In 1995, arguably the darkest days in ATF history, the Bureau’s Assistant Director (AD) of Field Operations solicited all field supervisors for assistance in restoring faith in ATF management from within, and restoration of public trust. AD Vita asked for specific input to quell the demands for abolishment of the Bureau, post-Waco. The following is one such memo, drafted by a 25-year veteran agent and supervisor. The author is one of ATF’s most respected and experienced Special Agents, and a leading authority on arson for profit crimes. He was instrumental in forging the strong partnerships that ATF maintains with the insurance industry to this day. This battle-tested hero made simple and honest suggestions based on a quarter of a century of street experience, which, if implemented, would have ensured a much stronger and more effective Bureau. Now, almost 15 years later, it is once again time to ask ATF’s current leadership and executive staff, "How are we doing so far"?
November 3rd, 1995
MEMORANDUM TO: All Enforcement Directorate Personnel
FROM: Associate Director (Enforcement)
SUBJECT: Management Philosophy
Prior to the recent management conference in Miami, I distributed a memorandum to all Enforcement Directorate managers laying out the management philosophy we must employ as we work for a sound and safer America. A philosophy which is anchored in honesty, trust and mutual respect.
In that memo, I established standards of accountability for Enforcement managers. I reaffirmed those expectations in Miami. I expect our managers to lead by example. You, the industries we regulate, the law enforcement community, and the public we serve are constantly monitoring and interpreting our words and deeds. Nothing is noticed more quickly, nor deemed more significant than discrepancies between what we do and what we say. Our managers have a responsibility to earn and maintain the trust of their fellow employees and the public. Trust is achieved when people believe we mean what we say. Our actions, along with our professed beliefs and values, must be consistent. We must demonstrate a personal integrity which is beyond reproach.
As ATF managers, we are ultimately responsible for what our agency does and how we do it. Therefore, we have a responsibility to establish goals; determine the priorities; and clearly define and articulate the role and responsibility of everyone in our agency. To that end, we have established directorate goals. We all must do everything possible to ensure that these goals are achieved:
- Restore the public trust in ATF,
- Restore employee confidence in management.
Although simply stated, I think Lou speaks volumes for the way each of us should conduct our daily business. To foster better communication throughout the Enforcement Directorate, I expect each special agent in charge and district director to visit their subordinate offices at least twice a year; I expect each deputy associate director to visit subordinate division or district offices at least once a year; and, I expect to visit as many offices as practicably possible during 1996.
I expect each Enforcement manager and supervisor to:
- Spread the word about the good things we do,
- Provide their employees with opportunities for individual growth, personal and professional development and a sense of accomplishment,
- Encourage decisions to be made at the lowest possible level,
- Demonstrate a strong commitment to Equal Opportunity policies and cultural and diversity sensitivity,
- Involve employees in identifying and helping solve problems,
- Instill in employees the pride in knowing they are providing a quality service for the citizens of America,
- Involve employees in decisions that affect them,
- Strive to motivate subordinates and supervisors alike,
- And, most importantly, hold everyone in their organization accountable for doing the same.
I encourage all of you to continue to work to make ATF the best it can be. Your efforts are the backbone and the future of ATF.
Original signed by: Andrew L. Vita
November 15, 1995
To: Special Agent in Charge
San Francisco Field Division
From: Bakersfield Field Office
Subject: ATF Management Confidence
In response to your request of 11/7/95 the following is Being submitted with reluctance and some regret.
Reluctance because these concerns affect and reflect on me as a part of this agency, and regret because in many ways the problems to be addressed have been caused by, in the most part, by acts of omission by me and others like me, who have failed to act and allowed these problems to start and grow without complaint.
The basic question, "how can confidence in ATF Management be restored?", is not a simple question. To do justice and properly answer with honest, heartfelt thoughts would take more time than is available, but I was going to do my best to keep it short, sweet and to the point. Though, thinking about this angered and inspired me to write more than I originally anticipated and it has taken me longer to submit this, for which I apologize. I began to seriously put together my thoughts and beliefs on this matter. I had prepared over 10 pages addressing why agents confidence in the ability of management to perform its proper and needed duty to oversee and command is eroding; examples of the problems; and last, what could be done to correct the problem. Then I received the management philosophy memo. To me it was a rehash of a combination of nearly every public administration theory ever developed along With the whole kitchen sink of buzzwords that sounded eerily like a plagiarism of the treatise, the "MBA Syndrome". Sadly, the memo never once mentioned our mission; the production of professional, quality criminal investigations.
To me, if we do our jobs with honesty, integrity and honor, the problem of perception and image will be made mute. The facts and reality of the situation will prove that our conduct is beyond reproach. We must remember that actions speak louder than words. If that is remembered, it will not be necessary to become immersed in the phony game of cosmetic illusion/perception being more important than reality. Even more disturbing was the absence of any statement of what exactly is our management philosophy. What was produced was a collection of politically correct, sensitivity laden, feel good, EST-isms that to me, do not confront the real issues.
That memo embodied almost every concept that I had previously described in my earlier ten plus pages as the source, symptoms and proof of our problems. I realized that the war has been lost. To engage in further battles would be futile and personally counterproductive. I threw away my previous ten pages.
If management really wants to change and achieve its goals, it simply can follow these basic but not all-inclusive rules:
- Remember that actions speak louder than words.
- Follow the law, the regulations, the ATF orders.
- Be honest -- repeat Rule Number 1.
- Be managers, not leaders. Managers command, supervisors lead. Managers command the big picture; supervisors lead the troops from the front. Don't confuse the responsibilities and duties of two. Managers develop the system for supervisors to lead the operational troops in the most effective, efficient and professional manner. Develop proper, sound and functional systems.
- Listen to and heed your agents and supervisors. Don't create cosmetic attempts to placate and make us feel that our input is important when actions prove it is not.
- Hold all accountable to the same standards. We have field agents who are serving life sentences under the Henthorn law. We have had managers who committed offenses regarding honesty and integrity on television, in front of millions of viewers, and are later promoted to high bureau positions. Remember Rule Number 1.
In summation, just the idea that our senior executives have to ask why and how, is an indicator that they do not understand the problem. To be able to solve a problem it first must be understood. I guess that it all boils down to the old adage, "If you have to ask the price, ... ".
I honestly look forward to be able to discuss these issues, concerns and beliefs with you. I fully understand that you are also caught in the cross fire of our current morass. You and all the field division managers are trapped, limited and frustrated by the failures of the headquarters management to establish a system that functions to the highest degree possible of human efficiency.
I could probably continue on, but I do not want to bore you at this time with lengthy, windy arguments that might make me look like a disgruntled agent. I am not a malcontent. I am proud to have worked for this Bureau for over 25 years. I am proud of the fine work of the agents I know and have worked with. I am saddened by what appears to be a lack of performance from the Headquarters management to develop and implement the programs and systems necessary to operate as a modern, 21st century criminal investigative organization. I am saddened that their efforts do not come close to matching the effort that is put forth daily by every field division agent, supervisor, and manager.
I again apologize for the tardiness of this response. At first, on the 13th, I decided to not respond. I subsequently realized that would have been selfish and bordering on personal apathy and laziness. I feel there is no longer any room for those undesirable traits during such times of crisis and have belatedly attempted to correct my failure to provide input.
Original signed by Larry B. Williams