19 October 2009 by Published in: Rants 90 comments

I’m not quite ready to resume regular posting yet. I’m making progress–this almost month off has helped–but I need a bit more time. However, this article in today’s Washington Post REALLY pisses me off, and I really felt compelled to share this with you. That this unethical guy is skating with nothing but a slap on the wrist is really a farce. I’m not sure which pisses me off more–that it happened, or that it got covered up. Either way, this guy has lost ALL credibility.

Report ignored explicit images found on park official’s computer
Gettysburg superintendent had 3,400 photos

By Kimberly Kindy
Monday, October 19, 2009

The National Park Service says it is satisfied with the results of a year-long inspector general’s investigation that found no criminal violations by John A. Latschar, the superintendent of one of the agency’s most popular facilities, Gettysburg National Military Park.

It will not say, however, how it handled a violation of department policy that was documented in the course of the investigation — Latschar’s use of his office computer over a two-year period to search for and view more than 3,400 sexually explicit images.

An internal Aug. 7 memo from an investigator to Daniel N. Wenk, the acting director of the National Park Service, details the discovery of the images on the computer hard drive that was seized by investigators. But the office of Mary L. Kendall, acting inspector general for the Department of the Interior, omitted details of the computer probe or any mention of the violation from a 24-page report that was released Sept. 17.

“Latschar’s inappropriate use of his government computer violates DOI policy,” states the memo obtained by The Washington Post. The investigator forwarded the report to Wenk for “whatever actions you deem appropriate.”

Wenk, through a spokesman, called the matter a “personnel issue” and would not comment on whether disciplinary action was taken.

Latschar also declined interview requests. He remains in his $145,000-a-year job.

The memo said that Latschar signed a sworn statement acknowledging “that he had viewed inappropriate pictures on his government computer during work hours” and that “he was aware of his wrongdoing while he was doing it.”

The inappropriate use of office computers to view pornography has surfaced at other government agencies, including earlier this year at the National Science Foundation, where an inspector general’s report led to several reprimands and the suspension of six employees. In one case, a “senior official” spent up to 20 percent of his working hours over a two-year period viewing the images, the report said.

Franklin Silbey, a former congressional investigator and Civil War preservationist, said the findings on Latschar are almost certain to inflame criticism of the superintendent, who is a popular and polarizing figure in the park system.

“People are aghast at their public findings. To learn, in addition, that they found this kind of unethical conduct and did not disclose it is inexcusable,” he said.

The investigation was triggered by 17 allegations of ethical and criminal misconduct by Latschar — largely in relation to his dealings with the Gettysburg Foundation, which operates a new visitors center and park that opened in spring 2008.

Latschar helped to create the private foundation and became well known in the park system for designing and promoting a public-private model that promised to infuse the cash-starved park with money it needed to build the new center.

The inspector general’s investigation noted that Latschar said the construction project would be funded by the foundation and that no taxpayer money would be used. However, as the price tag jumped from $39.3 million to $135 million, $35 million in public financing was ultimately needed to finish construction, records show.

The report also said that Latschar planned late last year to leave his job as superintendent to take a $245,000-a-year job as the foundation’s president.

An internal Jan. 26, 2009, memo, obtained by The Post, shows that during the course of the inspector general’s investigation, department ethics officials stepped in, pointing out several legal obstacles Latschar would face. The memo says post-government employment laws would prohibit him from performing many job duties, including “any communication to or appearance before an employee of the United States.”

As a result, Latschar dropped his planned job move, records show.

Investigators made no determination in the public report about whether Latschar’s conduct was improper or unethical. Kris Kolesnik, an Inspector General’s Office spokesman, said investigators are prohibited from drawing conclusions and that they must lay out facts, point by point. Kolesnik added that it is up to the department to “draw the conclusions.” Kendall declined interview requests.

The Inspector General’s Office would not comment on why the findings of Latschar’s improper use of his office computer were omitted from the report.

Several critics of Latschar’s said they were upset about the inspector general’s omissions from the report but are more concerned that the Park Service has not explained whether it will take any disciplinary action against the superintendent for cost overruns, his relationship with the foundation and the latest revelations about his computer use.

“It’s disturbing, but the inspector general looks for criminal activity, not indecency,” said Eric Uberman, whose family has owned a Gettysburg wax museum of Civil War figures since 1962. “The Park Service will not hold him accountable.”

Unfortunately, I think Eric Uberman is correct. This guy should have been fired for his little conflict of interest, and now this. In the private sector, he would have been escorted out of the building by an armed guard with instructions to never set foot in the place again. I cannot, for the life of me, understand why that didn’t happen here.

Latschar needs to go, as he has absolutely no remaining credibility whatsoever.

Scridb filter

Comments

  1. Chris Evans
    Mon 19th Oct 2009 at 9:13 pm

    Good grief. He really does need to be removed. This is astounding. He should not be in charge at Gettysburg any longer.
    Thanks for the incredible info,
    Chris

  2. Mon 19th Oct 2009 at 10:20 pm

    How many of us decent folks would love to have this guy’s authority, influence and position? What a privilege this guy had and absolutely blew it!

  3. Andrew
    Mon 19th Oct 2009 at 11:02 pm

    This simply proves what many who work with the man have known for years…he is simply an arrogant s.o.b. He is so full of himself that he believes that is is untouchable. And the sad thing is…he is probably right. Mr. Teflon will slide again. Then Sec. of Interior Dick Kempthorne called Latschar a “national treasure” when the new museum opened in the fall of 2008. Latschar will simply get a slap on the wrist (behind closed doors) and nothing more. He should be so ashamed of his sick behavior that he wouldn’t want to show his face. Instead he will continue merrily along as if nothing happened (because he is conceited enough to think he probably did not wrong). Sick, sick, sick and disgusting!!

  4. James F. Epperson
    Tue 20th Oct 2009 at 9:45 am

    Let me begin by saying I know where I am posting . I know Eric is not a fan of Latscher (to be polite about it), and I suspect many (most?) of Eric’s posters hold similar views. My purpose is not to defend Latscher so much as to point out we don’t know enough to condemn him, unless, of course, we are pre-disposed to condemn him.

    There are two issues here:

    (1) Inappropriate use of DOI/NPS computers: It is certainly true that most employers have rules about personal use of company computers. It is also true that, in many cases, there are clauses in the employee handbook that allow for some “minimal” personal use. True story: About 15 years ago, when I was teaching in Alabama, a couple of neo-Confederate yahoos threatened to report me to my employer for my use of university computers to post on CW newsgroups. I was concerned enough that I went to the Office of the Counsel to get an opinion and was told not to worry—this kind of clause was used as an excuse to get rid of folks who were not doing their job. If anyone was concerned, I’d be told to cut back before I would be fired.

    (2) Porn: Pardon the pun, but there is a lot of wiggle room here. Was he downloading images from the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue? From Playboy’s website? Or something more hard-core? It does make a difference—the first two don’t bother me at all, the last one does.

    Now, the “combination effect” is in play here; IOW, lots of employers ignore personal web-surfing, etc., until one hits porn sites. That is a “third rail” kind of thing in many places. So, again, the details matter: What was he looking at? I don’t know, and I have seen no details of this sort.

    Just offered as a contrarian opinion .

  5. Dennis Lawrence
    Tue 20th Oct 2009 at 5:23 pm

    Hello, Eric,

    You know I agree with you on most things, but I do disagree with your take on this.

    Human frailty is universally recognized condition, but having it exposed to everyone for comment and ridicule has to be excruciating. For that person and those around you.

    If Dr. Latschar has violated any policy he should face the same
    discipline any other member of his organization faces by those who
    have a full understanding of the facts and in accordance with the
    policy for actions.

    Whatever damage these charges do to his personal and professional
    position, he has served as an admirable steward of the field.

    He has my continued support.

    Take Care

    Dennis

  6. Chris Evans
    Tue 20th Oct 2009 at 5:48 pm

    Yes, but did he really have to observe these controversial things on a government computer? He could have observed them at his own home on his personal computer and he would not be risking trouble by using government property. He deserves to be punished if he was at work looking at these sites.
    Chris

  7. Tue 20th Oct 2009 at 8:42 pm

    Dennis,

    That is, of course, your privilege. However, once the truth comes out about what they found on that computer, I doubt you will continue to support him. I know what they found, and it’s bad. Really bad. As bad as it gets.

    And it speaks volumes for the man’s lack of character.

    Eric

  8. James F. Epperson
    Tue 20th Oct 2009 at 8:47 pm

    So, why so mysterious, Eric? If you know, tell us. And how do you know?

  9. Tue 20th Oct 2009 at 8:50 pm

    Jim,

    I can’t answer your questions, because if I do, I will violate a trust. I was trusted with the information, and I also promised to keep it to myself.

    When the time is right, it will all come out.

    Eric

  10. Guy Incognito
    Tue 20th Oct 2009 at 9:20 pm

    Mr. Wittenberg,

    First let me state that I am a fan of your books and will continue to read them. Secondly I admittedly know very little of this story beyond what I just read above. I have no opinion on Mr. Latschar (other to state that I was quite impressed with the new visitor center on a recent visit to Gettysburg), but I know nothing with regards to any allegations or your history with him.

    Porn addiction is just that an addiction that very often destroys lives and families. His downloading porn at work is a self destructive act. I appreciate that the DoI apears to be handling the situation as such. There are measures that employers can take to deny access to sites, to monitor his internet use to assure and protect his coworkers. He should also get counseling for his behavior. Dr. Latschar I am sure is suffering severe pain over his situation. He should be pitied for his affliction.

    Certainly if his actions went beyond downloading porn to criminal behavior, more severe penalties should apply.

    Regards

    Guy Incognito

  11. Tue 20th Oct 2009 at 9:37 pm

    Poster,

    I appreciate the comment. However, I have only a handful of rules for this site. One of the primary ones, repeated often, is that I don’t permit anonymous comments. Your attempt to circumvent that rule is noted. I think it a real shame that you felt you had to hide behind a made-up name like this, and if it happens again, your posting privileges will be revoked.

    To address the substance of your point. I agree with you down the line. There is no doubt that he needs counseling for the situation. That, however, begs the question. I want to know why the NPS has not terminated his employment for using a government computer on taxpayer time, using taxpayer-funded Internet access to fuel his addiction. From where I sit, THAT is the real issue. I could care less if he thinks buggering goats is sexy so long as it’s not being done on taxpayer time.

    Eric

  12. Guy Incognito
    Tue 20th Oct 2009 at 9:46 pm

    Hey maybe my parents had a sense of humor!

    ok for the record the name is Paul Kenny

    If you are going to fire every person who uses work computers for personal purposes, than I would imagine better than half the workers in the country would be out of work.

    We dont have all the facts. If this is his first offense (and not tied into additional behavior), than I would say that he is entitled an opportunity to rectify his behavior.

    Regards

    Paul Kenny

  13. Tue 20th Oct 2009 at 9:51 pm

    Paul,

    Thank you for coming forward with your real name. I appreciate it, and I welcome you to the site.

    I agree–almost everyone has used their work computers for personal usage, me included. Having said that, though, 3400 pornographic images is a LOT, and it suggests that a great deal of time was spent downloading them. That’s really my issue.

    Eric

  14. Guy Incognito
    Tue 20th Oct 2009 at 9:53 pm

    well it depends 3400 over say 5 years of work, really isnt that many (point and click doesnt take much effort). Porn is insidious and the internet makes it extremely accessible. Employers can and should take appropriate measures to prevent access.

    Regards

    Paul

  15. Chris Van Blargan
    Tue 20th Oct 2009 at 10:09 pm

    Eric,

    Setting aside the issue of character, I find this shocking in a half dozen ways. Like you, I am wondering how many witness trees might have been saved, and how many flank markers not paved over, had Mr. Latschar been doing his actual job at work. But more shocking: hasn’t the DOI heard of internet filters? It’s bad enough if Mr. Latcher’s secretary is playing Free Cell all day, but you would think the DOI would have at least put something in place to block porn downloads.

    Chris

  16. Tue 20th Oct 2009 at 10:16 pm

    Chris,

    My point precisely. Like I said, he can fantasize about buggering goats all day long, and surf for goat porn all he wants, but not on taxpayer time.

    Eric

  17. Tue 20th Oct 2009 at 10:51 pm

    Too many people are giving this guy a pass. It doesn’t matter how many images he downloaded at work. One pornographic image is too much! And the “everybody does it” argument that some on the web are using is a lame excuse. There are rules and standards and what is considered to be decent behavior in the workplace (especially at govt. sites). Porn is porn. It’s not relative. If you willingly break these rules on the clock, you should suffer the consequences whether you have 1000 pics on your system or 1. And it doesn’t matter what else he did that was positive. This incident reveals a serious dent in this guy’s character. Wrong is wrong. Period.

  18. Tue 20th Oct 2009 at 10:52 pm

    And I’d also like to add that it is NOT the employer’s responsibility to protect their employees from themselves. It’s the employees responsibility to follow the rules.

  19. Tom Clemens
    Tue 20th Oct 2009 at 11:04 pm

    The problem is that Latshar is in a position of trust, supervising dozens of employees, writing evaluations, recommending promotions and dismissals. He, above all others at Gettysburg NMP, needs to obey the NPS rules, and he didn’t. Doesn’t matter over how many years, what sort of porn, etc. He is supposed to be a role model and he had the arrogance or the stupidity to mis-use government property and cheat tax-payers of his time and energy. I could be fired for doing what did and he should be, or better yet, do the right thing and resign.

  20. James F. Epperson
    Wed 21st Oct 2009 at 8:06 am

    Well, I was certainly right about the general audience here!

    Having seen the actual text of the DoI/NPS (not sure which) regulations on private use of computers—which is, not surprisingly, very strict compared to (just as an example) the corresponding statement from my employer—he’s potentially in trouble. One wonders why this was not made a bigger issue, in fact. It is possible to speculate ad nauseum as to why, but that is mostly a meaningless exercise until more information comes out.

    I’ll go back to my original post, though. If (big if, I know, and Eric has hinted this is not the case) all he was doing was looking at the Playboy web site, then IMO this is embarrassing but should have minimal professional consequences.

    The technology exists for the IT folks to configure the computers to restrict access to certain kinds of sites. One wonders why this wasn’t done as a matter of routine.

  21. J. Avalon
    Wed 21st Oct 2009 at 9:37 am

    I’m sure that to some the ” type” of explicit pictures is important morally, but the violation here is clear-cut regardless. Unfortunately, prescribed punishment is vague and overly broad. Seems to me that this violates two sections of the Department of Interior manual.

    Section 2.6 subsection A: Employees are strictly prohibited from using Government office equipment, at any time, for activities that are illegal (e.g., gambling (5 CFR 735.201)), inappropriate, or offensive to co-workers or the public, such as the use of sexually explicit or discriminatory material or communication that ridicules others on the basis of race, creed, religion, color, gender, disability, age, national origin or sexual orientation.

    Section 2.6 subsection I: Employees are prohibited from installing personally-owned software (including tax preparation programs, computer games) on Government machines. Employees may not, for personal purposes, download, copy, or store any files or programs on Government servers, hard drives, or share drives. Supervisors may approve the storage of small files such as, screensavers, backgrounds, etc., by their employees.

    As for punishment, as I said very broad. :

    2.8 Penalties. Disciplinary action for non-compliance with the policy in this chapter will be administered in accordance with Departmental personnel policies and the DOI’s Personnel Handbook on Charges and Penalty Selection for Disciplinary and Adverse Actions. While supervisors generally should attempt to select the least severe penalty they believe necessary to correct the misconduct and to discourage repetition, supervisors retain full authority to set penalties, as they deem appropriate, based on the particular circumstances and specifications of the offense. Corrective action covers a full range of remedies, which may include oral and/or written warnings or reprimands, suspension without pay, or removal from Federal service. In the case of a serious offense where a formal action may be taken, supervisors should consult with their Human Resources office immediately.

  22. Ralph Hitchens
    Wed 21st Oct 2009 at 9:37 am

    Dealing with federal employee misconduct is tricky, and all too many of them are quick to file a grievance or lawsuit, either of which is extraordinarily hard for upper management to deal with. One reason is that too few of the latter do a good job of “keeping book” on miscreant employees, so it’s hard to establish a clear-cut case. In this instance the pornography alone ought to have been enough to justify a suspension or demotion. What I found striking in my federal career, however, is how amazingly timorous senior fed managers can be in these situations. Sort of like most Union generals when confronted by Bobby Lee.

  23. James F. Epperson
    Wed 21st Oct 2009 at 10:06 am

    “While supervisors generally should attempt to select the least severe penalty they believe necessary to correct the misconduct and to discourage repetition…” I’m almost surprised this is an option. According to this (thanks, Joe), it is entirely likely he will keep his job, almost regardless of what he was looking at. The possibility of removal exists, of course, but this language suggests that a reprimand + promise of not doing it again + “you will be fired if you repeat this” might be the end of it.

  24. Andrew
    Wed 21st Oct 2009 at 3:02 pm

    Latschar has no plans of resigning or retiring. At a staff meeting yesterday morning, he told his employees of his actions, admited he was wrong, apologized, stated that he had already been reprimanded (what that was he didn’t say) and hoped that all of them would still be willing TO WORK WITH HIM IN THE FUTURE.

  25. Raffi
    Wed 21st Oct 2009 at 8:05 pm

    Eric,

    You need something better to do with your time other than constantly attack people on here. I sure hope you’re not using work time or other work resources to do any of this, whether actually posting or spending time formulating a response which you later post. If you (hopefully) do indeed not use work time, then I see that you are not really that busy with work, which shows me that you’re not nearly as busy as Dr. Latschar is with his major projects that have huge impacts and define the field — perhaps you should spend more time doing that within your own field?

    I have read your books, I know you try to have an impact that way, so before you say that to me, let me assure you that Dr. Latschar’s influence on people’s understanding of the war is far greater than books (without offense to your books), especially because his initiatives are more likely to gain NEW Civil War students (as opposed to books that cater to those already interested). As you say yourself on your website, Eric Wittenberg “made his first trip to the Gettysburg battlefield as a third-grader. By the end of that trip, he was fully hooked on the Civil War.” So your books and your exposure and profits are from a good visitor experience at Gettysburg that gained a new student of the war.

    In general, while Latschar is by no means perfect, people need to relax with the magnifying glasses and trying to knit-pick at everything as if he should be perfect — he’s a human being, he makes mistakes like everyone else. In this case, he’s an adult, so I really don’t care what he did on his computer — not like he put the park or its mission at risk by looking at some pictures.

    I’d like to know how many of those who are loudly criticizing him for viewing pictures have behaved perfectly within the guidelines of their own work places; and at the same time, I’d like to know how many of those same critics have accomplished as much as Dr. Latschar within their own fields/careers.

    Within the government world, I am curious to see how many people have never violated the government computer policy; what Dr. Latschar did is no different. The fact that it was sexual pictures just makes the story juicier, otherwise it wouldn’t be news if he, say, checked his personal email — but the way I see it, since he’s an adult, it really doesn’t matter what the violation is (sex or not), unless it’s a violation that either breaks laws (e.g. dealing drugs online) or hinders the mission of Gettysburg National Military Park or the larger National Park Service (e.g. using the computer to do real estate with historic land).

    Again, I do not say that what he did is right. I just mean that his crime is being blown way out of proportion — by people who frankly have no right to talk trash at all.

    The scrutiny is my point: that it’s unrealistic to expect someone to be perfect, and to get hung up on something that does not in any significant way affect the mission of GNMP or the NPS. Yet, it seems to draw more attention than is proportionate to how it affects the said mission.

    Moreover, the reason GNMP is put in the embarrassing situation is because of this ridiculous scrutiny trying to tear him down. This whole thing began with the anti-Foundation people complaining their heads off about Wilburn, then still complaining when Dr. Latschar was to follow him, so then this led to the investigation wasting the government’s dollar and time — and this turns out incidentally. So in other words, again, while what he did isn’t right, it’s taking up way more resources and attention than is proportionate to the crime and to the mission of GNMP.

    The reason for this is because there are a lot of people in glass houses casting stones — but they just don’t have the scrutiny or oversight to get embarrassed in return.

    I’ll add that how is it different for him to look at these pictures than for others to check personal email on government computers (or wherever it is they work)? Both are legal for adults, and both violate government computer policy. The difference is the scrutiny; the difference is expecting someone to be divinely perfect. The similarity is that ultimately neither detracts significantly from the mission of the NPS at Gettysburg.

    The people in glass houses stand around and mud-sling and overemphasize an insignificant part of his job (as far as affecting the purpose, goal, and mission of the park) in order to tear down and take away from the infinitely more significant (as far as affecting the purpose, goal, and mission of the park) decisions he made and followed through. Let’s not forget the 10 years of bonus funding he managed from Congress too, besides all his preservation work initiatives, the Foundation partnership and visitor center, and so on. These things are not only as important as they obviously seem for the history of the place, but they also help keep us around, which makes visitors have a better experience, which means they return and are more likely to be excited about the place, which means that they are more aware and willing to contribute to its preservation, which means they are more likely to be more aware of battlefields they bulldoze in their own backyard — which ultimately also helps keep historians (public, private, or academic) in jobs — which then helps the perpetuation of the history of the place.

    Yeah, it’s that big. And to get caught up in the pictures (which again do nothing to affect this mission) is nothing other than narrow-minded (envious?) mud-slinging by those who likely have violated policies (not laws) at their own work places and who by the same token likely never have had as much of an impact within their own fields.

    Until these people do so, hope to see y’all on the battlefield, enjoying it with me thanks to the efforts of Dr. Latschar.

    Finally, in the military when something happens like this there would have been what is called non-judicial punishment imposed. Somebody broke the rules and now they are going to be punished but it is not something that is made public, (it is done behind closed doors). The reason why it is done behind closed doors is because you still want to keep this person around because they have done a good job and you believe they will continue to do a good job. You are trying to correct improper behavior. You don’t want to permanently do anything to their reputation that would impede them from continuing to do their job. Apparently the NPS has something like that and punishment was imposed, (I don’t know what and it’s not my business to know), and it wasn’t made made public nor should it have been. When I first read the article I wondered why Eric Uberman was quoted. He has nothing to do with this or the NPS but he has lot to do with opposing GNMP practices and policies over the years. I have a feeling that he may have used the FOIA to dig for some dirt and found something that would have not normally been made public to try to damage Latscher’s reputation, (which has most certainly been done), either to get rid of him or at the very least discredit him in the eyes of the public. Of course, this is all speculation.

    But for you to claim he loses ALL credibility is losing perspective on what he has done in fulfilling the MISSION of the National Park Service. Get a grip, my friend.

  26. Raffi
    Wed 21st Oct 2009 at 8:11 pm

    One more thing Eric. You may be unhappy he did this on taxpayer time, but don’t forget all the unrecorded overtime hours he puts in also in trying to manage such large projects. Moreover, I disagree with your claim that, “In the private sector, he would have been escorted out of the building by an armed guard with instructions to never set foot in the place again.” I think it depends entirely on the business; I certainly would say though that your are exaggerating by assuming that an armed guard would be there every time this sort of thing happens. Seriously, for your own credibility, try to be more rational instead of using huge over-the-top blanket assumptions. In history and in law, your claim there is what’s called a counter-factual, because you do not have the facts to back up your claim of what would have happened (i.e. a “what if” question) if the contingencies were different.

  27. Wed 21st Oct 2009 at 8:50 pm

    Raffi,

    I appreciate your taking the time to post. I agree with a lot of what you say, and as much as I dislike John Latschar–I have my reasons, which I won’t bore you with–I have never once said that he is not entitled to credit for the good things that have happened under his watch. He gets full credit for the tree cutting program, which has transformed the battlefield, and which I have publicly supported here and elsewhere. While I don’t personally care for the new VC–I think there is WAY too much wasted space there–the old one needed to go, and if it required making a deal with the devil to make it happen, then I give him credit for getting it done. I do believe that there was a major conflict of interest associated with his attempt to go work for the Foundation that disturbed me a great deal (as a lawyer, I tend to be especially sensitive to conflict of interest situations), and I called him out on it here. Having said that, though, the man deserves a great deal of credit for the accomplishments that have occurred on his watch.

    At the same time, I hope you can and will agree with me that he is a terribly polarizing person. People either love him or hate him. Many think he has cloven hooves.

    As for me, I am self-employed, and I use my own computer. If I am wasting anyone’s time in posting to my blog, it’s my own. If I am using resources to do so, they are my own.

    His actions were done on taxpayer time, using a taxpayer-owned computer, taking advantage of taxpayer funded Internet access. 3400 images are a lot, and it cannot have taken an insignificant amount of time to download them. If it were done at his home on his time and his own computer, I wouldn’t give a damn. What people do in the privacy of their own homes is their business and nobody else’s. However, he didn’t do this in the privacy of his own home, and therein lies the difficulty.

    How many witness trees might have been saved if he had been doing his job? How many damaged monuments might have been repaired? Or could it have taken less time than it did to get the obscenities cleaned off the Peace Light?

    Eric

  28. Raffi
    Wed 21st Oct 2009 at 9:26 pm

    Eric,

    This is a much more sober and respectable response. My problem is with your more extreme comments about losing all credibility (such an absolute statement fails to acknowledge the positives you just mentioned yourself) and about the guards escorting him (big assumption and blanket statement).

    Now to address your point you just made: I agree with you that what Latschar did is not right, and should be punished properly. However, where I disagree is the amount of attention it deserves (especially considering I think there is some serious mud-sling going on, Eric Uberman? What does he have to do with this?), and that it takes away significantly from the larger mission of the park. Though I see your point about the time it takes for 3400 images, I don’t see the direct connection to how he would directly affect the trees or monuments you refer to by saving the time from the images; once the orders from him are given, its up to his staff to do the work (even if Latschar is looking at images in the meanwhile, haha). As for the Peace Light, I believe the problem was the harshness of the chemicals used and the excessively wet season; trust me, the GNMP folks care greatly for that monument, and they certainly don’t want it to stay vandalized — I think we can all agree that they do indeed care for it and are not somehow trying to denigrate it.

    As for your own time being used for this, my second point in that same paragraph was that Latschar doesn’t have time for the kind of stuff we’re doing here because he’s so busy shaping his field. This ties to another point I made, which is that let’s consider the unrecorded overtime hours he has put in to these projects and the personal toll this has taken on him for over a decade, and the sometimes absurd attacks over the years — none of which he is compensated for, and perhaps this can help us reconcile the difference in time he was paid for surfing the pictures. As for taxpayer funded internet access: that money is paid anyway for access, his picture surfing in no way increases the cost of that internet access.

    I hope this addresses the points you made above in some respectable fashion. Ultimately, as you probably gathered from my first post, I think the attention on this is greater that the proportion of the crime and greater than the proportion of affecting the mission of the NPS (as even you seem to suggest the difference in scale in your response to me). Finally, this has the stench of a slander campaign, for the reasons I articulated in my previous 2 posts — hence the possible explanation of why this is being blown out further than it should be in context to affecting the NPS mission and his job evaluation according to the job description of the Superintendent — I also think this is news because it’s like juicy gossip, because accessing personal email on government time would likely not be on the news (or at least attract this much attention), but sex pictures do, even though both crimes are a violation of the same policy.

    Do my points at least make some sense?

  29. Wed 21st Oct 2009 at 9:42 pm

    Raffi,

    Yes, you do make sense. I actually will engage in dialogue with anyone who treats me with some common courtesy–I have only two rules for this blog, which are no anonymous comments and I don’t permit people to insult me on my own blog–which you have done, in spite of your very nasty and unpleasant last comment on Kevin Levin’s blog. That Lizzie person–someone I have never heard of before tonight–elected to launch some really vicious attacks on me, and I simply choose not to indulge that, because responding would reward the conduct.

    For some people, it may be a slander campaign. It’s not for me. I actually do have information that I will disclose in the next few days once I am freed from my promise not to disclose that information yet.

    As I said, I have my own reasons for disliking him. Again, I won’t bore you with the details other than to tell you that there are only two unforgivable sins in my world: lying to me and wasting my time, and he has done both. Nobody ever gets a second chance to do either. So, yes, I come at the situation with an obvious and admitted bias. I’ve never denied it.

    Again, I hope you can agree with me that he is a very polarizing person. What seems clear to me is that there are only strong opinions where Dr. Latschar is concerned; nobody seems to be wishy-washy or indifferent with respect to him. Part of that is a result of his perceived arrogance–whether he is indeed arrogant is irrelevant, as it’s the perceptions that matter here–and perceived tendency to bully to get his way. There are a number of people who have communicated to me privately that they view this as karma coming back around to him. I don’t know.

    What I do know is that when one puts oneself out there as a lightning rod, one will take the resulting lightning strikes, and I tend to think that that’s what’s gone on here.

    And, to be clear, my comments about lack of progress on some things, such as cleaning the Peace Light, is not intended to be a slam on the hard-working good people who work for GNMP.

    Eric

  30. Wed 21st Oct 2009 at 9:45 pm

    Raffi,

    One other thing I had meant to mention, but forgot….

    I try cases for a living. It’s what I do, and it’s what I am. A classic litigator’s tool is hyperbole, and a classic tool for arguing to a jury is to overstate your case. I acknowledge that I have done so here to some extent, but it was for a purpose.

    Eric

  31. Raffi
    Wed 21st Oct 2009 at 10:06 pm

    Eric,

    You make some fair points.

    I think by now it’s clear what we each think, and this disagreement is perfectly fine by me, and I respect the discussion. I do not like the hyperbole attacks, however, and I appreciate you at least acknowledging that you used it. I think though it can be used for a purpose in court, in our discussion it can lose the context of the issue at hand, and possibly hurt the credibility of the person making the claim due to unnecessarily extreme and unsupportable comments.

    I agree that Latschar is a polarizing person. As much as I think he has accomplished a great deal in many aspects, I think his weakest point has been the PR side of things. On this, I try to give him some slack, given sometimes how far his critics go (I’m sure you agree that at least sometimes his critics go way too far in making attacks that are entirely based on speculation and hype). So I think it’s important generally to decipher if an issue that arises is a PR mistake or a more substantive violation. This doesn’t apply in this case, but I am making this as a general comment in regard to your point about the polarization. Also worth considering is that generally those who take on bold initiatives and “rock the boat” so to speak are going to automatically be polarizing, despite even good PR skills, because a lot of people don’t like things changing so quickly. Of course Uberman is unhappy, he has been since his business got hurt due to the VC moving — frankly he cares less about the battlefield (i.e. the VC move) than he does about his own pockets from a phony wax museum. So, my point is, to some extent bold initiatives will inevitably be polarizing. I think the tree cutting opposition by many locals (because they lost their favorite picnic spot) also points to the bold initiatives inevitably polarizing people, despite the PR.

    My final comment on Levin’s blog was not so much to slander you as much as it was to show what I perceived to be an entirely unsubstantiated claim. In other words, I did that to make a point in revealing what I thought to be a bit underhanded and not backed up — it was not intended at the person (you) as much as the person’s argument (your claim).

    So, I apologize if it came off as a personal attack.

    Raffi

  32. Raffi
    Wed 21st Oct 2009 at 10:12 pm

    One more thing I’ll add is that though you are self-employed, I guess one can argue that “imagine how many more cases you can argue and how many more people you can therefore help if you were taking more time to do that instead of posting so much on here.” I’m not saying that’s necessarily right, but my point is that we should be careful in our evaluations to be consistent. Again, of course what Latschar did is not right, and he should pay the price for it with the prescribed punishment, but the public reaction to it should be tempered by considering that nobody is perfect — people do make mistakes. And nobody is a work machine, we’re human beings! :-)

  33. Wed 21st Oct 2009 at 10:15 pm

    Raffi,

    Apology accepted. Let us speak no more of it.

    You are correct that discussion is good. I learn from it, and I’m not beyond being persuaded to change my positions on things. As I said, I have my own personal axe to grind, and that unquestionably plays into my perception of the situation. Rational dialogue like this helps. Had that Lizzie person approached me differently, I would have answered her concerns, but I wasn’t about to reward her rudeness by doing so.

    You are also correct about Uberman, and I think you’re right about his weakness in the PR area. That comes back to my point, which is that if one wants to be a lightning rod, one had best be prepared to take those lightning strikes when they come.

    One final point that I will make: the one thing that continues to nag me about this situation is to ask the question of whether Dr. Latschar got special treatment or a weaker punishment because of his position as park superintendent. Had this been someone else lower on the food chain, I can’t help but wonder if he or she wouldn’t have gotten fired. I obviously don’t know, since nobody has said what the disciplinary action was, but I think that it is a fair concern.

    Eric

  34. Wed 21st Oct 2009 at 10:17 pm

    Raffi,

    For sure, and I concede your point. I only do this stuff during the day time to take a break–I have a pretty bad case of ADD and need distractions to be able to focus–or if I don’t have something else to do. Obviously, the clients’ needs have to come first, and I don’t lose sight of that. I can only hope that Dr. Latschar approached the situation from the same perspective.

    One other thing that is playing in here. Recently, on the Gettysburg Discussion Group, there was some mention that Dr. Latschar had fired a pregnant female employee for blogging on company time. I have no personal knowledge of that, but if it’s true, I hope you can agree with me that it would certainly smack of irony at the very least and perhaps even of hypocrisy if it is true and he didn’t suffer the same fate.

    Eric

  35. Lizzie
    Wed 21st Oct 2009 at 10:46 pm

    Mr. Wittenberg,

    I wanted to apologize to you for the way I attacked you personally on Kevin Levin’s blog. It was uncalled for and incredibly inappropriate. I suppose some of your comments ignited a fury that prevented me from thinking before speaking (or writing, if you will).

    Though I still do not agree with some of what you say, I myself should have approached and responded to your comments as a mature adult instead of the way that I did. And I am very sorry for that.

    Best,
    Lizzie

  36. Wed 21st Oct 2009 at 10:53 pm

    Lizzie,

    Apology accepted. The reason why I elected not to respond to you is that doing so would have rewarded the behavior, and that was the last thing I wanted to do.

    If you read the comments above yours, I believe that you will find that I have engaged in a very calm, rational, and productive dialogue with Raffi. Had you approached me the same way, I would have responded to you. Let’s speak no more of it and move on.

    If you read the dialogue with Raffi, I believe you will find that I have answered some of your questions there. If there’s anything else you want to know, please ask. Please know, though, that I have to be up way too early tomorrow morning and am about to shut down and go upstairs to watch the rest of my beloved Philadelphia Phillies’ game with the Dodgers. Consequently, that means it’s unlikely that you will get a response from me before tomorrow. I regret that, and if I didn’t have to be out of the house by 6:45 tomorrow morning, I would probably respond yet tonight. I trust that you understand.

    Eric

  37. Raffi
    Wed 21st Oct 2009 at 11:12 pm

    Eric,

    I agree with you that it would be pretty bad if the pregnant female blogger story is true. But my initial reaction is to say that is just an invented rumor. I have a few reasons for this:

    1) I don’t think the Superintendent has the power to fire somebody that easily. Permanent federal government employees have very strong job security, and to fire them is very difficult, and especially risky with the threat of a discrimination suit (particularly if regarding a pregnant female).

    2) It seems to me that Latschar is more focused on meeting with Congressmen and other leaders, and focused on projects and initiatives rather than closely supervising employees who are not his immediate supervisees. I’m sure others have been found to do improper things on company time, and paid the price for it, and that price likely did not include losing a job — I don’t see how, for example, checking personal email or reading ESPN is different than blogging, so why should the latter warrant firing more so than the former two behaviors? Plus, what they do on the computer has to do with the person in charge of granting technology access and that person is who monitors and takes subsequent disciplinary actions. So in sum, for my point #2: it’s not really Latschar’s place nor immediate concern.

    3) The story even sounds like a sap story to get a reaction of “HOW COULD HE DO THAT?!” sort of thing since the person involved in blogging is such a perceived vulnerable person as a pregnant woman. Note that the pregnancy of the woman has nothing to do with being fired for blogging, so why is the pregnant part relevant in the story? My guess is to get the precise reaction I just described. Ultimately, this can play into the perception of Latschar as cold-hearted and inhuman in some sense.

    4) I question how this person on the discussion group could have such knowledge.

    Given your position, I’m sure you know plenty of folks who work at GNMP. Ask them if there is any truth to this story. This certainly is the first I have ever heard of it. It reminds me of the random accusations once that Latschar’s new pool (or tub or whatever it was) was paid for by federal funds instead of his paycheck — just because some people saw it in his yard. Some of the irrational critics just make stuff up, unfortunately.

    Raffi

  38. Thu 22nd Oct 2009 at 6:44 am

    The truth came out in today’s Hanover Sun newspaper. They found evidence of bestiality and group sex, among other things, on the computer. I had been sitting on that, waiting for permission to discuss it. As of Monday, he has been removed as superintendent.

    I think that’s a fitting punishment and see nothing further to discuss about this.

  39. Raffi
    Thu 22nd Oct 2009 at 8:12 am

    Interesting, thanks for pointing that out since I was not aware. Obviously that’s not right, but I don’t see why the type of sexual pictures he looked at affects the degree of the violation of the policy (groups sex or bestiality or whatever else, the violation remains the same) — though certainly the type of pictures seen affects the image of the NPS. So whatever the appropriate level of punishment may be for viewing sexually explicit images, I don’t see why it should be influenced by whether he was looking at couple or at a group. The only proper justification it based on the image of the NPS rather than the actual concrete violation, the way I see it.

    Still, it doesn’t mean the pregnant lady blogger claim is true, so I don’t think this new development affect the point of my last post.

    Neither of these points are meant to disagree with your last post, just a couple final thoughts on my mind.

  40. Chris
    Thu 22nd Oct 2009 at 8:35 am

    Raffi,

    Several times, you have attempted to disassociate the content of the downloads from DOI computer use restrictions, stating that the content just makes the story “spicier.” Like Eric, I could care less what he does at home. But I have to assume you have not litigated sexual harassment suits, where the employer’s principle lines of defense are: lack of actual or constructive knowledge of harassment or conditions conducive to, or which encourage harassment; implementation of effective anti-harassment policies; and strict enforcement of those policies. The fact that the key administrator at the park engaged in conduct which can be portrayed as conducive to, or encouraging harassment, derails the first defense. And if the DOI failed to enforce a zero tolerance policy just because of Latschar’s standing, such selective enforcement should be enough to allow plaintiffs in future suits to avoid summary judgment and increase, which would increase the DOI’s liability potential exposure exponentially.

    Chris

  41. Raffi
    Thu 22nd Oct 2009 at 8:56 am

    Chris,

    I respect your opinion, but I want to make clear I never said I support selective punishment. I am simply trying to go by the letter of the law, so to speak, in order to say that the violation of the rule is the violation of the rule, regardless of the actual content of the violation. With that in mind, as far as I know, nobody has been fired for personal viewing on government computers (whether on government time or during lunch hours), and I do know a couple people who have been reprimanded for such a violation (without losing their jobs). As I said above, the pregnant lady story has no reason to be believed at this point — and it has the stench of falsehood to me. Also to address your point, I don’t think sexual harassment applies here, because we are not talking about a victim and the affects on the victim based on the degree of sexual harassment.

    Your distinction is a good one insofar as the image of the NPS is concerned, as I just said above. But as far as the degree of violation, I think whether he is looking at single women or couples, animals or groups, the violation of looking at porn is the violation of looking at porn — at least that was what I said in my last post.

    The earlier point, which you might also be referring to, is that violating computer use policy by looking at personal things on company time is the same, regardless of checking email, checking sports, or checking explicit pictures — again no personal victim is involved. Had he been caught for viewing email or sports, it probably wouldn’t cause the same splash it did — right or wrong, I think this is the case.

    Again, as I said in my last post above, the way I see it, the only solid justification for relieving Latschar because of this is from the image it projects about GNMP — not because of the degree of the violation, because again there is no direct victim so there is no degree of harm measurable, besides measuring the violation of the rule, which is the same rule and the same violation regardless of exactly what you look at (or, assuming that one looks at pornography, certainly the same violation regardless of the TYPE of legal pornography the person looks at).

    Finally, recall that as even Eric suggested in one of the recent responses, lawyer’s tactics don’t always apply to this type of discussion (i.e. see our discussion on hyperbole).

    I’m pretty tired out, haha, no offense to you Chris, but I think if you look again at the discussion between Eric and I you’ll find the answers to some of your concerns.

    On an unrelated note, I think it’s tragic to see one of the most ambitious leaders in the battlefield’s history to go out this way, but of course such is the case. I hope, for the sake of the treasure that is Gettysburg, the replacement person continues to carry out his projects successfully (i.e. tree cutting, …) and then turns to continuing with the same type of strong initiatives as well as keen ability to secure funding from Congress.

    I enjoyed the discussion gents. I hope this non-lawyer historian put up some worthy points for y’all to consider.

  42. Raffi
    Thu 22nd Oct 2009 at 9:07 am

    p.s. I don’t mean to say the justification based on image (that I articulate above) is one that is not worthy, hence my terms “proper justification” and “solid justification” — to make it clear.

  43. Thu 22nd Oct 2009 at 9:24 am

    Raffi,

    I certainly did appreciate the dialogue and I certainly did appreciate your input.

    Eric

  44. Thu 22nd Oct 2009 at 9:25 am

    For the record, in case anyone cares, my source for this information, which I had been sitting on, is a former employee of the Park Service who was interviewed during the investigation and who also spoke with the WP reporter. It was good, solid information, but I was sworn to keep it to myself until we had a copy of the actual report in hand.

    Now that it’s come out, I can talk about it.

  45. Thu 22nd Oct 2009 at 3:57 pm

    James,
    I have worked in the IT profession supporting mostly government organizations, counting my uniformed time, about twenty years. In short, most of my adult life.

    I appreciate the hypothetical scenarios you have brought forward. Yes, there may be some subjective questions about what is or is not porn, or what is or is not proper use of the equipment.

    However, in the three dozen or so cases that I have been asked to provide evidence for, the government representative (be that HR, an IG, legal, or other) have done their homework. They do NOT offer charges, allegations, or the semblance there of unless they have a clearly, non-refutable mountain of evidence.

    Second, we must abstract this from a man simply indulging in a temptation. His subordinates are subject to the same rule. Some of them have been disciplined due to violations of those same rules. Thus it goes beyond just ethics, but into leadership and fitness thereof.

    Third, I would note that while the NPS is not a place where great national secrets are stored (generally), the network has sensitive data (contracts, personnel information, etc.). And lets face it, the places where the “pictures” such as these are posted are far more likely to have malicious files. And gee…. a park superintendent’s computer is FAR more likely to have the mentioned sensitive data! So this goes to judgment.

    Lastly, can we build some IT solution that blocks all those terrible sites in a work environment? Well yes, and I have on multiple occasions. Then shortly after that, management asks me to roll back the settings due to complaints (I’ve heard Freedom of Speech most often cited in the formal complaints, for what it is worth). It all boils down a simple policy statement and the individual’s integrity when they agree to properly use the equipment. In this case, that integrity is suspect now (if it was not before).

    My opinion, given the evidence presented from news releases and news articles, is this affair erases any good that Mr. Latschar has done for Gettysburg during his watch.

  46. Tom Thompson
    Thu 22nd Oct 2009 at 4:17 pm

    Latest info:

    Following the leak of a federal document that said he spent time at work searching for and viewing sexually explicit material, the 15-year steward of the Gettysburg Battlefield has been reassigned to a desk job within the National Park Service.

    The Inspector General’s investigation that ultimately led to the discovery of the images on Latschar’s computer was prompted by the allegations of an anonymous complainant.

    However, the 24-page report – which explored everything from Latschar’s dealings with the private Gettysburg Foundation to an allegation that he used park money to buy a hot tub – never mentioned the sexually explicit images.

    That’s the way it should have remained, Latschar said. Government policy is to keep such matters private as personnel issues.

    “One of the ironies here is that now it’s public because somebody else violated the … policy,” Latschar said.

    That’s what would have happened, he said, if another Park Service employee had committed the same violations at Gettysburg and if it had been his decision how to handle the situation.

    “We would have protected that employee’s personal life,” he said.

    http://ydr.inyork.com/ci_13616417

    Tom

  47. Raffi
    Thu 22nd Oct 2009 at 4:56 pm

    Craig: embarrassing yes, wrong yes, and all the points you mention are fine in the poor judgment etc. But erasing any good is too far: we are still left with the (incomplete) results of the landscape rehabilitation, we are still left with the visitor center (and the moving of the old one and, hopefully soon, the Cyclorama), and we still benefited from the earmark he secured over a 10-year period. I agree with the issues you point out, but I am simply saying don’t get carried away with saying it “erases” what he did — even if he ends his Superintendent career in shame, it doesn’t change the good things that happened before (just like it doesn’t change the bad things that happened before this too).

    Tom: thanks for the update. Honestly, I think one can easily argue that he should even get to keep a desk job with the NPS. If he violated the policy as Superintendent, he can do so at his new job too. If he did this on company time at GNMP, he can do so at his new desk job too. I suppose it’s possibly because of what I was saying above: the issue is the image it projects (so thus they took him out of the spotlight position), not the violation by itself that warrants a punishment as severe as firing (according to the standard procedure of what happens when somebody uses a government computer for legal personal use). I think he got fired because it went public — which is a fine justification, but a distinction worth making. Funny enough though, Latschar’s comments sound like what I have been saying above — that there was some violation somewhere by this going public (normally this is indeed dealt with within the staff, just like I know my friends to have been while at NPS jobs, though certainly not for porn!). Still, while I think that the public leak should not have happened (based on what I know about the standard procedure), the fact is that it did go public, so we can’t change what has been done — we can only react to what has already been done. Well, given that it has already leaked and it can’t be undone, the proper thing to do for the image of GNMP is indeed to get him out of his position at GNMP (though again I point out, apparently the NPS didn’t kick him off its payrolls for the offense, it just took him out of the position where he represents GNMP, thus suggesting my emphasis of this whole thing being about the image, not the violation per se).

  48. Raffi
    Thu 22nd Oct 2009 at 5:11 pm

    Also worth noting from the Evening Sun story:
    “Latschar said the federal investigators – who seized the superintendent’s hard drive as part of a broader investigation that ultimately exonerated Latschar of other alleged wrongdoings – counted every image that resulted from an Internet search. That includes the bestiality and group-sex images Latschar said he neither sought nor viewed.”

    2 things: the part about exoneration seems to be ignored by some of his fiercest critics and supports some of what I said above about some of the irrational folks, including that questionable pregnant woman story (I am not implying anyone on here is one of them, to be clear)… and second, it is worth considering that it might be true that the bestiality and group sex pictures (and the total number of pictures) can be overplayed by the fact that they are counting search results (which are countless and varied) rather than just what he downloaded. Still that doesn’t justify what he did, but I’m just saying it’s worth the caveat in our minds that perhaps the 3400 number is a bit deceiving (as can the extremeness of the content he viewed) — still the violation is the violation, of course, and the public leak happened and cannot be changed.

  49. J David Petruzzi
    Thu 22nd Oct 2009 at 6:56 pm

    A pregnant Eastern National employee was indeed terminated for blogging during work hours, and her situation was part of the recent investigation into Latschar’s activities. She admitted, however, that Latschar was not part of the termination (at least from her knowledge).

    See the story at the link here:
    http://www.eveningsun.com/ci_13447379?source=most_emailed

  50. Thu 22nd Oct 2009 at 7:13 pm

    Re: >>She [the pregnant employee] admitted, however, that Latschar was not part of the termination (at least from her knowledge).<<

    That's good to hear. Hopefully he won't turn out to be part of the pregnancy.

    dw

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