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Monday, November 10, 2008

OHDC whistleblower letter #1

The first of three whistleblowing letters regarding the Oregon Human Development Corporation (OHDC) appears below.

I have taken some criticism for not following the chain of command, for going outside of the organization with these letters, but in actual fact I did so, much of that documented in internal emails to the OHDC Central Office.

The problem is that the OHDC chain of command goes no further than Fernando Guttierrez in the Central Office. This has been the case for many years, according to current and former OHDC employees.

Fernando insulates staff from Executive Director Ron Hauge and from OHDC's Board of Directors. OHDC provides no information to its employees regarding Mr. Hauge's activities or thinking, but rumors abound that he is rarely in his office, despite the charm of its 5th-floor views in Tigard. There is no evidence of any visioning by Mr. Hauge in either the short or long terms, and field staff have no information as to the future and direction of their employer.

Fernando also insulates staff from any information regarding the OHDC Board of Directors, its membership, meeting times and locations (if any) and agendas (if any).

The news that the economy is in crisis and unemployment rates soaring does not appear to have reached either Mr. Guttierrez or Mr. Hauge. More on this later.

As an Employment Specialist, my job was to find employment for clients seeking work, to monitor the status of employed clients over a period of time, and to submit signed reports to the Central Office. The most important reports are the quarterly status reports, which the Central Office uses to support its claims to the U.S. Department of Labor.

My employment began as the 2nd quarter 2008 reports were coming due, and there was intense pressure from the Central Office to get the forms filled out, signed and delivered.

I could see right away that the OHDC information system was a mess, because it didn't work. I learned from staff that no one knew how to make it work and that it had always been that way, which is why the organization functions on paper via fax and UPS.

I also saw that the status of many clients could not be confirmed, that many had not been seen or heard from in months. Fernando brushed that all aside, telling me to focus on a handful of current clients only, to ignore all the others.

It was easy to see that we would encounter the same problem when the next quarterly reports were due at the end of September.

I knew that I was not going to sign any document attesting that clients were being contacted by OHDC or were receiving services when I could find no evidence that this was the case.

Over the course of the summer, I received much pressure from the Central Office to remove from my case notes anything that did not support whatever claims OHDC was making to the feds. I refused to alter my notes. I will have more to say about this later in the series of posts.

Here's the 1st letter:

July 10, 2008

To Whom It May Concern:

Since entering employment at OHDC as Employment Specialist in the Gresham office on June 3, 2008, I have observed or become aware of a number of troubling issues, many long-term or endemic in the organization, that I have reason to believe are detrimental to its ability to fulfill its mission.

My observations are informed by my prior System Analyst experience in business computer systems, my family history as the son and grandson of Mexican farm workers, and by my position as Oregon State Senator Avel Gordly’s Chief of Staff. I have staffed Senator Gordly during her service on several Joint Ways and Means budget committees and on the Emergency Board since 2003.

Since many of the problems are related to OHDC’s computer and workflow systems, I will begin my comments in that area:

1. Observations re Information Services

There is no central file server in the OHDC system, and no backups in the field offices. Paper files are the only backup system in use.

All data is at perpetual risk of loss. All client files in the Gresham office reside on a single staff member’s computer, and I assume each office is configured the same way.

No two OHDC offices organize electronic files in the same way. The central office is currently attempting to standardize paper files, but no like effort is underway regarding electronic files.

Despite the ample provision of computer hardware in all of the offices, the OHDC information “system” ultimately operates via printouts sent (and often re-sent and re-sent again) between the central and field offices by fax and UPS. The organization essentially uses the computers as typewriters.

Nearly every management report pertaining to the requirements of the FJTP/WIA grant monies are keyed in by at least two employees, one in the central office and one in the field.

The OHDC electronic file system is chaotic, lacks any organizational concept or structure, and OHDC procedures require both field and central office employees to repeatedly re-enter data with no confidence that the result will be satisfactory in either the short or long term.

Paperwork errors in the central office and the workflow system itself creates unnecessary and unreasonable delays in clients’ receipt of reimbursement or other support funds and contributes to high levels of employee frustration.

Payments to clients or on behalf of clients are routinely held back by central office for one reason or another, often related to the illogical computer and workflow system that absolutely no one anywhere in the organization is master of.

The company providing computer support services has repeatedly made recommendations to OHDC to address these and other related issues, to no avail.

The Gresham office has a new ten-station flat-panel computer lab with overhead projection system for ESL instruction that mostly sits unused. The Rosetta Stone software that accompanies the lab does not work properly (or we lack any staff member who knows how to use it).

The OHDC website is badly in need of updating throughout. Board members are not identified, and no meetings or minutes are posted.

There are no recent OHCD success stories, identifying either client or employer partner, posted on the website.

It is doubtful that OHDC’s MIS staff has installed any traffic-analysis software on the company website that would provide information, for example, on who accesses the website and how they got there.

The online staff directory is months out of date.http://www.ohdc.org/directory.html

It is unclear what the role of the OHDC “MIS Manager” is, given all of the above.

It is also unclear what role other central office employees have in “managing” the OHDC system, and whether they have the qualifications to do so competently.

Some central office staff titles do not seem to correspond to actual duties, which appear to include monkeying ad hoc with the computer and workflow systems.


2. Staffing issue observations:


There are serious employee safety issues in the Gresham office, which is located in an area notorious for high rates of criminal gang activity. There is no active partnership with law enforcement in Rockwood, no alarm system or panic button for staff, and emergency exits are blocked due to the fear of intrusion from the rear of the building. Women feel particularly vulnerable.

Field office employee turnover is excessive.

Employee morale is low.

Opportunities for advancement within the organization for field staff personnel appear to be limited to the field offices alone.

Apparently, 100% of OHDC field office personnel are Hispanic and bilingual, but only a minority (1) of those in the central office are Hispanic or bilingual.

There appears to be little or no history of field employees successfully transitioning to central office positions.

Perhaps 40% of field office staff have been employed less than 6 months.

One experienced field office employee estimated that paperwork took up 40-50% of the employee’s time. My observation is that much of that paperwork is fruitless and reduces the employee’s opportunities to interact with either clients or employers.

3. Observations re clients and services

Central office employees are isolated from our clients; it is field office staff that deal with clients as human beings, not as numbers in a report.

There are scant records of successful placements and no active partnerships with employers in the Gresham area. This may be the case in other offices.

Employment Specialists are required to test the English proficiency of all new clients upon entry into the program, but no client progress reports of any kind are required of ESL instructors.

There is no record or report required of either (a) subject matter covered or (b) competency attained through the ESL class. The only measure of a client’s participation in ESL is the daily attendance sheet.

The central office routinely requires our clients to come into the field office any number of times to sign or re-sign forms without consideration for the trouble and expense imposed on the client, and with no sense that time is important to either staff or client.

For example, many of our clients need assistance to pay for the gasoline they must burn in order to get to the interviews we send them on, or to get to the job we have found for them, but there is no telling how long it will take for the central office to cut a check. The paperwork and process that the central office is developing will likely cause the value of the staff time required to exceed by far the cash value of the help provided to the client.

Our clients face overt racism and anti-immigrant hostility like no other population that is competing for these jobs. I am seeing Help Wanted ads for landscapers requiring English proficiency to mow lawns and trim bushes.

I have learned that only 20% of OHDC’s $ 1.8 million budget projected for the coming FY is allocated to client support services, the rest eaten up by overhead.


Closing comments and recommendations:

I believe that OHDC has many strengths upon which to build, but that several drastic steps are in order.

I also believe that—since our clients live on the thin margin and face significantly more difficult obstacles to stable employment in the present economic climate—the issue is urgent and remedial action must be taken immediately.

There is a major disconnect between the central office and the people we serve, brought upon in large part by the physical isolation of central office staff from the field offices and of the communities we serve, and by the astonishing lack of Hispanic employees and cultural competence within the central office.

Recommendations:

1. Change in leadership
2. Resolve file server and system backup issues.
3. Close central office and co-locate central office staff with field office providing direct services to reduce overhead and bring all staff into alignment with community and client needs.
4. Change at board level


Sincerely,


Sean Cruz

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