Will Military Voters Get a New FVAP or a Stale FVAP?
People who care about military voters in the months leading up to an election should pay attention right now, and so should Congress. The Pentagon brass are in the process of hiring a new director for the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP).
Who that person is, and whether they are willing to clean out bureaucratic deadwood and end stale ways of doing business will determine the effectiveness of military political participation in 2014 and 2016.
What Undersecretary Jennifer Wright and other Pentagon leaders do in the next few months will determine if the administration finally complies with a law passed in 2009, and whether military voters get a meaningful opportunity to participate in the next election. Actual participation of military voters in the 2010 and 2012 election, as measured by cast ballots, was a joke. Prisoners in Vermont participated at higher rates than the enlisted serving overseas.
One reason is that the Pentagon has resisted implementation of the 2009 Move Act mandates to have voting assistance offices on every installation. FVAP resisted this law, so the law was never fully implemented.
That has to change, and that will require fresh leadership, not stale leadership.
FVAP has been plagued for decades by poor leadership, incompetence and bureaucratic bungling. One former FVAP director was known more for a lavish travel agenda to far off exotic locations than she was for helping military voters. Another in FVAP's chain of command was better known "for not returning phone calls" than he was for helping military voters.
It doesn't help to be an agency of the most misunderstood of all federal entities, the vast and unmanageable Department of Defense. FVAP's hundred million dollar expenditures since Congress passed the MOVE Act in 2009 may seem comparably insignificant, but compared to what? Since the Truman administration, a soldier's right to vote has been recognized, but not yet fully realized. In spite of that hundred million or so.
FVAP needs strong leadership. FVAP needs a Director who can advocate for the agency to the chain of command, not quake in anticipation of monthly meetings, or exaggerate unimportant administrative changes, claiming progress in making voting easier for soldiers, when there has been none.
Leadership at FVAP has focused entirely on bureaucratic nonsense, trying to look good instead of be good.
For example, a management consultant paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by FVAP advised staff to, "make Paddy (Paddy McGuire, Deputy Director of Election Official Assistance) look good, and you'll make Bob (Bob Carey, former Director of FVAP) look good. That is all you have to do." Apparently, FVAP staff took this advice to heart, as members of Paddy McGuire's Election Official Assistance Team frequently obstruct projects by refusing tasks, making a game out of getting others to do their work.
No surprise that one of Mr. McGuire's new ideas was to hire a former employee of his, now a friend and consultant. One might wonder what kind of consultant would be eager to be paid thousands of dollars plus expenses to conduct a staff retreat titled, "How to Get Along with Paddy."
The retreat never happened, possibly because someone in the FVAP chain of command had enough common sense to nix the idea. However, there should have been a strong leader to fire Mr. McGuire for even proposing such a travesty. The incident sheds light on FVAP management, and on Mr. McGuire's plans for supporting military voters. First, support yourself, then your close friends. Military voters are somewhere else in the hierarchy.
Paddy McGuire isn't the only problem at FVAP, but he is an obvious one. Election administrators abide by a code of ethics, which includes neutrality. No partisanship.
Consider this quote from an LA Times article in 2000, "McGuire is a political hack. This is not a title to be conferred lightly. In political country, hack is an honorific, a term of respect earned along with the frequent flier miles."
McGuire has hired three employees as Program Analysts since 2010, and promoted one to a higher status as Policy Analyst. Two were Democrats, one a youth activist, that one promoted to Policy Analyst. FVAP should not be McGuire's personal fiefdom, where he can hire young, inexperienced staff who mostly just make him look good, adore him, and serve as party loyalists.
Part of the problem at FVAP is there has never been a cadre of full time employees with election administration experience. The hapless Paddy McGuire served as a de facto political appointee. Paddy McGuire, in his revealing admission to the LA Times (Aug. 13, 2000), stated his qualification for a patronage job at the Oregon Fish and Game Department as having fishing and hunting licenses.
Having someone with election administration experience at FVAP is important, as FVAP's mission is to make certain military and overseas voters can vote. In order to vote, one must register. Thus registration and voting need to be understood by any election administrator, something FVAP just doesn't seem to understand. One could make a case for having all positions at FVAP require election administration experience.
One could also make a case for having members of the military serving as staff at FVAP. The aforementioned bureaucracy is a good one. Any bureaucracy creates endless amounts of busy work. Someone has to do it. One Deputy at FVAP is a Chief of Staff, a questionable position when there are only 14 full time staff at the agency, eight or so of whom are Deputies. That means 50% of staff at FVAP are management, not a healthy ratio. Nevertheless, if one is going to have a Chief of Staff, that would be a good place for a military person. The problem with military bureaucrats is they have absolutely no concept, or ability to conceive, how elections work. They don't grasp the simple entitlements of election law, since the military is a hierarchy. The right to vote is not dependent on rank.
Rank in the military has impacted FVAP negatively in other ways. Various Generals have taken to proclaiming their nonpartisanship by announcing they did not even register to vote.
This is a bad example, and misguided. The Generals should do the opposite and encourage everyone to vote.
Since military voters statistically tend towards Republican registration, those Generals are actually disenfranchising thousands of military voters, who aspire to follow their leaders' example. In fact, the one step FVAP could take towards effective enfranchisement of military voters would be to register everyone at intake.
But Paddy says no! Paddy McGuire knows that registering all soldiers at intake would favor Republicans, so they suppress this simple solution. Seems odd doesn't it, when anyone who applies for any kind of federal benefit - like food stamps, welfare payments and such - is asked if they want to register to vote - over and over again, each time they show up. Not newly enlisted military are disenfranchised and their votes are nixed because of poor leadership, incompetence and bureaucratic bungling. Voting rights are a hot topic in the mainstream media, but you won't find a single election law "blogger" or advocate outside of the Military Voter Protection Project advocating this simple solution of registration at intake for military voters.
As the boss, Paddy McGuire changed a policy he initiated as a new Deputy in 2010. In 2010, no Program Analyst, or the Deputy, could cover their home state - the one they know best - thus avoiding the appearance of partisanship.
Yet Mr. McGuire recently traveled to both his home state of Oregon, and Alaska, the state he grew up in and retains close ties. The trip to Oregon came on the heels of a trip to Savannah at taxpayer expense. Mr. McGuire, who won't live in Virginia, because "all the roads are named after dead Confederate Generals," fired an experienced election administrator for talking about genealogy. He makes no secret of how proud he is of this act.
None of this would be terribly important if military voters were being served. It would be bad governance, but who cares about a little bad governance, when there are so many big examples like the IRS, NSA, Benghazi and so on. Of course, with all the talk of sequester, and the very bad example of the GSA hot tub, who cares about that little hundred million dollar waste, incompetence and partisanship at FVAP?
Let's hope someone at the Pentagon does. If not, military voters will suffer the same second class status in 2014 they are used to.