As six high-level officials of the Virginia Department of Personnel and Training gathered in a conference room at the Richmond Hyatt House last April, their boss, agency director Kenneth B. Yancey, handed out a secret report of comments gleaned from an employe attitude survey of the department.
The comments were often devastating. While most of the 103 workers who responded praised their immediate supervisors, they blasted the agency's top managers for insensitivity, favoritism in hiring and promotions, lack of communication and, in some instances, plain incompetence.
The personnel department, supposedly the watchdog of employe practices in state government, stood accused by its own workers of violating those practices.
One anonymous employe concluded a six-paragraph critique with: "The attitude, ethics and sense of responsibility found in this department make this the most unprofessional working environment that I have ever encountered and (I) am embarrassed to claim it as my working habitat."
Another was more succinct: "No leadership, no respect, no trust."
But few of the agency's workers got to see the 25-page report. All copies were carefully retrieved by Yancey after the Hyatt House conference. Instead, the department recently distributed a 16-page statistical analysis of the survey, including a general narrative that stresses efforts the agency is making to improve employe relations. As for the pointed comments from the previous report, none was directly quoted.
Yancey claims all copies of the original report have been "discarded" to protect employes, who had filled out the surveys with the understanding the comments would be kept confidential.
"They're not available and if we still had them I would not feel it was prudent to share it with you," Yancey told a reporter who requested a copy last week under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.
But some present and former agency workers believe Yancey is withholding the report to protect himself, not his employes. Copies of the report have been floating through the agency, and The Washington Post obtained one.
"People took the survey very seriously, some spent hours working on it and others took it home," said one employe, who asked not to be identified. "When the results were published without the comments, some of us felt it was a whitewash."
The most biting comments in the secret report focus on the department's hiring practices. While Virginia law and personnel regulation supposedly ban hiring based on political affiliation or cronyism in most state jobs, employes believe a different standard applies in their agency.
"Upper-level hiring is seeming more and more to be of friends, cronies, etc., rather than by quality and competence," complained one worker.
Another employe commented, "Appointments and promotions are often political and unethical, no real equal opportunity."
Many employes feel Yancey himself, who calls himself "a split-ticket type of Republican -- not a blind party person," was a political appointee. He first met Gov. John N. Dalton in the early '60s when Yancey helped found a Young Republicans Club at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg and Dalton, a Republican, was a lawyer in nearby Radford.
Yancey was vice chairman of the Gop'S Fourth Congressional District Committee in 1977 when Dalton ran for governor. He left a job as an employe relations officer with General Electric Co. in 1978 to take the $43,900-a-year state personnel director's post under Dalton.
Some workers charged cronyism when Yancey appointed a fellow former General Electric employe relations official, Paul R. Thomson, to the $39,100-a-year post as director of the agency's Office of Management Development and Training. Still others cried politics when he recently named Elsie G. Holland, a prominent Richmond black Republican, to the $27,380-a-year directorship of the Office of Employment Practices, which oversees the state's controversial minority hiring program.
The program has come under fire in recent months after the governor's own Equal Employement Opportunity Committee questioned the state's commitment to minority hiring in a critical report. A former education professor at Virginia Union University here, Holland had no prior training or experience in personnel management or equal opportunity programs before she was hired.
For his part, Yancey contends neither Thomson nor Holland were hired because of friendship or politics. "Paul's credentials are superior to probably anybody's in this department, including myself," says Yancey. As for Holland, "She brings a new dimension to the job . . . We've put too much emphasis in the past on what I call technocrats."
Workers also blasted the department in areas such as communication and management relations. When asked if there was Adequate communication from upper management to employes," 67 percent answered either "not at all" or "to a little extent," while 5.8 percent replied "to a great extent" or "completely."
Asked, "Is upper management concerned about employes and their problems," 64 percent replied "not at all" or "to a little extent." About 57 percent gave the same response when asked, "Are rules, policies and procedures administered consistently." Nearly 41 percent replied "not at all" when asked, "Do you feel free to discuss problems and concerns with upper management levels?"
"No communication. Everything is done sneaky," wrote one employe. Another complained, "Many top decisions are snap decisions and often made to avoid intent of law or policy."
Wrote yet another worker, "An ounce of image is worth a pound of substance around here."
Workers also expressed doubts about the department's ability to enforce sound management practices in other state agencies.
"(I) regret the poor image DPT has with other state agencies," wrote one employe. "Rather than setting good examples to follow, DPT usually disregards or subverts its own policies; the old 'do as I say, not as I do' routine.
Yancey concedes his agency has a morale problem, one that he partly attributes to large-scale changes he has made since taking over two years ago. He boasts of revamping state hiring and promotions practices and simplifying a complex salary system that had gone largely unchanged for more than 30 years.
As for the survey, Yancey says it has been "constructive" and that he intends to use it again next year and to recommend it to other state agencies. But he says publication of employe comments will have "a chilling effect" and he blames "people who are disloyal to the process" for leaking the report.
Some agency workers say their lack of loyalty is a result of Yancey's policies. "There is a feeling among employes . . . that either they seek jobs outside this agency or be prepared for the 'axe to fall,'" wrote one worker. "This may help to illustrate why there is very little feeling of loyalty or respect for this agency and its present administration."