2021 Organizational Assessment

Vermont National Guard Logo 2021 Organizational Assessment

TAG's Statement

Background

Maj. Gen. Greg Knight requested assistance from the National Guard Bureau's Office of Complex Investigations in November 2019 to provide a detailed assessment of the Vermont National Guard's command climate and systems, with the end state of improving the Vermont National Guard and ensuring the governor's and adjutant general's priorities are being implemented. Specifically, Knight requested that the assessment team:

  1. Review and assess for the previous three years any systemic or process issues with adjudication of misconduct within the Vermont National Guard and the punishment that resulted;
  2. Review and asses any systemic or process issues with investigation of misconduct performed by the Vermont National Guard consistent with policy and regulations;
  3. Review and assess incidents of discrimination, sexual harassment, or violations of Equal Employment Opportunity or Equal Opportunity policy within the Vermont National Guard, and any action that resulted;
  4. Review and assess incidents of hazing, bullying, maltreatment of subordinates within the Vermont National Guard, and any action that resulted;
  5. Review and assess the efficacy of the selection, promotion, and placement policies within the Vermont National Guard for both officer and enlisted, Active Guard and Reserve, Technician, and Title 5 positions;
  6. Conduct a statewide survey of the Vermont National Guard's culture and climate, including on-site interviews with all major subordinate commands; and
  7. Assess the Vermont National Guard's adherence to and implementation of Defense Department and National Guard Bureau policies under the EEO/EO and Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program.

Overview

The OCI Assessment Team conducted an assessment from Jan. 10 to April 30, 2020. The Team conducted a thorough review of all items above and the action that resulted. They met with key leadership within the Vermont National Guard, as well as civilian and military leaders across Vermont's joint, Army, and Air organizations. Most importantly, they met with victims, complainants, service members, leaders, advocates, and champions for the programs they represent. 

In conjunction with an organization-wide Defense Equal Opportunity Command Climate Survey, the review enabled the Team to holistically evaluate these programs and the command's implementation of these programs, leading to the findings and recommendations contained in their report.

The Team determined that the command climate and culture within the VTNG is generally sound, though there is room for improvement. Many of the issues of misconduct identified by the leadership were confirmed by the Assessment team. There are instances of misconduct and poor treatment of subordinates, which appear to arise primarily from the technician/full-time workforce within both the Army and Air National Guard elements of the VTNG. The team noted a lack of adequate full-time senior Non-Commissioned Officer oversight within the VTNG and the absence of properly functioning equal opportunity and SAPR processes within the VTNG generally.

Summarized Findings

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  1. The Vermont National Guard’s written policies on sexual assault are generally consistent with current federal law, regulations, and policy; however, they lack specifics to ensure compliance within the major commands of the Vermont National Guard.
  2. The Team found examples of optimal victim services on the part of the SARCs; however, ineffective program management strategies and tools hampered optimal SAPR program performance.
  3. Historically, the Vermont National Guard Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program failed to properly report and track sexual assault allegations and case data; but has improved since 2017 to the present time.
  4. Case management for unrestricted reports of sexual assault was deficient, mismanaged, and, in certain circumstances, absent; but has improved during the period of the assessment, 2017 to the present.
  5. Manpower, Resourcing & Credentialing were reported as deficient for the Vermont National Guard’s Sexual Assault Prevention Program, which has contributed to program inefficiencies and diminished performance.
  6. The Vermont National Guard SAPR Program is unable to meet the operational demand for the SAPR program as it is currently resourced.
  7. The Vermont National Guard does not maintain any memoranda of understanding (MOUs) or memoranda of agreement (MOAs) with community-based resources to enhance prevention or response efforts.
  8. The Vermont Army National Guard and Air National Guard SAPR Programs do not coordinate and collaborate effectively for purposes of facilitating state-level program management.
  9. The Vermont National Guard collaborates and coordinates with civilian law enforcement organizations prior to conducting (and during) the administrative investigation of sexual assault allegations; however, internal coordination and communication on the status of civilian law enforcement investigations can be improved.
  10. Sexual assault reporting knowledge was deficient in certain Army National Guard units.
  11. Vermont National Guard service members generally found their sexual assault prevention and response climate to be adequate.
  12. The Team found some instances in which the local command did not attend to, let alone prioritize, victims’ needs and interests.
    The Vermont National Guard historically conducted unauthorized command-level investigations into alleged sexual assaults, but has improved since for the period of this assessment, 2017 to 2020 and has properly referred unrestricted reports to appropriate investigatory entities.
  1. The Vermont National Guard's written policies on prevention and response to allegations of illegal discrimination do not reflect current federal law, DOD, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or National Guard Bureau policies.
  2. Vermont National Guard EO/ EEO/ Harassment in the Workplace policies also do not provide adequate protections for complainants.
  3. The Vermont National Guard EEO/EO programs complaint resolution process does not comply with NGB Policy.
  4. The Vermont National Guard EO/EEO programs lack adequate resources and command emphasis.
  5. The Vermont National Guard EEO/EO programs lack fully trained and qualified personnel.
  6. The Vermont National Guard’s SEEM rating and supervisory scheme inhibits effective communication with senior leadership and units regarding EEO/EO program issues and training.
  7. The lack of resourcing and emphasis on the Vermont National Guard's EEO/EO program has impacted the filing and disposition of sexual harassment and hostile work environment complaints.
  1. While an adequate number of members of the VTNG expressed favorable job satisfaction and trust in leadership, there is a strong perception of favoritism or a “good old boy” network that may erode that trust.
  2. Civilian personnel, particularly within the ARNG, expressed broader concerns over the Organizational Effectiveness of the VTNG.
  3. While an adequate number of members of the VTNG expressed favorable answers regarding reprisal and retaliation on the DEOMI Survey, interviews and written responses revealed that some junior personnel may fear voicing their leadership concerns over fear of reprisal or retaliation.
  4. Further, a significant number of personnel expressed that perceptions of favoritism within the VTNG may stifle meaningful change due to fear of reprisal, retaliation, or marginalization.
  5. While the Team assessed that hazing does not appear to be a significant issue within the VTNG, there are a few housekeeping issues that require VTNG senior leader attention.
  6. While the Team assessed that bullying does not appear to be a major issue in the VTNG, there are indications that several personnel may feel “bullied” or marginalized as a result of perceived favoritism; for voicing concerns to their leadership; or some combination thereof. These concerns appear to be especially pronounced within ARNG Recruiting and Retention but appear to a lesser degree across the VTNG.
  1. Current VTNG organizational reporting structure and lack of clarity as to responsibilities and expectations at the senior leadership level, especially within the VTARNG, has contributed to friction at the top which has had an overall negative impact on the organization. This has contributed to decision-making that is primarily concentrated at the lowest levels of the organization and to lack of transparency further contributing to mistrust, disengagement, and low morale at all levels of the organization.
  2. Although a significant number of personnel believed that the VTNG has regulations, policies and procedures in place, there was a strong perception that their implementation and enforcement has not been effective; that they are not clearly communicated and understood; and they are not always fairly and consistently applied across the organization.
  3. Policies and procedures were generally outdated, existing as draft polices, and in some cases nonexistent, which has led to significant number of personnel not having sufficient clarity of organizational expectations and lacking confidence that policies and procedures are fairly and consistently enforced in the organization.
  4. There are differences within the VTNG related to the implementation of internal and external inspection and assessment programs, where the VTANG is effectively participating in these programs, while on the other hand, there was insufficient information to assess the effectiveness of such programs in the VTARNG.
  5. The VTNG has unique recruiting and retention challenges that directly impact the management of personnel and the health of the organization; despite these challenges, the organization remains generally disengaged from its recruiting and retention mission.
  6. While many VTNG personnel did not express unfairness related to their own selection and promotions, there is a strong perception of personal favoritism or a “good old boy” network-based selections and promotions for leadership positions. There was some indication of unfairness related to position assignments and hiring practices in the VTNG, especially for women.
  7. A significant number of personnel in the VTNG expressed that they did not have a clear understanding of the organization’s selection and promotion policies and expressed perceptions of limited opportunities for promotions and progression across the organization.
  8. Although enlisted selections and promotions in the VTANG are generally viewed as fair and equitable, failure at the State and Wing level to engage in effective force management has caused stagnation within the senior enlisted ranks.
  9. The VTARNG does not currently have an official written publication or policy for its selection and promotion practices which has resulted in lack of transparency and fuels the strong perception across the organization that selections and promotions are based on favoritism.
  10. There is a general view in the organization that Active Guard and Reserve positions are not always merit-based, and that due to the limited availability of AGR positions, even if advertised, the positions tend to be “pre-filled” by individuals waiting for AGR openings.
  11. The Team concluded that VTNG leadership at the JFHQ level is not engaged in the effective implementation of training and readiness across the organization; furthermore, units do not adequately track and report training and readiness efforts, and generally prioritize the day-to-day mission over training implementation.
  12. VTNG leadership has failed to set performance expectations and address substandard performance by the full-time staff, especially when it comes to providing support to M-Day personnel, leading to significant friction between full-time and part-time personnel, which has negatively impacted the organization and the effective accomplishment of its mission.
  13. A significant number of personnel have the perception that the role of the M-Day Soldier has become less of a priority, and that the current culture in the organization emphasizes the full-time mission over the mission of the part-time Soldier.
  1. The Team assessed that current military legal support does not appear optimal to meet the needs of the VTNG.
  2. There is a lack of clarity surrounding acceptable/unacceptable conduct (especially for fraternizations); and a lack of written policies addressing acceptable/unacceptable conduct in the VTNG.
  3. The Team assessed that the VTNG suffers from a lack of transparency at all levels of the VTNG regarding the adjudication and disposition of misconduct cases.
  4. The VTNG should review and improve training on when Commander Directed Investigations/15-6s are appropriate and how to conduct them more effectively.
  5. The VTNG should create a consolidated action tracking system to improve oversight of all adverse administrative actions.

Recommendations

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  1. The program must continue with its update of SAPR/SHARP policies, with emphasis on maintaining updated references to current Chief of the National Guard Bureau and Department of Defense Regulations. This will ensure compliance by all command levels with particular emphasis on responsibilities of victims’ immediate commanders towards prevention and response.
  2. The VTNG SAPR/SHARP leader training program should emphasize immediate commanders’ responsibilities in response to ensure victim, safety, communication, and reporting through SAIRO reporting and participation in the VTNG CMG.
  3. VTNG SAPR/SHARP training should be accounted for in accordance with regulatory requirements to ensure compliance with training requirements of personnel. The SAPR program maintains SARCs and Victim Advocates on their list of assigned personnel who are no longer certified or assigned and therefore, it is difficult to determine which are in need of training or no longer assigned as SARCs or Victim Advocates.
  4. Based on current data maintained at NGB-J1-SAPR the VTNG SAPR/SHARP program should better sustain required number of SARCs and Victim Advocates in each Brigade/Battalion/Group or Squadron. Historically, the VTANG SAPR and VTARNG SHARP program has been unable to maintain sufficient number of SARCs and VAs for several reasons including promotion, transfer, and attrition. The program requires better coordination with the HRO/G1 and commands to prepare for life cycle maintenance of sufficient number of SARC and VA staffing within the WING SAPR and VTARNG SHARP program.
  5. Historically, the Vermont National Guard, in particular the Vermont Air National Guard, investigated sexual assault allegations incorrectly via command directed investigations, although, there has been significant improvement since 2017 with referral of sexual assault matters to military criminal investigative organization, civilian law enforcement or Office of Complex Investigation for investigation.
  1. As a result of National Defense Authorization Act 2017 (FY17 NDAA), amendments to 10 U.S.C. § 10508, subsequent regulatory changes, and the Chief of the National Guard Bureau’s designation, the Adjutants General are now the “head of the agency” responsible for administering National Guard employees and military service members. This includes responsibility for EEO purposes for Title 5 civilian employees, and Title 32 dual status military technician personnel. This change in the law required VTNG establish a joint EEO complaints procedure for National Guard Title 5 civilian employees and dual status military technician personnel in the VTNG. This was directed by NGB-EI in 2017 through CNGBN 9600, which directed all state National Guards to establish an EEO Complaints Processing regulation in compliance with EEOC, DOD regulations, and the pertinent federal statutes by October 2017. VTNG only promulgated a policy and guide. VTNG must promulgate a compliant EEO Complaints Processing regulation immediately. At minimum, this regulation must provide for processing individual complaints of discrimination to include the requirements contained in §§ 1614.105 through 1614.110 and in § 1614.204 of section 29 Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.), and consistent with all other applicable provisions contained in the Equal Employment Commission's Management Directives 110 and 715.
  2. The VTNG EO/EEO program must be separated from the Human Resources Office (HRO) and should be aligned with the Personal Staff of the Adjutant General or the Deputy Adjutant General, with a direct report by the State Equal Employment Manager (SEEM) or EEO Director to the Adjutant General. The EO/EEO Director or SEEM cannot be rated/supervised by the HRO/G-1/A-1 or Judge Advocate (JA). This is a conflict of interest pursuant to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), DOD, and NGB policies and regulations.
  3. Collateral duty or full-time personnel EO/EEO professionals cannot be personnel from the HRO/G-1/A-1 or JA. This is also a conflict of interest pursuant to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), DoD, and NGB policies and regulations.
  4. Special Emphasis Program personnel cannot be from the EO/EEO complaints processing program or rated by the SEEM or EEO Director or involved in the EO/EEO complaints processing program. Collateral duty Special Emphasis Program personnel can be from the HRO/G-1/A-1.
  5. EO professionals must process and promote a retaliation prevention program and complaints process in accordance with DOD and NGB policy and regulation.
  1. The VTNG should conduct an enterprise-wide review of the systems and processes within the VTNG, particularly about transparency of personnel policies and administration of discipline, which may be fostering the perception of favoritism within the VTNG.
  2. Increased leadership focus at TAG level on the health of the civilian force within the VTNG. Consideration should be given to civilian personnel morale, as well as increased opportunity for personnel to have direct access to senior leadership to ensure their concerns are addressed. Leadership should also consider “civilian only” sensing sessions, including separate sessions that may allow minority personnel to express their concerns without fear of maltreatment or reprisal.
  3. The VTNG leadership, should ensure that refresher training on Department policy regarding hazing and bullying is conducted; that leadership reinforces its lack of tolerance for hazing; and that TAG anti-hazing and bullying policies are widely disseminated and posted in unit areas.
  4. Regarding possible ongoing hazing in the Fire Department, VTNG leadership should consider a command-directed inquiry or management review into these allegations.
  5. Based on the seemingly lower percentage of favorable responses in the ARNG Recruiting and Retention Battalion in the areas of bullying and hazing, the VTNG should focus additional efforts in ensuring climate issues are appropriately addressed within that organization.
  1. The Team recommends that VTNG further evaluate and correct perceived confusion regarding its organizational structure, especially as the current structure pertains to JFHQ interaction with individual service elements and the VTNG. The Team assesses that this might be done by streamlining the chain of command, better defining the various roles and responsibilities within JFHQ as they relate to both Air and Army operations, and more effectively communicating across all levels of the organization.
  2. The VTNG must reassess how polices are developed, implemented, and communicated across the organization.
    1. Based on the observations made in this report, the Team recommends that the VTNG conduct a thorough review of its current policies and procedures to assess which are currently lacking and which need to be updated to follow NGB and Service regulations.
    2. The Team recommends that that the VTNG ensure all policies and procedures are made easily accessible and digitally available to all VTNG personnel. This could most effectively be implemented by creating direct website access to all policies and procedures.
    3. The Team strongly encourages the VTNG to implement a regular internal review process for policies and procedures (to be accomplished every 2 to 5 years) to ensure that policies and procedures consistently remain up to date and in compliance with Service and NGB regulations.
  3. The Team recommends the VTNG to develop solutions that create transparency across the organization and to establish regular communications and conversations with Airmen and Soldiers about the overall state of the VTNG.
  4. The VTNG should review its participation in organizational assessment and inspection processes to ensure that they conform to Service policy.
  5. The VTNG should review its exit survey procedures and consider implementing a process that clarifies to personnel the value of the exit survey to the organization; produces a report that is informative in nature, easy to navigate, and easily accessible to commanders; and ensures that senior leadership utilizes this tool rather than allowing it to become another obsolete yet required organizational task.
  6. The Team assesses that the VTNG must address core, internal, organizational issues with recruiting and retention, and the lack of accountability by commanders in this regard.
  7. The Team notes the need for improvement and more direct JFHQ engagement with VTNG promotion policies, to include promotion policies for Traditional Drill Status Guardsmen and Active Guard and Reserve (AGR) personnel.
  8. The Team recommends that the VTNG review and update personnel promotion and assignment policies IAW Service and NGB policies to instill confidence and transparency in VTNG personnel management.122
    1. The VTNG must ensure that its promotion and assignment policies, on both the ARNG and ANG side, are based on final, written products that are widely disseminated and easily accessible to every member of the VTNG. Specifically, the Team recommends publishing updated VTNG promotion policies on Guard Knowledge Online (GKO) or other organizational website for clarity and transparency and easy access by organizational personnel.
    2. The Team recommends VTNG G1, J1, and Force Support Squadron consult with NGB counterparts to obtain updated Army, Air, and Human Resources Office promotion and assignment policy templates from a “best practice” state. Further, recommend that the VTNG schedule an external assistance visit from NGB or another National Guard state to assist in the review of VTNG promotion policies and procedures.
  9. The VTNG should develop and institute more structured, consistent, and transparent metrics for promotions and advancement in the organization.
  10. The VTNG should review its current force structure and develop management strategies and procedures that address current promotion practices among its full-time force; in addition, VTNG should evaluate whether certain full-time positions could be structured as rotational or tenured positions to expand opportunities in the organization.
  11. The Team recommends that the VTNG draft a comprehensive training policy and establish a robust training implementation plan that supports the Training Management doctrine and Total Force mission of the Army and Air Force, respectively. The training policy and guidance should then be effectively communicated across the organization.
  12. The VTNG should increase emphasis on PME completion rates for officer and enlisted personnel. This will increase individual Service member eligibility for promotion across the VTNG but could also have direct impact of retention rates. The Team further recommends TAG and senior leader review of PME status quarterly to ensure command emphasis on enrollment across the force.
  13. The Team recommends commanders and first line supervisors maximize opportunities for unit personnel to participate in in-residence/hands-on training opportunities, subject to unit mission requirements.
  14. The Team recommends command leadership set up a process that effectively manages and balances high-ops tempo unit expectations and requirements with access to actual training opportunities. Furthermore, provide clear messaging as mission and operational priorities change as soon as they change so that personnel can shift those priorities accordingly and obtain the needed readiness training.
  15. The VTNG should develop and implement guidance that aims to address and balance the needs of personnel (both full-time and part-time) with the need of accomplishing the mission of the organization.
    1. The Team recommends the VTNG specifically review and update polices/guidance related to full- time position duties and responsibilities, including expectations for in-person work hours, flex schedule and telework opportunities, and advertisement and application process for position availability. Furthermore, ensure full-time position policies and procedures align with Service and NGB regulations.
    2. The Team recommends the VTNG reevaluate and redefine the responsibilities and expectations from its full-time and part-time forces and more effectively integrating part-time personnel into the organization’s full-time mission.
  1. Review current military legal support, particularly full-time support, to determine whether it is optimal to meet the needs of the VTNG.
  2. Provide more clarity surrounding acceptable/unacceptable conduct (especially for fraternizations) and reflect those in written policies.
  3. Provide greater transparency to all levels of the VTNG on the adjudication and disposition of misconduct cases through regular status of discipline bulletins or other creative communication efforts.
  4. Review and improve training on when Commander Directed Investigations/15-6 investigations are appropriate, and how to conduct more efficiently and effectively.
  5. Create an action tracking system to improve oversight of all adverse administrative actions. This system (whether paper or electronic, centralized or decentralized) should include: the date of misconduct; the date it became known to leadership; the date an inquiry or investigation began, was completed and received a legal review (if an inquiry/ investigation was necessary); the date the adverse administrative action was initiated; the date the documents and notice of adverse action are provided to the service member; the date an action arrives at the Joint Forces Headquarters (JFHQ) for processing; the date the action receives a legal review by the J FHQ SJA; and the date the action arrives at the Assistant Adjutant Generals Air and Army or TAG's desk for action, execution or appellate consideration.

Proactive Response

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  1. The report identified that the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program excels at its primary mission: to provide optimal victim services to survivors of sexual assault.
  2. The newly installed Provost Marshal Team will improve the Vermont National Guard's ability to collaborate and coordinate with civilian law enforcement.
  3. The Sexual Assault Response Coordinator will work with NGB to update policies in order to directly address the shortcomings identified in the report.
  1. The newly published harassment policy not only complies with federal standards but also creates an easier program for members to access resources and resolution.
  2. The State Equal Employment Manager will work with NGB to update policies that directly address shortcomings identified in the report.
  3. As of April 1, 2022, SEEM will report directly to the adjutant general in accordance with EEOC guidelines.
  1. Hazing and bullying ere not identified as significant issues. Change is already in progress for the Army Recruiting and Retention Battalion and the Vermont Air National Guard Fire Department: new leadership in each unit is making an immediate impact.
  2. Unit concerns were the primary focus of the previous RRB commander. The new commander, who assumed command in June 2021, will continue to implement positive change.
  3. Changes are already underway to address perceptions of favoritism: merit-based placement policy, VTARNG Officer Career Management Board and expanding courses of action for a VTANG enlisted promotion requirements.
  4. The "Reach Up" functions in Vermont Army National Guard and Vermont Air National Guard mobile apps allow for anonymous and direct reporting of misconduct or specific fears of retaliation.
  1. The Officer Career Management Program aims to improve Army National Guard career management and transparency for ARNG officers.
  2. All policies are now easily accessible through the Vermont National Guard's website at www.vtguard.com/policies as well as in the mobile apps under "Resources."
  3. Changes are already underway to address perceptions of favoritism: merit-based placement policy and possible implementation of a VTANG enlisted promotion requirements/list.
  1. The recently published Joint Status of Discipline Report, which will come out quarterly, shares administrative actions taken over the previous quarter. The goal is to provide organizational closure and offer deterrence from future misconduct.
  2. New professional development sessions will focus on equipping leaders with the tools to maintain good order and discipline within their units.

TAG's Key Points

  1. ‚ÄčWe are excited for the opportunity to improve! As we expected, the assessment found that the Vermont National Guard is healthy and functioning at a very high level. The report also offers substantial analysis into specific opportunities for improvement, and the adjutant general will use these as a "handrail" to continue to better this great organization.
  2. For a long time, Vermonters have led the way. We've placed in the top three in Army Center of Excellence several times, and we were trusted as the first Air National Guard fighter wing to receive a fifth-generation fighter for a reason. The chief of the National Guard Bureau asked General Knight to sit on the General Officer Senior Council to pursue reform for sexual assault, sexual harassment, and suicide prevention programming — a testament to the work of our program managers. Now we can continue to set the path of best practices that we can share with our peers.
  3. We will create an organization where all can thrive. The goal of this assessment was to analyze, in microscopic detail, specific policies and systems that require improvement. General Knight is committed to implementing the recommendations made by the OCI Team to create a command climate in which everyone can thrive.
  4. Results will drive change initiatives. While the assessment revealed no major issues within the Vermont National Guard, it did identify several specific areas of improvement where leaders suspected progress was necessary. General Knight and the Vermont Guard's senior leaders take this very seriously and will assess these recommendations and implement within the scope of resources available.
  5. Changes are already underway — we haven't been idle. While COVID-19, Operation Capitol Response and change in leadership at the National Guard Bureau significantly delayed the results of the assessment, the Vermont National Guard moved forward with several initiatives that align with the OCI Team's recommendations, such as the creation of a Provost Marshal office and a quarterly Joint Status of Discipline report.
  6. Members have spoken; leaders have heard. Members of the Vermont National Guard spoke openly and honestly. Command has heard them and is already changing specific policies and systems to make positive, lasting changes. All members and stakeholders now have access to the full assessment, and General Knight invites everyone to hold him and his executive staff accountable to make changes.
  7. We hear you, now hold us accountable. If you don't see progress, ask why, but also understand that change cannot occur overnight. Creating and staffing the Provost Marshal team took over a year, but now we have them, and they are making our systems better. We will continue to make progress.