Last week, ATF Acting Director Kenneth Melson published an agency-wide article entitled, “Speak Up”, in which he idealistically called upon employees to openly bring any issues to the attention of the agency’s management. He promised that we could (all of a sudden) do so “without fear of retribution” and that “our voices would be heard”. Not surprisingly, that piece prompted a storm of skepticism and outright ridicule from experienced field personnel who viewed it as just another puffpiece. None the less, the emails began to flow and the hopeful phone calls from coast to coast began. "Do you think he was serious", was the glaring question. Today, that cynicism was resoundingly confirmed by the predictable actions of ATF HQ officials.
In direct response to Mr. Melson’s ATF-wide call for upward communications, a 20+ year veteran SpecialAgent forwarded a posting he had seen on CUATF to the ATF Ombudsman containingsome of the responses to Director Melson’s “Speak Up” piece (that have been received by www.CleanUpATF.org). ; The Agent politelyand respectfully asked that his message be forwarded to the Director, which the Ombudsman Office has done in the past. The Ombudsman’s Office responded that the information had been forwarded to the “appropriate individual” (see the emails at the end of this post).
However, shortly thereafter, the Agent received an email forwarded to him from ATF attorneyRachelBouman of the Chief Counsel’s Office, claiming that the Ombudsman is “not appropriate for such messages to the Director” (see the emails at the end of this post). The information was clearly never passed on to the Director. Such a “response” is disturbing and inappropriate for several reasons:
1. The agent that contacted the Ombudsman Office clearly did not in any way authorize them to forward his email to anyone other than the Director. However, despite the fact that the Ombudsman process is, by its own rules, intended to be confidential, they forwarded the information not to the Director, but to the ATF Chief Counsel’s Office! In doing so, they not only flagrantly violated their own confidentiality protocol, but sent the information directly to the counsels office who is adversarial not only with this agent but scores of agents across the country. What was counsels office scared of? Did the Director sanction such an action or were they interpreting his speak up message for him? ATF’s culture of fear and keeping this kind of relevant information from the Director’s is inconsistent with the Director message to 5000 employees less than one week ago. This situation makes it abundantly clear that the Ombudsman Office has also been subverted and is no longer a trustworthy avenue for addressing employee issues (if indeed it ever was).
2. Rachel Bouman, the person who ultimately “responded” to the Agent’s email, is a lawyer in ATF’s Office of Chief Counsel, Administration and “Ethics” Division (no less). Why is an attorney from the Chief Counsel’s Office acting as the Director’s “gatekeeper” for filtering information that was forwarded through the Ombudsman’s Office, which by their own charter, reports “to the Director”? If all such employee communications are to be vetted through the Bureau’s top lawyers, what does that say about how our management views such communications? Why does it require a team of attorneys to either a) accurately brief the Director (which is what should have occurred), or b) withhold the information because it supposedly wasn’t provided according to the “proper” protocol or “wasn’t specific enough”? In fact, this is just another instance of ATF’s “legal” attack dogs doing anything within their power (ethical or otherwise) to prevent unfavorable information from ever reaching the Director’s ears, and to dissuade or crush dissent (no matter how constructive or how respectful) wherever possible. These are the very same people who have engaged in a ongoing pattern of unethical, abusive, dishonest and unlawful conduct for the sole purpose of covering upper management at all costs, even if that means fabricating, withholding or destroying evidence, lying under oath, and viciously destroying the reputations and careers of good employees who have dared to step “out of line”. The massive conflict of interest in this situation could hardly be more obvious. Yeah, Rachel…we’ll send all of our issues through you thugs so that you can continue to do just what you’ve always done. Is that what the Director had in mind when he implored us to “speak up”? We think not.
“… every employee has a right to contact the Ombudsman at any time and without anyone's permission. The Ombudsman operates independent of other ATF offices and reports to the Director. It is the duty of the Ombudsman to make the Director aware of any systemic problems that may adversely affect the mission of the Bureau.”
It seems to us that the existence of a highly-publicized website upon which an ever-increasing number of badge-carrying ATF agents are repeatedly airing credible allegations involving abuse, retaliation, fraud, dishonest, unethical behavior and even criminal conduct on the part of ATF management, legal counsel, Internal Affairs, etc., could be reasonably considered a “systemic problem” that might “adversely affect the mission of the Bureau”. The fact that numerous experienced agents have, via this website, recently lambasted the Director’s “Speak Up” letter as completely naive and unrealistic, is likewise something that could be viewed as “adverse to the Bureau’s mission”.
The agent who forwarded the information to the Ombudsman sincerely thought the Director might like to know what his own troops are saying about his “guidance” on a widely-viewed public website. However, ATF’s ever-vigilant lawyers swooped in as usual to prevent that kind of unflattering information from ever reaching the Director.
So, despite Acting Director Melson’s pleas for open communication from his employees, it’s clearly “business as usual” at ATF’s puzzle palace.
Sent: Monday, November 30, 2009 12:51 PM
To: Ketels, Marianne C.
I was provided a copy of the following text. I ask that you forward it directly to Acting Director Melson for his review. Hopefully these matters will be contained before they continue to escalate to a level where the Bureaus reputation is further damaged. Please confirm that you in fact forwarded it to the Director as I believe he would want to see this. As always, thanks for your efforts. Vince
Sent: Monday, November 30, 2009 1:02 PM
To: Cunningham, Marceita
Perhaps you could facilitate this request since Ms. Ketels is out of the office. Based on the Directors comments in this months Inside ATF, I believe he would like to be apprised ASAP. If you prefer I forward it directly, please advise. Thank you, Vince
From: Cunningham, Marceita
Sent: Tuesday, December 01, 2009 4:00 AM
To: Cefalu, Vincent A.
Cc: Loos, Eleaner R.; Ketels, Marianne C.
From: Ketels, Marianne C.
Sent: Tuesday, December 01, 2009 7:22 AM
To: Cefalu, Vincent A.
I have forwarded your request to the appropriate individual.
Rachel Bowman, ATF Office of Chief Counsel, Administration and Ethics Division
Our Ombudsman’s office forwarded the below email to us to address as their office is not the proper avenue for relaying such messages between employees and the Director’s office. If Mr. Cefalu has a specific issue he would like the Director’s office to address, please forward it to me. The email below is too general at this point.
Rachel A. Bouman
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives
Office of Chief Counsel, Administration and Ethics Division
99 New York Avenue, NE, Room 4E341, Washington, DC 20226
Tel: 202.648.7004 / Fax: 202.648.9610
From: Ketels, Marianne C.
Sent: Monday, November 30, 2009 1:27 PM
To: Bouman, Rachel A.; Loos, Eleaner R.
NOTICE: This electronic transmission is confidential and intended only for the
person(s) to whom it is addressed. If you have received this transmission in
error, please notify the sender by return e-mail and destroy this message in its
entirety (including all attachments).
From: Cefalu, Vincent A.
To: Ketels, Marianne C.
Sent: Mon Nov 30 12:51:18 2009
I was provided a copy of the following text. I ask that you forward it
directly to Acting Director Melson for his review. Hopefully these matters will
be contained before they continue to escalate to a level where the Bureaus
reputation is further damaged. Please confirm that you in fact forwarded it to
the Director as I believe he would want to see this. As always, thanks for your