Thursday, December 6, 2012
Former Naval Postgraduate School President Dan Oliver allegedly decided one prospective employee was valuable enough to risk the rules. So he finagled federal hiring guidelines, arranging to get her on staff for higher pay through a private contractor.
“I had interviewed the next best qualified, and it just didn’t float my boat,” Oliver told U.S. Navy investigators, according to reports released Nov. 27 by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus.
The employee, whose name is redacted from one report, reportedly said the $162,000 annual salary offer was too low; Oliver arranged for a contractor to hire her at $275,000.
An Inspector General’s report identifies the candidate Oliver risked his job for as the current vice president for finance and administration. That woman is Colleen Nickles.
The Inspector General dinged Oliver for presenting Nickles as if she were on staff. He told investigators, “[I] could probably not pass a rigorous quiz today on which current NPS employees are government and which are contractors.”
Neither can Navy officials.
“If someone works for a contracting agency, I don’t have any knowledge of who those people are or what jobs they do,” NPS spokesman Alan Richmond says.
For information on Nickles’ employment status, how many contract employees work at NPS and in what jobs, Richmond directed questions to contractor Digital Consulting Services. DCS representatives did not return repeated requests for comment.
Experts say the proportion of contract employees in the military has been increasing since the Reagan years. In 2010, the Department of Defense employed nearly 16,000 employees in Monterey County (an undisclosed number through contractors), with a combined budget of over $1.5 billion.
In 2012, the Army’s Presidio of Monterey will spend about $28 million on direct government salaries and $25 million on contractors.
Those deals are supposed to go through a prescriptive set of federal hiring rules. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a four-star official; you do not have authority to extend a contract,” says Mel Auernig, who retired in 2010 from his civilian post as regional director for the U.S. Army’s western region. Auernig oversaw procurement and contractor agreements.
Oliver and former Provost Leonard Ferrari were relieved of their posts last week for offenses disclosed in the Navy Inspector General’s report, including inappropriately accepting gifts.