Monday, August 29, 2011

People I Know


I had heard about this for years, and it always scared the crap out of me.  Network, I thought.  I don’t have a network.  I just have people I know.

“Well, what do you think a network is?” my father asked me.

I dunno.  I guess I thought it was a set of relationships cultivated for mutual profit.  I never did that.  For one thing, I’m pretty sure I would suck at it.  I have no idea how to start such a relationship, nor how to maintain it.  And how would I hold up my end of the bargain?  I myself never got in anywhere but through the front door.

A while back, my cousin asked me about civil service jobs.  I had never been in the loop on a civil service hire and had no idea how the process worked.  So I asked one:  how do you get in the Civil Service?, he replied.

This was a rather naïve reply, or perhaps naïve of me to accept it at face value.  First of all, my cousin surely wasn’t interested in the Civil Service without knowing about the federal government’s human resources website.  Second, not all of the jobs advertised therein are “real”, i.e. position for which the government is actively recruiting.  They are rather “potential” job openings that might materialize at some point based on expected attrition.  And third, not all vacancies are filled from applicants to USAJOBS.  Many agencies have what is known as “direct hire” authority:  they can bring in whoever they want without advertising, formal competition or much in the way of outside oversight.  For instance, while I was in Afghanistan, the agency from which I exited the Air Force hired a whole bunch of people I knew from school this way.

And yet . . . when I needed it, the network was there.  Not, mind you, in the obvious place:  my boss.  Or her boss.  But coworkers.  Neighbors.  Friends from church.  My advisor.  People I Know.

What’s scary about this is that, with one exception, all the callbacks I’ve received from potential employers have been with the support of the network I didn’t even know I had.  Supposedly, employers actually prefer to hire people this way, but this strikes me as counterintuitive.  From an employer’s perspective, why would I want to limit my applicant pool to people my current employees happen to know, or to hire people whose loyalty is less to the company than to their own network?

And from an job seeker’s perspective . . . well, what if my next door neighbor hadn’t worked for an engineering firm with a new contract?  What if a friend from church wasn’t a program manager with a research institute and could put my resume in front of the right people?  These all seem like pretty close-run things, especially since my wife usually puts most of the effort into maintaining these friendships in the first place.

I expect that the people most handicapped by this system are fresh graduates.  Not only do they not have a lengthy work history in the field they are just now looking to enter, but the list of People They Know is probably limited to other students also just starting out.  Plus they don’t have wives yet.

Monday, August 22, 2011

U.S. Companies Confusion over the Applicability of Afghani Tax Exemptions to DOD Contractors




Coordinate With: GC USP

Document Type: INCOMING

Special Instructions: FORWARD COPY OF REPLY TO CMD, R00M 3C843


Suspense Date: July 1 2011
Routing Date: June 13 2011
CONTROL #: OSD 07202-11


OSD 07202-11


Marion C. Blakey
President and Chief Executive Officer
1000 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 1700
Arlington, VA 32209-3928
(703) 358-1000
June 8, 2011

The Honorable Hilary Rodham Clinton
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520

The Honorable Robert M. Gates
U.S. Department of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301

Dear Secretary Clinton and Secretary Gates:

On behalf of the more than 350 members of the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA)I am writing this letter to raise an issue that is having a serious impact on U.S. companies supporting U.S. Government (USG) military operations and foreign policy in Afghanistan. The issue concerns the confusion over the applicability of Afghani tax exemptions to Department of Defense (DOD) contractors. The DOD's position is that the exemptions apply to both DOD prime contractors and their subcontractors, and the Afghani Ministry of Finance (MOF) Is taking the Position that the exemptions only apply to DOD prime contractors. The potential impact has ranged from the detention of contractor personnel and seizure of contractor property, contractors being precluded from performing work and DOD treating the taxes as "unallowable, to otherwise avoidable tax audit compliance costs. We respectfully request that the DOS and DOD move to immediately resolve this issue with the Afghani government. As you are aware, paragraph four of the U.S. - Afghanistan Bilateral Agreement, ratified by the Afghani Government through Diplomatic Note Number 202 on May 281 2003, provides that

The Government of the United States of America, its military and civilian personnel, contractors and contractor personnel shall not be liable to pay tax or other similar charges [landing, navigation, over flight or parking charges or overland transit fee or tolls] assessed within Afghanistan.

Although the language in the Bilateral Agreement (Note 202) seems to imply that USG subcontractors are not liable for taxes, the MOF informed businesses performing work under DOD contracts that they must collect Afghani taxes from their subcontractors or their business 1icerses will be revoked. Once a license is revoked, the MOF can remove the contractor from Afghanistan, detain contractor/subcontractor personnel, and seize equipment. Any of these actions will send a dangerous message to the contractor community and, in turn, will adversely impact our ability to support U.S. foreign policy and military operations in Afghanistan.

Both the DOD General Counsel, In a March 28, 2011 fact sheet, and the Commander of International Security Assistance Force/U.S. Forces - Afghanistan, by letter to the MOF dated March 9, 2011, have confirmed that under the Bilateral Agreement (Note 202) and Military Technical Agreement, DOD contractors, subcontractors and their non-Afghani employees are exempt from taxation by the Government of Afghanistan. This position competes with the position by the MOF. As such, the DOD has instructed its contractors and their subcontractors to ignore Afghani tax bills - effectively making the taxes, when paid, unallowable costs.  As a measure of caution, individual companies may request private letters of rulings from the MO seeking tax exemption status in the hopes that the MOF would agree. This precautionary measure, regardless of how the MOF rules, results in additional contractor costs that the DOD may also view as unallowable. If the taxes are required and are deemed as unallowable there will be a negative financial impact on the DOD contractors.

In addition, DOD contractors and their subcontractors are incurring tax audit compliance costs -- costs that would be avoided if there was a consensus between the MOF and the USG. Simply stated, the confusion has led to go/no go decisions for DOD contractors and their subcontractors.

Finally, certain DOS programs are taxable and contain DOS programs an exempt from Afghani taxation, creating an additional layer of confusion. There is no benefit to the USG when contractors receive different tax treatment depending an the agency they serve. It is our view that the preferred outcome is that all USG contractors have the same tax-free treatment regardless of which USG agency has contracted for their services.

We strongly request that the DOS and DOD work together to resolve this issue with the MOF, including obtaining the MOF's acknowledgement that the USG's position applies to all contractor work in Afghanistan since 2001 and that rulings from or other filings with the MOF are not required to establish tax exemptions for USG work. We would prefer that all USG contractors, both prime and subcontractor, working an behalf of the USG in Afghanistan, be exempt from all Afghani taxes (corporate, business profit, personal, etc.). However, if the USG decision is that USG contractors must pay Afghani taxes, contractors should be reimbursed for those taxes by the USG. Either position is workable, but the current confusion cannot be sustained. I would be happy to discuss this important issue further with you or your designated representatives at your convenience.

Best regards,

Marion C. Blakey

Friday, August 19, 2011

Dr. Dad

I defended my dissertation this week. And changed my blogger profile (although a sufficient level of scorn and ridicule from my readers will persuade me to change it back).

Now if I can just find a job . . .

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Robust Paradigm

Steve points to the New Scientist:

Stone Age toe could redraw human family tree

Um . . .

I don’t want to make any dogmatic statements about the merit of this research, given the sorry state of most scientific reporting in general.  But I do want to point out that, to a layman, the news that a single toe is cause to “redraw the human family tree” suggests that the paradigm underlying the “scientific consensus” on human evolution is pretty dang fragile.  What happens when, next week, they find another toe?

Imagine if an undergraduate, performing a lab in CHEM 100, reports unexpected results.  Is the professor’s reaction to exclaim, “Omigod, you’ve just revolutionized the field!  We’ll have to redraw the periodic table stat!”  No.  Rather, he assumes the student did the experiment wrong.  I’m not sure if this assumption is really the best way of nurturing a scientific mind among undergraduates, but it is assuredly correct.  Such is the stability of the principles of chemistry.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Love, Afghan Style

From a comment at HitCoffee:

Don't know about Africa, but last spring I got tagged to do escort duty for some NGO-types visiting ISAF HQ. I wasn't involved in the substance of their visit, they just needed a warm body to stand out by the front gate to shepherd them in. We wound up waiting a long time because the NGOs got hung up at one of the more outer layers of security. Which surprised me, since whenever I drove through those same checkpoints I had never had to so much as roll down my window. (Which was convenient, since our bullet-resistant windows didn't actually roll down.)

But I digress . . . I don't remember the names of most of the NGOs whose reps visited us, which is too bad, since I would happily rub their names in the mud if I could. But we did have a rep from Save the Children. At some point after the introductions, I said to him, "So, 'Save the Children'. What are you guys doing to keep the Afghans from buggering little boys?"

To my surprise, the answer wasn't dumb looks. StC did in fact have programs of engaging people, and especially community and religious leaders, on this problem. The rep even told me something that I didn't know: some 60% of boys in Afghanistan are raped. We got to talk quite a while about this, but in keeping with the point of your post, what got me was the reaction to my question by the other reps present. It wasn't just that they didn't seem to know anything about pederasty in the country they were supposed to be servicing, let alone have any programs to fight it. It was that, confronted with the facts of the matter, their first reaction was . . .

. . . to laugh.

And the reaction didn't really get any better. They were kind of captive to our conversation (most of it took place in line at the ISAF security check) but mostly stood there in embarrassed silence. But when the StC guy mentioned the 60% number, a woman rep said, "Well, that's an interesting factoid," in a tone of voice that said, no, it really wasn't.

B@stards. Come the revolution, when we put these NGO internationalists against a wall, this will be one of the reasons.

But . . . Save the Children. They do good work.

As an aside:  (possibly) related post at iSteve.