Chapter 4: Staffing and the Mission Act – Shifting the Paradigm at the VA

On 25 June 2019, the following came from the Office of Inspector General (OIG), “Staffing and Vacancy Reporting under the MISSION Act of 2018.” Under the Mission Act, the VA has to report on steps being taken to correct the “chronic healthcare professional shortages since at least 2015.”  “The OIG found [the] VA partially complied with the law’s requirements, reporting current personnel, and time-to-hire data as prescribed. However, VA’s initial reporting of staff vacancies and employee gains and losses was not transparent enough to allow stakeholders to track VA’s progress toward full staffing.”

After having been terminated without cause, justification, or reason 51.5-weeks into my 52-week probationary period of employment, reading this OIG report was infuriating. Thus, I sent Secretary Wilkie an email. Apparently, my email was insufficiently clear, and additional information is needed.  I am not trying to get my job back; I am trying to help the VA to improve. With this purpose in mind, the following information is being suggested to the VA.

As a veteran, I am excited about the power of the Mission Act and the focus being placed upon the service member by I CARE. I CARE is a customer-focused approach to VA services combining WE CARE and SALUTE, and is intended to promote effectiveness, ease, and emotion into the patient/customer experience. Except, the VA has only rolled out the I CARE approach to management as the Union has not ratified this approach for non-supervisory staff. The disconnection between actions to improve and those thwarting improvements astounds and mystifies.

Let me tell you about my experience in the New Mexico Veterans Health Care System (NMVAHCS), to elaborate upon disconnections and point out where fundamental changes can begin to transpire for the entire VA System where staffing is concerned. Please note specific names have been scrubbed to protect privacy.

First, let’s talk about animosity and hostility. My director, while employed from June 10, 2018, to June 05, 2019, never wrote anything down as a way of avoiding her responsibilities, shirking her job, and allowing her underlings to act in a manner consistent with the worst dregs of humanity. The director would not look at you while talking with you, but would type an email or perform other work on her computer during the discussion, blaming she was “super busy.” The supervisor would offer platitudes, “plastic words from plastic lips,” and then blame you for not notifying him of problems, concerns, or issues experienced. From February 2019 to my unjustified termination, I was subject to daily abuses by fellow employees.  Nothing was ever done by the supervisor or the director, and the assistant director was off-site.  The women abusing me were promoted and moved, or transferred to a different department during my termination (quid-pro-quo, or a hatchet job, both come to mind).  Bringing the first three areas needing change to address the staffing shortages:

1. Clear, concise, written policies and procedures. The NMVAHCS is supposed to have three levels of governing documents to provide a metric to measure performance, to complete duties as prescribed, and to explain why things are done the way they are done. The overall document is an MCM (I do not remember what this acronym stands for), then policies governing, then work procedures. The MCM library, at the time I was discharged, was only about one-fourth updated and held only about 10% of the MCM’s it had displayed as available. When repeatedly asked for policies and procedures that spring from the MCM to govern my job, I was told they do not exist, “because that’s the way we do things here,” or “I have a verbal agreement with that department, and nothing further is needed.”  Lacking these guidelines, how can you measure performance? Lacking these guidelines, how can any employee hope to know they are performing the jobs they were hired to perform? Lacking these guidelines, how does a supervisor explain what happens, why things work the way they do, or for a process review to improve performance to commence?

2. The use and abuse of the probation periods to play favorites, pick winners and losers, and act in a manner that, while technically legal, is pitifully unethical, immoral, and demoralizing to the entire workforce. The private sector remains strictly controlled where probationary employees are concerned; why can the VA act in a manner inconsistent to the private sector, where probationary employees are affected?

3.  The probationary employee needs an appeal system, a justification for termination, and a mandated two-week notification unless separation is occurring due to behavioral or criminal action.  If an employee is promoted, they must give two-weeks to their current duty station before transitioning to the new role; why is a probationary employee terminated without this two-week notification? How can a probationary employee be documented as a top-notch performer all the way up to the end of their probation, and be discharged for failure to qualify?

Second, I was physically attacked, my medical records were regularly reviewed until Jan 2019 due to the supervisor refusing to protect my medical files, and the details made known to many other employees. I was discriminated against due to my injuries, by the same employee who physically assaulted me, made jokes about my injuries to nurses, the other MSA’s, security staff, and housekeeping staff.  The NMVAHCS, specifically the Hospital Emergency Department, has a horrible problem with record surfing and then violating HIPAA by telling details of the medical records to other nurses and staff not directly caring for the patient. Providing the next four areas of staffing improvement:

1. Get the tracking system working to validate unauthorized access by insisting that every single person pulling up a medical record needs to leave a note justifying why that record was pulled; this will require a written policy and procedure, and IT improvements to track and report everyone, and every file. Why this has not been done previously remains a mystery, but does not matter. Fix the problem!

2.  Regardless of whether a complaint is filed on a Report of Incident (ROI) form or only emailed to the chain of command, the investigation process must be both similar, timely, and action producing. For the same senior employee to stalk me in the hallways trying to attempt further intimidation, for the security cameras to have witnessed her attack and no officers to arrive, and for this incident to be hushed up and covered over remains inexcusable! Management does not believe a female can harass and be the aggressor party, and this thought process must cease!

3. See or hear something, say something. Multiple nurses listened to the jokes in the ED about my injuries but never said anything to their boss, even though they knew it was a HIPAA violation.  MSA’s in clinics throughout the hospital knew about this employee’s abuse towards me, and she abused many others; HR (when I arrived there for help) knew about this aggressor party but could not provide any assistance. The Union knew about the problem employee, but because I was a probationary employee claimed they were bound and couldn’t help. People knew, but said nothing! The director, assistant director, and the supervisor knew and did nothing; this is a significant organization issue and needs to be addressed. I took the complaint to ORM, nothing; EEOC, nothing; OSC, nothing. As a victim of harassment and discrimination, male, service-connected disabled veteran, where should I go for help? I was not the only male being attacked in the hospital, several male employees I know quit their jobs over harassment and to my knowledge received the same treatment by the EEOC, ORM, OSC, and so forth.

4. There is a difference between following the law and using the law; the difference is a moral center. I stress the actions taken to terminate are legal, but not ethical or moral. The moral and ethical obedience to the law would improve the employee experience greatly.

Third, cultures of corruption are killing employee morale, and the intransigence of senior leadership is mimicked down to the lowest level employee in the VA organizational hierarchy.  The local labor union president claimed the following, “The HAS Director has been a HAS director for three years and served in three different VA systems.  She has two supervisors that are known for getting rid of employees before their probation period concludes costing the VA Hospital $10,000 per employee to onboard.” Again, technically legal, but the probationary employee process is wide open to the “legal” abuse of employees. Helping us to arrive at the next three issues for correcting employee morale and turnover problems.

1. When malfeasance is known, senior leaders should be providing extra scrutiny.  Put a formal appeal process into the probationary employee rules and regulations. This way, the fact-finding would have to have documentation over-time to reflect employee performance. Track probationary employee dismissals by the department, sex, veteran status, time remaining in the probationary period, and so forth, and track this data over time. NMVAHCS is known for getting rid of probationary employees within their last 10-days of probation; thus, it is apparent that the process is abused by senior leaders throughout the hospital.  The employee was a proper, functioning, and active employee, but suddenly within sight of the probationary employment period concluding that employee is magically unacceptable; I don’t think so! Nurses have this problem, but their probationary period is two years. I have heard of doctors having this problem in the Phoenix, AZ., VA Hospital. I have witnessed many staff having the same problem in the NMVAHCS. As a point of interest, I was warned by non-VA hospital workers in the Albuquerque Community that the VA Hospital is known for getting rid of probationary employees and to watch my back. The community is watching and cares about what happens at the VA Hospital and CBOC’s. Fix the probationary employee rules, regulations, and processes.

2. Training should be maximized for all employees, but shift the focus to train and develop, not merely to check a box annually. I taught other MSA’s. At the request of the assistant director, with full knowledge of the director, I wrote a training packet of how to perform computer tasks, and can tell you as an adult education professional, the focus at the NMVAHCS is not on training people! When I mentioned this, I was told training is controlled at the national level, which is why the training is so inadequate. Training philosophies govern attitudes surrounding training value.

3. Organizational trust starts with the leadership team and requires time, engagement, and experiences. The leadership team I was subject to did not try to build trust, actively abused employees, and generally aided and abetted the miscreants to the detriment of all. Hence to correct staffing problems, there must be changes to the mindset and examples of the senior leaders first and foremost.

I reported how to fix the problems mentioned above to my chain of command first, to the sound of crickets and platitudes. I made suggestions on hardware and software to reduce fraud, waste, and abuse in the ED. I openly discussed options and made process suggestions for the entire 51.5-weeks of my employment.  I stand in amazement that my reporting these issues to the VISN head, the hospital director’s office, regularly to my chain of command did not make me a whistleblower according to OAWP and the OSC. To have whistleblower protection, you need to be employed. If a probationary employee does not qualify for whistleblower protection, why all the training on whistleblower protections? Why is the caveat about being employed not mentioned in the whistleblower protection training materials? What else is missing from the training materials on whistleblowers that would improve the employee experience? Is one of the ways the VA defends itself from change by terminating employees before whistleblower protections can be applied? If so, how does the VA leadership expect to change the mid-level managers, supervisors, and directors?

My termination was initiated by a letter written by one MSA who blamed me for the actions of another male MSA in the ED. The letter was co-authored by an MSA who was incompetent in her duties, lackadaisical in following her schedule, and who preferred to be a social butterfly than manning her post; all issues raised to the supervisor and chain of command, which were dismissed without review, who was a probationary employee until early 2019.  These authors actively solicited for signatures to the letter, what was promised to the signatories? When all this was mentioned to the HAS director, the supervisor, the OSC, the EEOC, ORM, etc.; I was advised that there is no case here because I was a probationary employee and the HAS director can exercise her right to terminate without cause anytime during probation. Is the legal abuse of the probationary employee clearer? If all new hire employees of the VA, and all those employees being promoted, are considered a probationary employee for their first year then the probationary employee abuses are the central problem in correcting staffing issues at the VA.

One Emergency Room doctor is a perfect example of biased leadership and how underlings were influenced. The doctor treated people according to their political leanings. A patient came into the ER for help wearing a MAGA (Make America Great Again) hat and proudly wearing his support for President Trump, his treatment in the emergency room under this doctor was deplorable, delayed, and detrimental; I was ashamed to witness this travesty. Another time, a patient comes in proudly wearing his support for previous President Obama, and his treatment by the same doctor was 180-degrees different. The political leanings of nurses on his staff determined if the doctor was friendly or not. The health technicians’ political leanings determined the attitude the doctor showed toward them. Is the problem apparent; biased leadership caused tremendous problems in staffing treatment, patient services, and employee morale. Because this doctor only works day shifts, several nurses and health technicians shifted to nights to have a higher level of professionalism in the doctor’s they worked with, the other nurses and health technicians either quit the VA or found work in different departments or jobs. One nurse left her profession entirely and took a significant pay cut to escape harassment by this doctor. She was a probationary nursing employee who used the stress affecting her health to change jobs.

I spent 51.5-weeks without reasonable accommodation because my chain of command was not interested in my health, but used my missed days as an excuse to seal my termination. Not having the proper reasonable accommodation equipment meant every day was painful, challenging, and detrimental to my health. I had to drive, follow-up, track, and push for the material that was provided; yet, according to ORM, EEOC, OSC, etc. there is nothing to see here, probationary employee. Another example of the legal abuse of the probationary employee.

I advocate for veterans and thought I had found employment where I could make a career, I followed the rules, and I worked hard. I would see the VA succeed, and the staffing problems become more manageable. The majority of the staffing problems have their root cause in poor or biased leadership; hence, to address these problems and begin to rectify the staffing issues, the administration must change. Policies and procedures need to be written down, communicated and trained, then staff can be held accountable, and transparency in the employment staffing process is available. Accountability and transparency are both missing in the staffing process to the detriment of all veterans, taxpayers, employees, and the communities housing a VA Hospital system.

 © 2019 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

The images used herein were obtained in the public domain, this author holds no copyright to any photos displayed.

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Leadership Theory Analysis – Creating Hybrid Solutions in Leadership

No single leadership theory will work for the complex situations this world continues to develop (Chow, Salleh, & Ismail, 2017).  Hence, the discussion for a hybrid mix of leadership theories and models as applied to the needs of leaders in current business organizations.  The idea is to fashion a working leadership model, helpful in developing a CEO and as a guide for every corporate officer, regional manager, and employee to guide the company into profitability, as a risk management tool, and to develop followers to become leaders (Yukl, 2010).  “Hungry, Hone-able, and Honorable” (Brady & Woodward, 2012, p 26), provide foundational items to develop the working leadership model customizable for organizational design and hybridize the leadership approach as an integrative leadership process (Chow, et al., 2017).

Theories and Models

Contingency theory is surrounded by situational awareness or simply looking at the mission, looking at the tools available, and creating a solution to meet the problem (Nahavandi, 2006, p 41; Endsley, 2000; Yukl, 2006).  Contingencies always hamper and boost the situation, how the followers choose and apply their strengths during stressful periods will either eliminate additional contingencies or create additional contingencies.  Thus, contingency leadership needs additional input from other theories to assist in leading during change.

Participative theory is the firm belief that the best solutions do not come from the leader, but from the front-line workers who are doing the job every day.  Participative theory demands input from everyone working together and forms a symbiotic relationship with situational awareness and contingency theory (Yukl, 2006; Endsley, 2000).  Participative theory hinges upon styles or choices between autocratic action, delegation, consultation, or joint decision-making.  The leader has to choose which model of participative solution will work best given the tools and followers.  The leader also needs to know who the major stakeholders are, decide the value of inputs from major and minor stakeholders, and then pursue this input as a daily part of the decision processes.  When mixing participative theory into a hybrid mix with contingency theory the traits and behaviors of the leader play a more important role.  Thus, Chaleff (2003) continues to influence daily action.  The leader forms the role; this role influences the situational environment, and becomes both a behavior for the leader and a role model for followers, this then becomes the reputation of the leader and the advertisement of the entire organization to the public.  Careful attention is the rule of the day when mixing this leadership cocktail.

Trait theory employs using the traits of leaders, traits are learned, trained, and these traits will carry the day when all else fails; traits depend upon behavior theory and vice versa, traits lead to behaviors, thoughts lead to traits; thus, as Yukl (2006) displays in Table 1 below, these two theories are interchangeable and inseparable.  Behavioral theory combines the behaviors, which emanate from trait theory into action.  No single behavior is prominent, but several behaviors can ruin relationships necessary to solid leadership.  Wren (1995) warns about charisma and the power of charisma to influence people bringing Chaleff’s (2003) discussion about leadership leading to the abuse of followers.  If abuse occurs, the leader is at fault regardless of the eventual justification or vindication of the leader.  Leadership is perception and relationship formed into action (Du, Erkens, & Xu, 2018).  The followers always judge the leader and the leader might never know the level of influence upon the followers.

Like pieces of a puzzle, a leader can never forget the foundational bedrock upon which all these theories sit, “Hungry, Hone-able, and Honorable” (Brady & Woodward, 2005, p 26).  Leaders and the followers require getting back to basics, when forming a hybrid leadership model, learning, growing, and being shaped in the hybrid mix of the stated theories into a new organization excited to innovate in their market and fuel the new consumer experience.

Application to Organizational Success

Chaleff (2003) leaves both a warning and a charge for the leader to not abuse the followers.  Some of the most destructive criticism of every organization come from the employees feeling abused “by the system” who then vent into social media, which in turn harms the corporate image and reputation.  Abused followers is a leadership failure per every leadership model in existence.  Corrective action should include empowering employees with participative inclusion, setting contingencies for constructing change, which requires the use of employee traits, behaviors, and action.  When employees are acting and seeing their actions rewarded, then those employees or followers attain the emotional connection to their work and then broadcast their new feelings into social media.

Participative leadership should include the customers and other major stakeholders in deciding what to sell, how to sell it, and when to sell it.  By employing Yukl (2006) model in Table 1, the participative leader will influence the environment they choose to change, include those who have the solution in rough draft, and work to both hone those with the solution and build those participating in the change.  First, though, the leader needs to know who they are as a person, then build these traits into behaviors personified by those being lead.  Once the leader sees stakeholders following the lead and being successful, the situational factors causing contingencies will begin to shift like sand under the feet of a person walking.  Yukl’s (2006) ability to visually portray this process through Table 1 is an image every employee needs to understand before participative leadership using contingencies grown from individual stores can begin to work.

Conclusion

Each business unit has different customers, stakeholders, and contingencies, the participative leaders can never forget this principle.  Blanket solutions and singular approaches will continue to produce problems until this principle is both endorsed and understood.  Customers in Phoenix have different needs and desires than customers in Scottsdale; both of these customer bases have different needs than a business unit in Seattle or New York; thus, it is time to stop the blanket model and innovate a business unit-based approaches to products, services, and employee empowerment.  The models discussed above, can only go so far in influencing the business leaders, until action occurs at the lowest business unit level or even a regional level, the dearth of leadership will continue to hamper business operations, sales, marketing, and employee relations (Deci & Ryan, 2008).  Regardless of how the hybrid solution is put together, there must be an assessment tool included to gather feedback for improvement from followers to leaders (Lovett & Robertson, 2017).  Without two-directional communication between followers and leaders, nothing changes, improves, or develops to build followers into leaders or keep struggling business units out of trouble.  The flexibility of a hybrid solution rides upon the assessment process of leaders from followers; plan well!

References

Brady, C., & Woodward, O. (2005).  Launching a leadership revolution: Mastering the five levels of influence.  New York, NY: Business plus – Hachette Book Group.

Chaleff, I. (2003).  Leader follower dynamics.  Innovative Leader, 12(8), Retrieved from http://www.winstonbrill.com/bril001/html/article_index/articles/551-600/article582_body.html

Chow, T. W., Salleh, L. M., & Ismail, I. A. (2017). Lessons from the Major Leadership Theories in Comparison to the Competency Theory for Leadership Practice. Journal of Business and Social Review in Emerging Economies, 3(2), 147-156. DOI:  https://doi.org/10.26710/jbsee.v3i2.86

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2008). “Facilitating optimal motivation and psychological well-being across life’s domains”: Correction to Deci and Ryan (2008). Canadian Psychology/Psychologie canadienne, 49(3), 262-262. doi:10.1037/0708-5591.49.3.262

Downes, L. (2012, January 02).  Why best buy is going out of business… gradually.  Forbes Magazine, Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/larrydownes/2012/01/02/why-best-buy-is-going-out-of-business-gradually/

Du, F., Erkens, D. H., & Xu, K. (2018). How trust in subordinates affects service quality: Evidence from a large property management firm. Business.Illinois.edu. Retrieved from https://business.illinois.edu/accountancy/wp-content/uploads/sites/12/2018/03/Managerial-Symposium-2018-Session-IV-Du-Erkens-and-Xu.pdf

Endsley, M. R., & Garland, D. J. (2000).  Situation awareness analysis and measurement.  Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Goldratt, E., & Cox, J. (2004). The goal: A process of ongoing improvement.  (3rd ed.).  Great Barrington, MA: North River Press.

Lovett, S., & Robertson, J. (2017). Coaching using a leadership self-assessment tool. Leading and Managing, 23(1), 42-53.

Navahandi, A. (2006).  The art and science of leadership.  (4 ed.).  New York, NY: Pearson Hall.

Wren, J. T. (1995).  The leader’s companion: Insights on leadership through the ages.  New York, NY: The Free Press.

Yukl, G. (2006).  Leadership in Organizations.  6th Edition.  Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

© 2018 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

The images used herein were obtained in the public domain, this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

 

Chapter 3 – Shifting the Department of Veteran Affairs Paradigm – A Letter to our Elected Officials

Admiral Jackson, I am sorry to see you go! I feel you would have been a good VA Secretary and can understand the reasons behind removing your name for consideration for this post. Thank you for trying.  I am sincerely sorry for how your nomination was hijacked, slandered, and the stress and frustration that came from being attacked. Mr. Wilkie, I am looking forward to your leadership at the VA and hope to see leadership improve the engrained intransigent culture into a flexible and growing organization, cognizant of the trust of the American voter and veteran alike. I wish you the best of luck.

President Trump, you are doing a GREAT job, and I thank you, your family, and your staff, for doing hard and difficult work in an atmosphere of negativity thicker and more detestable than London Fog, Haggis, or Blood Pudding. I remain absolutely astounded at the pressures unnecessarily applied to you and your family and am grateful for your efforts, successes, and failures!

Senator McCain, I am utterly ashamed of your conduct, your staff, and your record. Every time I see you speak, it repents me for ever having voted for you. After dealing with your staff, it repented me, after your failed bid for the Presidency, it repented me, but the latest small-minded, bitter, diatribes, I have repented again. What an abysmal disgrace you have turned into, and I regret, with my entire soul, for having once voted for you.

I cannot understand, except through seeing daily the likes of Senator McCain, how the Department of Veteran Affairs could slide so far into the depths of bureaucracy. Since my last open letter to our Elected Federal Officials, the following examples have crossed my desk through email from Inspector General reports of investigations and through news feeds. Please note, this list is not conclusive as too many cross my desk daily to list here, even briefly.

13 May 2018 – News reports of a double-amputee being turned away from the VA Medical Facility in Atlanta without receiving assistance with a prescription. From personal experience and having spoken to hundreds of veterans traveling and needing medications, I know exactly what the veteran went through, and the VA should be ashamed of their behavior. “Joey” Jones is correct, veterans are told by their Primary Care Providers and the “Ask a Nurse” phone line if you need help go to the ER. What is not told is the time required to wait in the ER, the doctors being able to not risk anything and tell a veteran they will not receive help or the fact that while waiting for help in the ER you run the risk of getting worse. To be perfectly clear, the problem uncovered by “Joey” is nationwide and is not an abnormality but an established practice in place at every VA Medical Center I have visited for treatment.

07 May 2018 – An OIG report covers the results of an audit of a program specifically designed to aid in helping cover the cost of transportation to a VA Medical Facility. The results of the audit showed grand malfeasance and extreme misfeasance with the projected loss to the American Taxpayer of $173.8 Million through December 31, 2020. With all the technology we have, why can’t the veteran needing services, arrive at their local hospital and have the treatment completed instead of having to travel to receive treatment at a VA Medical Center or VA Clinic? I understand needing to use various supportive modes of transportation for some patients, and a contract for those fees should be handled carefully, succinctly, and at the local level, not at the national level. Using the numbers from the OIG Report, for the one-year period 11,900 beneficiaries received 5.034 payments each, where the total payments amounted to $23 million inappropriately made or problematic payments making each payment average merely $383, 973 each. Of the $23 million spent, $11 million could have been saved, per the IG’s reckoning. After reading the variables the OIG reported, I firmly believe more than $11 million could have been saved by putting local VA Medical Centers in charge of transportation costs, contracts, and reimbursements.

As a side question, why is the use of contracted services so disconnected from reality? Having used the external services, records do not get logged properly (received and connected to the veteran’s medical records), contracts seem to always lag beyond 120-days before remittance, and veterans and those contracted are left in perpetual confusion at the mercy of VA bureaucrats. I personally spent three days tracking down records from contract services, walked the records to the receiving center, and still, the records were missing when my Primary Care Provider (PCP) went looking for them to discuss moving forward in a treatment plan. Why have you, the Federal Elected Officials, allowed these diseases of bureaucracy to exist?

03 May 2018 – We find an OIG report “Appropriation Irregularities” to the tune of $11.7 million dollars of unauthorized services obtained and paid for from wrong accounts. In my home, an appropriation irregularity is when I spend money on a candy bar or soda without telling my wife who budgets our money. How are 11.7 million dollars an “irregularity?” More importantly, where are the consequences? I get it, the funds were then taken out of the proper accounts, training was held, and the received OIG promises to never do it again. This accounting irregularity was discovered only because of a hotline tip; how many more offices in the VA and across the Federal Government are creating “appropriation irregularities” and no one is saying or seeing anything wrong?

What is the solution to the continued failures in the VA?  I propose the following:

1.     Sunlight! It is said that sunlight is the best disinfectant, and I propose OIG reports begin containing names, so these workers creating problems receive public embarrassment as an encouragement to improve performance. It is past time for those causing problems to be brought into the light of day and public scrutiny. I also propose civil penalties for the malfeasance and misfeasance done in government employment; you have the public’s trust, and when that trust is violated, the public should be able to know all the details.

2.    Let’s call things what they are. In the case of the “appropriation irregularities,” it should have been called a failure to know and follow established regulations either with or without intent to defraud. If a citizen cannot use ignorance of the law before a judge, the government employee cannot use ignorance of regulations and policies in the administration of their duties. What happened to the veteran in Atlanta is malpractice and nothing less; if the VAMC in Atlanta cannot police their own in this issue, it is past time for the OIG to step in, bring appropriate charges, and civil penalties on behalf of the veteran harmed and the nationwide policy reviewed post-haste to halt further abuse of veterans.

3.    In business, to protect the bottom-line and to affect customer service decision making, power is placed on the lowest level of the hierarchy to do the most good. This principle of business needs to be the cornerstone of every VA policy, procedure, and process to conduct work. Stop the madness of central command in DC and put the decisions for local veteran care on the local level. While even this might not fix all the problems, having decisions made locally means that the community knows who is making decisions and who to hold responsible for malfeasance and misfeasance occurring in government.

4.    Common knowledge in America is the following:

“Red tape – the complex procedures and rules that bureaucrats follow in completing their tasks.

Conflict – when the goals of various bureaucratic agencies just do not match up, and they end up working at cross purposes.

Duplication – when agencies seem to be doing the very same thing.”

The VA is infected with all the diseases of bureaucracy and you, the Federal Elected Officials, are charged with using the tools at your disposal to enact change, support the new VA Secretary, and honor the commitment to veterans in improving the tools the veterans have been provided by you the Federal Elected Officials. Get technology useful, use technology at every level of improving veteran care, and demand more technology tools to push the power to make decisions as low as effectively possible to aid the most veterans.

5.    The VA has a LEAN program, and has had the program since at least 2015, when will the leaders employ the LEAN program to improve the VA processes and procedures? Through the total quality management (TQM) philosophies provided through LEAN programs, there should have been tangible and visible change to the VA by now.

I cannot describe how incredibly futile the customer service surveys being demanded after every encounter in the VA truly represents. The disease of bureaucrats is too expensive to veterans, to American Taxpayers, and to American Communities who need the wasted funds at the VA to be employed in infrastructure improvements, housing, utility protection, and so many other areas. You, the Federal Elected Officials, are in charge, will you please stand up, exert your power, and fix the government?

© 2018 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

Any images used herein were obtained in the public domain, this author holds no copyright to any images displayed.

An Open Missive to our Federal Elected Officials: Who Polices the Federal Government in Following Hiring Practices?

As a dual-service, disabled veteran, possessing two master-level degrees from accredited colleges and engaged in the pursuit of a Ph.D., I am finding, from personal experience and in speaking to others pursuing employment with disabilities, discrimination is alive and well.  I can understand the discrimination in private sector hiring; I do not like it but understand it.  Risk, costs of health insurance, and costs of doing business increase when hiring those with disabilities.  I do not see government as a “jobs program” in any way; however, the government has taken it upon themselves to enact rules specifically to hire those with disabilities.  Thus, the government should be more open to hiring those of us with disabilities.

People ProcessesFederal Government hiring procedures provide two hiring paths, competitive and non-competitive.  Under competitive, there are several ways of being placed ahead of others and points are awarded for certain hiring preferences, of which being a veteran is but one.  In non-competitive hiring, Schedule A provides for disabled people to sidestep the traditional, or competitive, practices of hiring to have an opportunity of obtaining employment without having to compete with candidates not experiencing the special conditions caused by disability

Disabled people are supposed to be able to employ Schedule A hiring practices for Federal Hiring because disabled people know how difficult it is to be hired for the private sector, city, county, and state government hiring.  Here is where those in hiring positions for the Federal Government are able to bypass the system and not hire disabled people:  no one is policing hiring.  I was informed, very politely, by the Inspector General’s Office that they do not inquire or investigate compliance with regulations for hiring.  The question to you, elected Federal Officials: who polices and ensures compliance with written protocols established by OPM for hiring?

As a disabled veteran, hiring in the private sector has become more difficult as my injuries have become more noticeable, from fall 2010 to present.  Having a disability that is nerve based, causing tics/twitches/spasms, hiring officials acknowledge directly or indirectly that since my cost to employer-based health care will come with a pre-existing condition and higher overall costs in ADA compliance and loss of potential (blue) money, I become the “candidate to beat,” and finally will be told, “you are overqualified,” “you are over-educated,” or my personal favorite “you are not a good fit.”  Thus, after four consecutive years of seeing my ability to be hired in the private sector diminish, I began more heavily pursuing employment with the Federal Government.

In June 2016, I was, finally, awarded a Schedule A letter to add to my documents in Federal Hiring.  With the Schedule A letter, I was provided OPM training on how to be “Direct Hired” and walked through the OPM website governing the policies that govern Schedule A hiring and disability hiring for the Federal Government.  Since the award of the Schedule A letter, I have had a VA hiring official refuse to use the letter claiming VRA and VEOA are both more efficient, and then not hire me for being “overqualified.”  I have experienced hiring managers tell me that “Direct Hire” authority lies with managers, and you need to know those managers to employ Schedule A preference, but the hiring managers cannot tell you who else to speak with to receive Schedule A hiring.  The absolute best excuse has been a hiring manager’s claim that there is no such thing as non-competitive hiring, that all applicants must be hired under competitive hiring standards, and then proceeded to tell me I am not qualified for the position because my degrees were not specifically those desired in the advertisement, even though the advertisement did not specify a specific degree, other than master-level.  Most recently I have been offered positions so far below minimum pay levels only because the government knows that desperation often breeds compliance, even if compliance creates actual harm, all in the name of some future date of possibly being hired for the wages qualified for at the time of hire.

Hence, I emailed the Inspector General’s office regarding these circumstances and received the following reply, “The Inspector General’s Office does not monitor compliance with hiring in the Federal Government.”  Thus, Elected Officials, I ask you, “Who regulates and ensures compliance in hiring for Federal Government positions?”  “Who is accountable for OPM regulations being adhered to by local hiring decision-makers?”  “Where can those who are disabled and trying to work turn for a reconciliation of just grievances?”  You, the elected officials, created this hiring system with preferences for disabled people to find work with the Federal Government, so who is policing the hiring for you?

I have now contacted elected officials in four separate states while living and voting in those areas, Ohio, Arizona, Utah, and Michigan, asking the representatives of elected officials directly the same questions posed in this missive.  Senator McCain’s office was the most oblique and obtuse claiming that if hiring practices are not being followed it is due to a lack of training somewhere, but the issue is not important enough for the senator’s time.  Upon arrival in New Mexico, I asked about hiring at the VA Hospital in Albuquerque and was told by several officials at the VA Hospital that the HR Department was under extra scrutiny due to a significant lack of following the hiring guidelines for Federal Government hiring; but, none of those people could tell me who polices the hiring practices and ensures compliance.

Why is this important; because disabled people are not receiving the kind of hiring support they need.  With the current costs to business operation in the private sector, I can understand, I do not like it, but I can understand, that hiring those with disabilities is going to be a major cash outlay upfront with increased risk.  As a business professional, I understand the risk/cost structure, and I understand that the speed of business dictates finding the lowest cost/risk, candidate.  For the city, county, state, and Federal Government positions, I cannot fathom why disabled people are dragged through such egregious hiring practices.  I did an unofficial survey of 25 Federal Government, NM State, Bernalillo County, and City of Albuquerque employees asking them one simple question, how long did it take for you to be hired initially.  The answers ranged from multiple months to 5 years of constant applying.  If the employee had been promoted, I asked how long did the employee wait for the promotion, and the answers ranged from 3-months in the initial position to 15-years.  As a business professional, I can confidently say this is where enormous amounts of blue (potential) money are being wasted, and as the axiom goes, burn enough blue money and green money, in this case, taxpayer funds, evaporate!

Ways to fix the hiring issue:

  • USAJobs.govEach Federal Government office needs to have a single person solely responsible for Schedule A and all other direct hire authority programs that non-employees can communicate with to apply directly to that organization. All open positions would run through this office first providing the option to request Schedule A preference, and upon that selection, USAJobs.gov would automatically drive the applications to the single person responsible for direct hiring and provide this person’s name and contact information to the applicant.
  • Stop the redundant efforts. Once a background and reference check has completed for one office, make this information available to all offices for 365-days.  With applicants making multiple applications to several different offices, this alleviates contacting those references multiple times, duplicating work, and wasting resources.  The technology to share is already available, and this is a low-cost, high-return option to invoke.
  • Every worker in government expects everything to take an inordinate amount of time to complete work. The longer the waiting game takes, the more potential (Blue) money is wasted exponentially.  Start shaving unproductive hiring practices, processes, and procedures.  Streamlining the hiring process overall is needed!

Blue Money BurningConsider the following as a general guide.  For every five dollars of blue money wasted, fifteen to fifty green taxpayer dollars evaporate.  Thus, when a position is open, the lost potential is the annual salary of the new hire for every month the position remains open and unfilled, and the green money loss is the annual salary of the position open every two months.  Between others having to work harder to cover the open position (Blue), the added strain and stress of working shorthanded (Blue), and the lost productivity of the entire team including the costs of long-term planning (Blue), along with other factors, are “hidden costs” of conducting business.  In the blue money loss, the green money evaporation is found in less time for maintenance, tools, and people are used harder and longer, overtime for important deadlines, and commitments lost are all, but not a complete list, of green money evaporation pits.

  • While not directly a hiring practice, reducing employee churn, training, and promoting more quickly is a best business practice. The people in government make the government, and I am not the only customer service professional pointing to government offices as the epitome of incompetent people wasting resources and destroying morale and customer relationships.

Case in point, at the Regional VA Office in Phoenix, AZ, three people regularly man the front desk and are the face of this VA facility.  Of these three, one person is incompetent and intentionally mean, remarking in demeaning and insulting tones to questions and speaking ill of the veteran they just “helped.”  One is trying and means well.  The third could not be hired to clean road kill off streets and is completely and utterly a drone, for example saying they are working on a task but never accomplishing anything productive.  Several times while being harassed assisted by these individuals, I witnessed the third person asking for help from another employee to staple forms together, asking “where does the staple go in the form again?”  Hence, I was not surprised when Phoenix became the face of incompetent and heartless government workers literally killing veterans.  Clean house of the deadwood, replace with hard-working people and streamline the process of work to reduce the opportunity for drones and hacks to manipulate the system.  Of the 10-15 people that regularly float through the Phoenix VA Regional Office Front-Desk/Waiting Area, I think two might actually be working.  The rest seem to have an amorphous purpose doing ambiguous work in a cloud of confusion taking taxpayer wages for no productivity.

  • Customer service improvement begins internally, employee to employee. Want to slow churn, improve how employees serve each other.  Want to reduce churn significantly, get the supervisors, team leaders, and other organizational leaders out of the office, onto the production floor, and actively exemplifying customer service and professionalism.  Improve employee to employee customer service and departments like the VA and DMV will immediately begin to change their horrendous reputations.

I am not the only person in this country paying taxes and angry about the drones and dregs hired to conduct government business.  It is past time to demand accountability for the taxpayer money waste at all levels of government.  Decreasing waste begins with improved hiring, respect for the government they work for by being honest in their employment, and increased regard for the people they serve.

When an employee commits a crime, they should be able to be fired and never re-hired by the government, then held accountable in a court of law for their crimes.  When an employee does not pay their taxes while working for the government, they should be fired and never re-hired, then held accountable like every other citizen not paying their taxes.  To hear about government computers full of porn, child porn, and online gambling, tells me there are workers that are not being supervised properly, work is not being done, and the supervisor and the offending employee need to be fired and never re-hired, then held accountable in a court of law for their crimes.  Being paid to work and not working is theft!  Child porn is a crime!  Watching porn on a computer while being paid is both sexual harassment and theft, both of which are crimes!

The taxpayer receives a slap to the face when federal, state and county government employees are caught gaming the system for personal profit, are not required to remit the monies ill-gotten, and are not fired, or worse are fired and an obscure union regulation returns them to work at the same salary and position of authority, or worse are promoted after being returned to work.  These are failures in treating people properly, honoring the tax dollars invested, and reflecting a failure of elected officials to supervise government workers needed to run the government.  When will our elected officials become the leaders we are paying them to be, holding those malfeasant characters legally and morally accountable and removing them from employment in government?

Your'e HiredWe hired you, the elected officials, to run the government for us, not to enrich yourselves at our expense, and not to allow nefarious and untrustworthy people to lie, cheat, and steal our tax monies and keep being paid with our tax money!  More egregious still is allowing those who have abused the power of government to cause harm, then allow those abusers to quietly leave the government with their pensions, and no criminal charges are ever pursued, e.g., Lois Lerner among many others.  When you want to know why the approval rating for elected officials is so low, look no further than the issues raised in this missive.  Fix the problems!

A Leadership Statement – Shifting the Political Paradigm for a Better America

As a leader, three basic principles drive leadership:  freedom, agency, and learning (Robinson, 1999; Rao, 2013; Tucker, 2001; and Ulrich, 2008).  Three inviolate laws are also present, these inviolate laws are: respect, engagement, and preparation; these laws are guided by the principles of freedom, agency, and learning.  Hand-in-hand, these three principles of leadership and the three inviolate laws govern society.  Image - MSM HandledWe are learning by sad experience that many, especially on college campuses and in professional sports arenas, consider respect to be a one-direction demand, where accountability is not enforced and where the hooligans and terrorists of thought, demand and punctuate their demands with violence. A person, who tries to curtail the thoughts of others with physical, verbal, or emotional abuse, has crossed the line into thought terrorism, and their voice is reduced to nothing, even though mainstream media (MSM) outlets provide these people a soapbox to reach a larger audience.  A person, who demands respect to flow to them and refuses to give respect to others, is abusing verbally and emotionally those they refuse to respect.

Leaders, who embrace the freedoms of their followers, allow them full possession of their individual freedoms, encourage them to employ individual agency, and allow them to be guided by a thirst for learning (Broskowski, 1984; Ekanayake, 2004; and Hoppe, 2006).  Image - John Wayne QuoteThe engaged learner prepares fully in a constant cycle of learn and teach and needs to be supported in this cycle in order to remain a learner preparing to teach and a teacher preparing to learn.  The leader has responsibility for teaching correct principles and embracing the need for the learner to govern himself or herself.  Thoughts and beliefs, opinions, and personal preferences cannot and should not be litigated, forced, or coerced.  Those, who choose to act in a manner not conducive to a quiet and orderly discussion, diminish themselves, harm themselves, and place themselves outside civilization, like the rabid dogs of the west.  The proper response by civilization for those placing themselves in this category, rabid dogs or wolves, remains the same:  permanent separation and removal.

The successful leader is morally obligated to embrace loyal opposition found in those being led and to take and give counsel and guidance to improve plans, implement ideas, and garner the individual buy-in from free agents ensuring integrity, responsibility, and accountability are not lost or forgotten.  The leader is a teacher and a teacher is a leader.  The cycle for learning and teaching does not become lost or less significant as rank is increased.  The inverse occurs. The greater the rank the higher the responsibility to remain engaged in the learning/teaching cycle (Kumle and Kelly, 2006; Maehr and Braskamp, 1986; Nibley, 1987).

Imperative to those with greater authority are the requirements to oversee those to whom authority has been delegated.  Image - Quote Poltics is DirtyWhen those possessing delegated authority use that authority to denigrate, deride, and destroy, that authority needs to be publically stripped, and the individual forced to make amends concurrent with the laws of the land and the expectations of society.  We have come to a point in the laws of America where those with money and powerful political connections (Anthony Weiner) can receive pitiful punishments for dangerous crimes, and those without powerful political friends and money receive far harsher sentences for crimes committed, where standard sentence guidelines include some portion of all of the following: 5-10 years in prison, registering as a sex offender, and fines starting at $50,000 (Lorang, McNiel, & Binder, 2016).

Consider the IRS Scandal, the VA Scandals, and the continuing news cycles where politicians make promises and renege on those promises before the ink is dry on the election result forms.  The staffs to whom authority has been delegated are being allowed to run rampant, and those selected to be leaders are doing nothing to curtail the abuse of power being inflicted upon the population (Perez, 2015).

America, President Trump is a leader, whereas many of the House and Senate are less than the poorest managers ever vested with delegated authority.  Consider Senators McCain, Feingold, and Collins, where Obamacare is concerned, they campaigned on repealing Obamacare, and they continue to actively thwart the legislative process for personal gain (Prokop, 2015).  Leaders, regardless of their field of endeavor and political environment, act, work, and their actions are logically tied to their work.  While one might disagree with the actions based upon personal opinion, the actions taken signify their leadership.  Managers, do not act, are not tied to their actions, and never are held accountable; whereas, the leader and their actions are inseparable.  Hence, while McCain, Feingold, and Collins, among others, will thwart the needs of America for personal gain, Trump will be held accountable for their inaction.  Image - Terrorism DefinedThe same is true for the inaction and legal quandary Obama created at the IRS and the VA, managers performed tasks that were incongruent with the law, were not held accountable, thus the president remains culpable.

Consider how many times “deals” have to be made just to get common sense, helpful, and proper legislation out of committee and in front of the current sitting president.  In real life, “deals” would be considered bribery, collusion, inducements, kickbacks, and blackmail; yet, the citizens accept these legislative maneuvers in the hopes of improving America through legislation.  We are told as children that politics is a dirty business; it has become a dirty business, because those in power and those with delegated power have refused to honor, sustain, and support the laws of the land, the expectations of the citizens they purport to represent, and the illegal use of tax money to conduct these bribes is reprehensible at best.

Currently, the solution remains in the hands of the voters re: stop electing the same old names over and over again.  Why have Senators McCain and Collins become so powerful; tenure in the Senate, McCain since 1981 to present and Murkowski since 2002, and Collins since 1996, they have been living off the public taxpayer for too long!  I am not advocating term limits.  I am advocating an informed and motivated electorate willing to be the leaders they wish to see in office, and holding those in power accountable for the power that has been delegated from “We the People” to those who temporarily hold elected office.  I am advocating for voters to make the election box more important than the TV box, the cubicle box, or the social media box.

I am advocating for the return of a highly charged and logically powered electorate to take back the reins of power from those currently in office, especially those who have continually proven they cannot handle our authority.  For example, Senator Collins has continually proven a weak link by taking positions anathema to her voters, but lacking a viable alternative, her voters return her to power every six-years.  In fact, having lived in her district, I know for a fact there are many of her voters who despise Senator Collins, and hold their nose and vote for her anyway.  Having lived in Senator McCain’s district, the same is said of him when voting every six years, no viable alternative, send the same old name back to power.

Much noise has been made about professional sports players and the refusal to stand for the Anthem and the American Flag.  Under the three principles of leadership and the three inviolate laws, these players do not deserve the jobs they hold, let alone a position of respect.  The reason is simple.  The flag covers all.  Standing for the flag means respect for all, honor for all, and will, regardless of the other person, stand for America as the last bastion of liberty, freedom, and a republican form of government.  The liberties demanded to allow you to sit are the same liberties you are rejecting every time you sit for the anthem and flag ceremony.  All kneeling sports players and flag burners should answer this question: “When you are in trouble, do you want American police, firefighters, EMT’s, and or the American Military personnel to help you?”  If so, why would you contemplate sitting when standing for the flag symbolizes you will help others and sitting proclaims you will not help others.  Since you will not help others, as signified by burning the flag and kneeling or sitting out the national anthem, where should help come from?

I cannot stress enough leadership is needed. Image - Eagle & Flag Leadership begins with those who selected their leaders demanding an accounting for the authority delegated to them.  Use the principles of leadership mentioned and the inviolate laws to correct yourself, your family, and then demand from society the same.  When we do this as a nation standing for liberty, we will succeed, and those naysayers and whiffle-whafflers will be held in eternal contempt because of their actions against us, the citizens of this Republic, the United States of America!

 

© 2017 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

The images used herein were obtained in the public domain, this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

 

 

 

References

Broskowski, A. (1984). Organizational controls and leadership. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 15(5), 645-663. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0735-7028.15.5.645

Dandira, M. (2012). Dysfunctional leadership: Organizational cancer. Business Strategy Series, 13(4), 187-192. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/17515631211246267

Ekanayake, S. (2004). Agency theory, national culture and management control systems. Journal of American Academy of Business, Cambridge, 4(1), 49-54. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/222857814?accountid=35812

Hoppe, M. (2006). Active listening improves your ability to listen and lead. Greensboro, N.C.: Center for Creative Leadership.

Kumle, J., & Kelly, N. J. (2006). Leadership vs. management. SuperVision, 67(8), 11-13. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/195598300?accountid=458

Lorang, M. R., McNiel, D. E., & Binder, R. L. (2016). Minors and sexting: Legal implications. Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, 44(1), 73-81.

Maehr, M. L. and Braskamp, L. A. (1986) The motivation factor: A theory of personal investment. Lexington Press, Lexington, MA.

Nibley, H. (1987). Management vs. leadership. Executive Excellence, 4(12), 9. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/204630361?accountid=458

Perez, E. (2015, October 23). First on CNN: DOJ closes IRS investigation with no charges. CNN – Politics. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2015/10/23/politics/lois-lerner-no-charges-doj-tea-party/index.html

Prokop, A. (2015, September 25). The GOP can’t quit Obamacare repeal because of their donors. VOX. Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/9/25/16339336/graham-cassidy-republican-donors

Rao, M. S. (2013). Soft leadership: a new direction to leadership. Industrial and Commercial Training, 45(3), 143-149. doi: 10.1108/00197851311320559

Robinson, G. (1999). Leadership vs management. The British Journal of Administrative Management, 20-21. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/224620071?accountid=458

Tucker, R. (2001). Innovation: The new core competency. Strategy & Leadership, 29(1), 11-14.

Ulrich, D., Smallwood, N., & Sweetman, K. (2008). The leadership code: Five rules to lead by. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.

 

An Open Letter to Trader Joe’s – Shifting the Paradigm on the Grocery Purchasing Experience

Image result for images, trader joe'sHello Trader Joe’s,

I want to thank you for an amazing shopping experience.  I have loved entering your stores across America, from Portland, Maine to Seattle, Washington, from Phoenix, Arizona, to Spokane, Washington.  I have enjoyed every location we have traveled.  I am so thrilled to buy products that are original, cleverly packaged, and where humor is a tool for improving food.  For example, during the last trip, I saw the packaging on the white potatoes relating how they (the potatoes) like hot places, cream, and much more.  The humor employed takes buying potatoes to a new, higher level as well as bringing a laugh and several smiles to the customers.

No other chain store in America pays so much attention to the customer experience.  Thank you for hiring amazing store associates!  I have never walked into a Trader Joe’s and had a bad customer experience.  Of all these years shopping at Trader Joe’s, only once have I had to return an item, and the return was done pleasantly and effortlessly.  I have had questions about products, and all the customer interactions regarding these questions were enjoyable and often entertaining.  Best of all, when I have had questions about products to buy, the crew members have had no problem offering a taste or supplying recipe information.  The freedom to meet the customer’s desires in a fun, friendly, and fresh manner makes an excellent shopping experience from coast-to-coast.

In fact, one of the most desirable things about shopping at Trader Joe’s is interacting with the crew members and the other customers in discussing recipes, flavors, and getting new ideas.  In fact, when I have had more information about a product than an crew member, the crew member has been gracious and thanked me for the helping hand.  Always, the customer experience promotes a desire to return and keep investigating for new opportunities to eat well.

I was having a rough day this past Wednesday (09/13/2017).  I went to Trader Joe’s for a quick stop and my mood began to lift.  Watching the little kids pushing the “Shopper in Training” carts, watching the kids get excited about food, and experiencing the Trader Joe’s difference was exactly what I needed.  Best of all, I saw raisin/cinnamon bread and mango chutney, and I was going to have toast upon my return home, one of my favorite comfort foods.  I cannot relate satisfactorily how much enthusiasm and smiles the customers show upon entrance at Trader Joe’s.  No other store sees this type of customer interaction, and I am grateful to you for fostering this environment for it helps other customers to enjoy the shopping experience, as well as improving the crew member’s day.

Related imageThank you for the murals on the walls, the interesting posters, the flowers, plants, cards, and new hidden treats to explore every trip.  I enjoy immensely the ginger granola, the dark chocolate crepes, the triple ginger cookies, and the list goes on.  I was in Trader Joe’s off Louisiana Street in Albuquerque today (09/18/2017) and tried “Trader Ming’s” products, a great gustatory and amusing experience.  Several times in my shopping history I have tried to taste every item, except the alcohol products, in a single Trader Joe’s store.  Never happened to date, but I have enjoyed the journey and the adventure where food and shopping meet.

I have to say, as Trader Joe’s is the sole provider of pretzel rolls in my area, I am always looking for new recipes for using pretzel rolls.  My love of all things pretzels continues to be a fun distraction and gustatory journey.  For example, two-weeks ago I bought six pretzel rolls and tried three different recipes, roast beef with sharp cheddar on a pretzel roll with some black pepper/olive oil mayonaise, which was absolutely amazing; fried egg with bacon on a pretzel roll was a great delight, your crew member suggested a coarse mustard that totally made this meal; and the coupe de resistance continues to be the pulled pork/chicken/beef on pretzel rolls with any flavor of cheese.  Hot or cold, these sandwiches make eating a new adventure.

My wife is vegetarian/vegan and appreciates having a variety of choices in her meal planning that she cannot find elsewhere from the tiny, tiny Brussels sprouts, the mini sweet potatoes and mini avocadoes, the beautiful, fresh, ripe, sweet fruit that you don’t have to wait to ripen, to coconut milk frozen desserts.  She loves the seasonal specialties, the beautiful murals and fun decor, the pleasing scents of flowers, the tidiness and cleanliness of the store, the wide aisles, and the people, the wonderful people, both customers and crew members, people who smile and laugh and share what they know and have experienced in their adventures with food in polite, kind, and fun ways.  She says it’s a little bit of heaven on earth.

I know when I see the Trader Joe’s sign, good food, good shopping, and good people are available and ready.  Thank you for more than two decades of wonderful food and people experiences.  Wherever the road has taken us, Trader Joe’s continues to follow, and it is very much appreciated.  In Ohio, I regularly traveled more than three-hours from northeast Ohio to Columbus for Trader Joe’s, a trip I was glad to make!

From a very satisfied customer, thank you!

Dave Salisbury

© 2017 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

 

Understanding Money: Shifting the Paradigm on Money

Several years ago, I spent a significant amount of time trying to explain the different types of money to a very inexperienced young man.  I was highly unsuccessful; so, I take this opportunity to explain various types of money and how they work in the scheme of things.  I hope this explanation helps others to not only understand their own money, but also to become more cognizant of how governments spend your tax money.

Green money is cash.  Green money is the dollars and cents in a bank account or your pocket and is easily spent.  Image result for images, green moneyGreen money is often called liquid money or liquid assets, liquid because the holder is presumed the owner, who is in possession of it and who can spend it freely any way he wishes.  Possession is nine-tenths of the law.  One of the first lessons most of us learned growing up was if you wanted to buy something and your pocket was empty you went without.  Liquid assets are cash, green money, and are available to be spent in any way the holder chooses.

Non-liquid assets are consideImage result for images, house, car, boatred green money as a result of their sale; this is why a house, a car, a boat, and other such items are considered assets.  The sale of the asset provides the opportunity to turn a non-liquid asset into a liquid asset.  However, since many times the asset is employed as collateral for a loan, the sale of that asset means the loan holder is paid first from the sale.  If the resale value is insufficient to cover the full loan owed, the loan, which is red money, can still be collected; this process is why red money is so important to understand.

Red money is debt.  Red money always comes with a penalty called interest.  Interest is green money turned red to return the profit to those who lent the initial funds or principle.  That debt, be it a loan, a credit card, or other debt model, remainImage result for images, red debt traps a burden to the borrower, continues to accumulate interest, and can be called due at any moment in time.  While some laws protect the borrower from excessive interest rates, it remains important to know about and be cognizant of the interest rate trap.

The interest rate trap comes in several forms.  While in the US Navy, stationed in Norfolk, Virginia, a sailor buddy bought a beautiful car for $4000 with a 45% interest rate.  He put $1500 in green money down, so the full loan amount, principle and interest, for 60-months was $7805.49, including the sales tax.  When the car was stolen, later that month, the insurance company valued the car at only $1000, leaving the sailor to pay immediately $6805.49.  This is one type of interest rate trap; another comes from Payday Loans.  Borrow your next paycheck today, get the money today, and pay your paycheck back during the next 36-months at an interest rate between 30-60%.  By the time the payday loan is paid off, more than four separate paychecks to cover a single paycheck loan will have been invested provided payments have been made on time and as quickly as possible.

While paying off this loan, you lose your job.  You can lose your car as well because your car is sometimes used to insure your payday loan.  If the resale value is insufficient, you lose your car, you lost your job, and now you still owe a considerable sum that gains interest.  Red money is dangerous; like the sword of Damocles, the danger hangs by a tiny thread above the borrower; one wrong move and the sword falls.  Debt, red money, can be helpful; but, careful planning and budgeting are required before entering into debt obligations.  Always it is better to save and budget green money, or obtain investors, before contemplating debt.

Black money is dead Image result for images, black moneymoney.  Consider the person who takes green money and places those dollars and cents under a mattress or in a coffee can in their home.  The cash is out of circulation, is not valuable enough to collect, and no one is benefiting from the money through interest.  Black money can be created in other ways that will be explored later in this article.

The next type of money is blue money, also referred to as potential money.  Consider a hammer. The hammer might cost $20.00 in green money to buy and bring home.  In the hands of a trained construction worker, a $20.00 hammer, over the course of the hammer’s effective working life, has the potential to earn thousands of dollars in green money for the construction worker.  Image result for images, blue dollarsIn the hands of an inexperienced worker, the hammer has the potential to cost thousands of dollars in green money.  Training a person to improve their performance might cost $300 in green money; but, if that employee is able to improve his performance on the job, potentially millions of dollars are able to come into the company because of the training.

Money is created when it is borrowed and interest is paid on the loan.  For example, Jack has an extra $500 (green money).  He gives this money to his friend Joe in the form of a loan (red money).  Joe takes the loan, adds to his business potential (blue money), and through increased profits is able to pay Jack his $500 loan plus the interest of $300.  Hence, $300 (green money) is created as profits for Jack.  While a simple analogy, understanding money should be simple.

Joe’s loan to Jack showed on Joe’s books as red money until the loan and interest were paid.  During this time, Joe was also making green money, or profits sufficient to pay his workforce, his other obligations, and still retain sufficient to pay himself.  Small business owners are not paid until everyone else is paid, and it is not uncommon for small business owners to be scraping by on the smallest margins because all their non-liquid assets are locked up in loans to keep the business afloat.  When poor business practices begin risking inventory and equipment and shareholder investments are added into the equation, is it any wonder why small businesses struggle.

Money is also created when saved in the various saving tools offered by banks.  The diligent saver can save $40 a week until he or she is 65 years of age and potentially have millions in the bank for retirement.  Why, because the bank will pay interest to the saver from the interest collected on the loans the bank makes with the green money invested.  Many different savings tools can be considered as non-liquid assets because of the agreements made between the saver and the bank.  Generally, the longer the agreement for the bank to hold the money, the higher the interest rate paid as the bank can schedule payments and loan the same dollars more easily when the money of the saver is scheduled to be in the bank for a longer period of time.

Often Federal treasury departments of governments create money by printing more or larger bills.  The problem with printing more money is one of surplus, which begins to increase interest rates and decrease value.  Consider for a moment, if the only way to create money is to work money through lending, improving business, etc., then printing only makes harder putting money to work.  Too much money on the market creates negatives; negatives include lower dollar value, which makes items cost more, and increased interest rates, which makes borrowing costs increase.  More importantly, except for necessities, the willingness of producers to spend money stops.  These are normal cause and effect actions.  A long enough period of decreased willingness to spend money and an economic downturn is initiated.

State, City, County, Town, municipal governments are even more pernicious with their plots and plans.  On the local government level, money cannot be printed; hence, debt is entered into and municipal bonds are sold to create money in the private sector, which is then paid to the government in increased taxes, but the money lent to the local government was already spent.  One truth discovered about government, when taxes are increased, money is asked of the voters to borrow.  The truth is, the government body asking for more has already spent the increase, spent the budget, and usually spent twice as much as they are asking the voters to allocate.  Consider special elections for increasing taxes, the money being asked for has been spent, the budget was spent, and now the voters are asked to pay for the cost of the special election.  Many times, the increase being asked for has been spent three to four times before the election is even considered.

Poor fiscal planning increases debt by decreasing the value of the original municipal bonds, and the government has to borrow more to get relatively close to the value of the first municipal bond sold.  Note, municipal bonds are considered as debt to the local government and as green money non-liquid assets to the purchaser; municipal bonds are able to be bought and sold on the private market.  Government focuses upon the holder of the most bonds; because elected leaders are focused upon the holders of the most bonds, citizens bear no weight in being heard.  Money talks!

Municipal bonds, in several different locales, can be held as unseen debt, or black money kept on other books, not currently open to the public.  The monies owed are not considered red money, because there is no plan by those in power to pay these debts; thus, the amount of a city’s debt could be significantly higher than reported.  This is called an unfunded liability.  Unfunded liabilities never have a plan for repayment by those in power.  Unfunded liabilities can be a mixture of a lot of different debts (employee retirement, some municipal bond types, unpaid bills to local service providers, etc.), but the common denominator remains.  No plan is in place to meet that obligation and no budget item covers these debts; thus, black money increases.  Unfunded liabilities are hopes of current politicians on future prosperity, and sometimes, depending upon laws, unfunded liabilities are part of the government’s credit rating. Whether it is, the debt does not go anywhere, might or might not accrue interest, and always is hidden from the taxpayer, who is responsible for paying the bills.

While this explanation is very basic, the lessons contained are sufficient to protect the Image result for images, blue dollarsbottom-line, improve knowledge, and provide opportunity for improving circumstances.  Some key ending points when bottom lines are failing include:  before anything else, look to lost blue money as the cause.  The more blue money is disregarded is exponentially equal to red money increases, and green money evaporation; this formula is set in stone.  Potential blue money is not elusive, but it takes keen observation to protect and grow.  Grow enough blue money and green money multiplies exponentially.

© 2017 M. Dave Salisbury

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