Part 5: SBA responds to whistleblower series

Thursday - 2/10/2011, 4:03pm EST

(This is part 5 of Federal News Radio's investigative series, "Discouraged and Disrespected at SBA.")

By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

Small Business Administration Administrator Karen Mills responded to Federal News Radio's special investigative series, "Discouraged and Disrespected at SBA" with an e-mail to all agency employees.

"Many of you have seen the articles in the Daily Clips in the last few days concerning claims of employment issues at SBA," Mills wrote in the e-mail obtained by Federal News Radio. "Out of respect for the privacy of individuals involved, the agency never comments to the press on specific employment matters. However, Deputy Administrator Marie Johns and I could not disagree more with the picture the articles paint of our agency."

Federal News Radio contacted SBA spokesman Jonathan Swain asking for Mills to respond in person to the allegations of whistleblower retaliation, human resources fraud and contracting fraud. Swain said the agency must decline the request for an interview due to potential pending litigation.

Mills did not go into detail in the e-mail about why she disagreed with the stories.

"We have many talented employees and supervisors at SBA, and we are proud of the work of the SBA team and its accomplishments," she wrote. "We believe strongly that our team is doing a critical job at a critical moment in our nation's history. The economic challenges of recent years affected small businesses all across the country - and the employees and families who work with those businesses - and they still need our support. And through your work, we are delivering that support. Certainly, we are not the biggest agency in the government, but Marie and I believe no other agency does a better job than we do in delivering real, meaningful results with the resources entrusted to us."

She also reiterated her commitment to improving the agency's workforce and its managers.

"[W]e have invested in targeted training and professional development all over the agency, and we will continue to do so," she wrote. "We have upgraded IT and other systems throughout the agency to better support the work each of you do. And senior managers have devoted significant time to strengthening our partnership with our unions in order to build a better working environment together."

Mills said the agency can do better to solve its problems and are committed to doing so.

"Marie and I are committed to listening to and working with each of you, our managers and our unions, to confront any challenges and opportunities openly and with great conviction," she wrote. "We will make this agency even better as we all discuss and resolve issues together. On behalf of Marie and myself, thank you for all you do each and every day to support the critical mission of the SBA and for your valued role on the SBA team."

Current and former SBA employees contacted Federal News Radio in response to the series as well. They say there are systematic problems at the agency.

"It didn't take me long to see the favoritism or the management-by-threat practices," wrote one GS-14 employee who worked at SBA for 14 months before leaving. "Most of which comes under [Darryl] Hairston's hierarchy. Rule by the fist and destroy those who get in your way is their battle cry. I've worked in seven different government agencies and I have never seen people getting fired and filing litigation like this agency. It was a very scary experience and I had to leave (took a demotion) to get out of there before they turned their claws towards me. I pushed back hard against wasting money and fixing things, all I got were threats."

Another current employee wrote that they experienced "a hostile work environment (involving special accommodations) and work assignments; and retaliation for whistleblowing. I filed my complaints through the SBA/OEEOC process and ultimately filed several complaints against the SBA. This process began in 2008 and my complaint is still in the EEOC and not [sic] current action has been reported."

Read more of Federal News Radio's exclusive "Discouraged and Disrespected at SBA" series.

Part 1: Four employees claim retaliation from SBA managers

Part 2: SBA employees allege fake positions created

Part 3: SBA whistleblowers weigh resolution options

Part 4: SBA's contracting practices under close scrutiny

Part 5: SBA responds to whistleblower series

Update: SBA assures senator it's fixing management problems

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