2012 at KSC. Court records identify the colleague as “C.T.” and “Thomas.”

Candrea Thomas, a NASA public affairs officer who served as spokeswoman for the Commercial Crew Program, was the only NASA employee involved in that program who was arrested at the center at that time, NASA has confirmed.

Thomas later pleaded no contest to forging temporary driver's permits while her license was suspended because of a second drunken driving conviction.

According to his plea agreement, Mango then pressured KSC's human resources department and Center Director Bob Cabana to limit NASA's discipline against Thomas, aware that she might not be able to repay his loan if she lost her job.

Mango also contacted KSC security personnel and was critical of the decision to arrest Thomas at her office.

Human resources personnel told NASA investigators that Mango's intervention made a difference.

One official said he felt Mango tried to intimidate him, and another said the case was handled in an unprecedented manner: the cost of a two-week unpaid suspension was meted out over multiple pay periods instead of one.

Despite the guilty felony plea, the judge fined Mango only $2,000, with no prison time or probation. He was reassigned to NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. after the incident.

But he's back.

NASA Watch posted on November 20 this internal KSC email:

Subject: GFAST Lead

All, As most are aware Kathy Milon has accepted a position on a Source Board and will be leaving her position in C3 soon. I first want to express a heartfelt thanks to her for her dedication and commitment to the success of GFAST and the C3 Project; truly a great job in getting us as far as we've come. So thank-you Kathy! Ed Mango has accepted the challenge to lead the GFAS Team, with the transition to commence immediately. I know everyone will support Ed in this new assignment and we're fortunate to have someone of his experience ready to step in. This assignment will be for what's likely to be for a few months as we identify a long-term solution and phase that person in over time. Please join me in thanking Kathy and wishing her well, and welcoming Ed into his new role! Please pass this info on to your teams or forward as appropriate.

Bob Willcox

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