No reservations about reservists
Let me start this (warning) LENGTHY post in this series of posts by stating I’m not bashing reservists. I’ve worked with many, especially in my last job, and they are impressive people. The majority of them are motivated internally. They take care of themselves—running, exercising, and staying proficient—without the constant nattering that active duty military deal with. They aren’t saints, but babysitting is not required for them, either.
Officer and enlisted reservists do what they need to do to make sure they can serve the Air Force and their country well. When I’m talking about reservists blurring the ethical line in this series, I’m not talking about those reservists. They’re doing the right thing. They don’t even want someone to question their integrity.
Do the Right thing…
Let’s just begin with what should happen when reservists do the right thing. What should be done to make sure there isn’t even an appearance of conflict of interest? At this point, I also must state “I am not a lawyer.” I have access to documents and briefings that try to define exactly how reservists are supposed live the dual life of contractor and reservist. Some of these briefings are given to reservist units to ensure the rules are known.
Most of the rules are very simple. Other laws and regulations—even, though I am a reader of English–are written in such a way as to keep someone like me stupefied at just how deviously language can be manipulated. But, the Joint Ethics Regulation (JER), which should be guiding all military and civilian federal employees in their decisions regarding interactions with contractors, is fairly clear:
5-408. Assignment of Reserves for Training
a. Personnel who assign Reserves for training shall not assign them to duties in which they will obtain information that they or their private employers may use to gain unfair advantage over competitors. Reservists must disclose to superiors and assignment personnel information necessary to ensure that no conflict exists between their duty assignment and their private interests.
b. Commanders, or their designees, shall screen Reservists performing training to ensure that no actual or apparent conflict exists between their private interests and their duty assignment. While Reservists have an affirmative obligation under this rule to disclose material facts in this regard, receiving commands cannot assume compliance and shall independently screen incoming personnel to avoid conflicts of interests.
regs in Translation
Interpreting section a. The section appears to mean reservists shouldn’t be working in jobs which will give them, or the company they are working for, information that gives either one a leg up on the competition. It also means reservists MUST let commanders and assignment folks know who the reservists are working for and what program the reservists are working on. The squadron commander then makes the decision whether to transfer the reservist or not. So what should happen?
Say, a reservist (doesn’t matter if enlisted or officer) works in the Space Based InfaRed System (SBIRS as an example—the organization could also be GPS, DMSP, etc.) once a weekend every month for the 8th Space Warning Squadron (SWS). According to part a. of the regulation, this means the reservist shouldn’t be working for a contracting company who stands to gain from the reservist’s expertise in infrared space systems.
Particularly, the reservist shouldn’t be working for contracting companies who are key or prime to Air Force future infrared satellite systems. If the reservist did, this would give that company an unfair advantage, right? In fact, it seems as part a. of the regulation is worded in such a way as to keep reservists from even competing for employment positions remotely related to their reservist work. If they did, then wouldn’t they have an unfair advantage over their competitors (the other job-seekers)?
And part b. of this particular JER section is supposed to serve as a double-check—keeping the reservist out of trouble by making sure the reservist’s commander (or proxy) asks the reservist the uncomfortable but necessary questions about their work as a contractor. Not only is the commander’s concern about real conflicts of interest, but the APPEARANCE of conflicts of interest. What happens when people do the right thing here?
Using the 8th SWS as an example again, the 8th SWS squadron commander should be making sure all of his or her reservists are working in contracting jobs that have nothing at all to do with SBIRS GEO, SBIRS HEO, DSP, infrared payloads, related ground systems hardware and software, collections methodologies, training, etc. So the commander asks specific employment questions of all subordinate reservists.
Questioning, though, doesn’t just stop at the reservist. The commander must make sure there’s independent verification of the reservist’s statements. If there is a conflict of interest, or a situation that looks like a conflict of interest, the commander must make sure the reservist is assigned somewhere else. Extending the logic, the squadron commander’s commander (in this case, the 310th Space Wing commander), should be asking the squadron commander the same uncomfortable questions. If the commander hasn’t done that, then the commander has not only failed the Air Force, but the people who serve the commander.
the system works?
And there are examples everywhere of people doing the right thing. I have a friend who once commanded a reservist squadron. He told me of an instance when one of his subordinates came forward to let him know the reservist now had a job with a big contracting company—the same one responsible for helping with the program they worked on in the reserves. In this case, all my friend had to do was contact the personnel office and ensure his subordinate was reassigned to a job not involving that company. Very easy.
I asked him, though, if his wing commander ever questioned him about his job in the civilian world versus his job as a reservist. He told me the commander never asked him. He figures the reservist wing commander trusts the reservist squadron commanders enough to do the right thing. Which is great! Officers should be trusted (as should enlisted), as long as they’ve given no reason/indication not to be. But is that rationale a “real” reason, a reason based in reality and on the actions of people working for the wing commander? Or is it just being lazy, intentionally turning a blind eye to possible ethical conflicts?
Everyone knows the world is perfect and everyone in it is trustworthy. Right?