The California Shredding Fiasco: Examining the Evidence- Part 1 of 2
by Jose Latour
Many of you folks heard about what happened at the end of January: a couple of folks at the Western Service Center were finally indicted for something they did last year. It seems they were discovered to be illegally shredding many legal documents at the California Service Center... actually, as many as 90,000 documents. The shredding wasn't undertaken by INS federal officers, but rather by private contractors - private company employees who, under contract with the federal government, carry out the mail room operations.
According to the various news sources citing what has been learned, the manager of the Western Service Center mail room one Dawn Randall, 24 years old was indicted at the end of January by a federal grand jury, along with a supervisor who worked under her, Leonel Salazar, 34 years of age. Both were accused of ordering low-level employees to destroy thousands of documents beginning in February of 2002 and continuing several months thereafter. The purpose: to reduce a growing backlog of unprocessed paperwork that the Western Service Center was facing.
I don't know how many of you folks remember back to 2002 and what was going on with the INS, but the Western Service Center is not a location where Lorenzo, Kim, and I file a great deal of cases. However, I do remember experiencing a little bit of confusion as to the expediency with which they were able to suddenly get "current." Now we know what happened: apparently (and according to the indictment) Ms. Randall ordered her subordinates at the INS to count the number of unprocessed papers in the filing center. They indicated to her that about 90,000 documents were waiting to be handled. According to the report, she ordered at least five night shift workers to begin shredding many boxes of these papers. By the end of March, no backlog existed, amazingly. Ms. Randall ordered the subordinates to treat the incoming paper with this innovative policy, making sure the backlog was avoided. The INS supervisors, unaware of the details, must have been happy, and so was everyone, except those poor folks whose stuff was being destroyed. And what exactly was being shredded? Good question:
Pretty much anything you can think of that goes through a service center office was destroyed, and not just the applications, but original documentation that is virtually irreplaceable, depending on what country the person comes from. Obviously, there was no INS policy to substantiate this, as the poor U.S. attorney tasked with explaining this to the press pointed out. Instead, this was just the whim of several individuals deciding that they were sick and tired of looking at mountains of papers.
Now, I'm not defending the INS, or justifying their lack of supervision over this catastrophic event, but it's important to point this out: this was not the act of career INS service center officers, but the act of contractors.
So what are federal contractors? They are private corporations who, under agreement with federal contracting standards, obtain lucrative contracts to provide certain services to the federal government, where it is supposedly more cost-effective to do so. So who was this contractor? That's where things get really interesting...
According to the New York Times, the company in charge of servicing not just the Western Service Center but all four INS Service Centers is called JHM Research and Development, a Maryland corporation. The owner? A fellow named John H. Macklin, who is the President of JHM. The New York Times apparently tried to contact Mr. Macklin but had no luck. Small wonder... I dug further, and check this out...
According to the company's website, JHM Research & Development, Inc., was incorporated in 1987 under the laws of the district corporation. The self-described company profile includes the following statement:
"The company is a wholly owned and operated minority enterprise certified by the Minority Business Opportunity Commission of the Small Business Administration (SBA) and the State of Maryland."
Aha! That told me a lot: based on what are informally known as federal "set asides," the federal government HAS to give business to minority-owned contractors whenever possible. JHM is one such provider. Specifically, JHM appears to be an African-American owned business, based on it's advertising in www.melanet.com, described on its home page as "The Uncut Black Experience". For $45 a year, Mr. Macklin runs his ad on Melanet, "seeking cooperative relationships with 'Majority-owned' firms as well as other 'Minority-owned" firms." Check it out at:
Back at their homepage, the company's profile then goes on to talk extensively about JHM basing its corporate philosophy on the Tenet of Quality Management (TQM). Now, without taking a cheap shot at the company, as a pretty devout student of the Japanese- rooted tenets of TQM, it was pretty hard for me to swallow their lingo regarding "a responsive organization" and top-to-bottom "commitment to quality" when:
That, folks, is not adherence to TQM, anyway you cut it.
But what was more disturbing to me was what was pointed out within the New York Times article: according to the article, the contract awarded through the minority-granted JHM Research & Development of Maryland is actually carried out by two sub-contractors. Neither of these was identified in either the New York Times article, the JHM website, nor anything else I could find. Why, I wondered?
I made a call to an old friend who knows a lot about federal contracting, and his understanding is that the only subcontracting a designated minority firm can do is to other minority-owned firms. My own reading of the rules is different: the whole reason for the complex regulations associated with federal contracting registration as a minority-owned company is to ensure opportunity for disadvantaged companies; it is not something one can "convey" to others at will. In fact, I found there is an entire industry which caters to registering such minority-owned companies to do business with the Federal Government. Check this out:
I'm assuming that these two subcontractors comport to the minority award definitions upon which this massive contract had to be awarded...
I did mention to you that the award granted to Mr. Macklin's corporation was $325 million, didn't I? (-;
I went back to the JHM client's website to find out what other companies they were serving. Check out this list:
That was just the list of current clients. According to their website, the "new contract awards" included the Service Center Operations (remember, $325 million contract), National Institutes of Health (two contracts), Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (three contracts), and a host of prior contracts including the FBI, USDA, NOAH, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Department of Commerce, and others.
Quite an impressive list of clients and clearly a massive and impressive history of success. Obviously an organization with this level of activity must be employing thousands of minority workers, truly taking advantage of the federal purpose of minority contracting, stimulating the economy throughout the many regions in which it is involved, right? This company must be a regular font of job generation for his own African-American community, as well as for other minorities, a real example for the job generation responsibilities which fall upon the shoulders of those of us who are successful minority entrepreneurs, right?
Well, I'm not so sure: imagine my surprise when I clicked on the employment opportunities icon at www.jhmrad.com and found this line:
"No positions available at this time."
We lack the investigative reporting resources (and budget) of the New York Times, but, damn...$325 million dollar contract, no response from the company, two mystery subcontractors and 90,000 shredded files??? Here are the questions this Caribbean cowboy needs answered:
And the real question I want answered:
Let's see some W-2s, a press release, an acknowledgment on your website of how you blew it and what you are doing to not blow it again. Let's see some accountability, Mr. Macklin. You've built a hell of a company, but you owe a lot of people an explanation. If you truly believe in TQM as I do, enough of "talking the talk" ...it's time to "walk the walk."
Part 2: Following Up On The INS Mess
Jose Latour is the founding partner of Latour & Lleras, P.A., a Gainesville, Florida based business immigration practice representing corporations nationwide in visa management, compliance, and HR training. The above represents Mr. Latour's Editorial opinion. The A/V rated firm and its web site, www.usvisanews.com, were named a winner of the 2002 Inc. Magazine Web Award, receiving recognition along with 14 other companies as the best Web companies in America. In 1999, the firm was named "One of America’s Top Ten Internet/Virtual Companies" in the Inc. Magazine and Cisco Systems "Growing with Technology Awards." The site is one of the most visited and widely read resource on the Internet on U.S. immigration law, attracting subscribers from all over the world, the media and from within the U.S. government. Mr. Latour served as a U.S. Diplomatic and Consular Officer in Mexico and Africa before entering private practice and today divides his time between his law practice, writing, flying, and his music.
The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.