Entering the Fray: Wounded Warrior Project Appoints New CEO

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June 16, 2016; WJXT-TV (Jacksonville, FL)

It is an old story: a new executive arrives to helm a nonprofit helm only to uncover all the issues so carefully downplayed during the hiring process. But in the case of the Wounded Warrior Project, which has a new CEO after months without one, that discovery process may have already taken place after six months or more of intense scrutiny by the press and Congress.

WWP’s board of directors announced last week that it had appointed Michael Linnington to the CEO position he will assume on July 18th. Linnington’s 35-year military career includes three tours in combat and a stint immediately before this as the director of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, a position he’s held only since 2015.

As NPQ readers know, Wounded Warrior Project’s former chief executive officer, Steven Nardizzi, and chief operating officer, Al Giordano, were asked to leave in March after media reports of lavish spending emerged, causing donors and, eventually, Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) and the Senate Judiciary Committee to take notice. The ouster was meant to start to “restore trust in the organization among all of the constituencies WWP serves.”

The chair of WWP’s board of directors, Anthony Odierno, said of the appointment that “Mike understands the unique needs of our nation’s veteran community, is a collaborative team-builder, and is deeply committed to fulfilling our mission of honoring and empowering Wounded Warriors.”

And while he ramps up for that hard job, as Odierno said, Linnington will have to consider very carefully how that lost trust will be restored. Among the issues that have emerged is the possible misallocation of fundraising costs as program costs in a process called “joint cost allocation.” The numbers given by the organization have varied from time to time, and the Senate Judiciary Committee was not persuaded by WWP’s estimates of the proportion of expenses spent on programs for veterans as late as last month.

“When our wounded veterans return home from combat, they rely on WWP and the organization’s dedicated team to provide necessary physical and mental health services, as well as economic empowerment and engagement programs that make a meaningful impact on their lives, and the lives of their families and caregivers,” said Linnington. “Being part of an organization committed to this important mission is a sacred duty and solemn responsibility.”—Ruth McCambridge

  • Hopefully they can turn their act around. The firings should’ve been just the start. Board members should also be scrutinized for claiming they didn’t know anything. Trust has been broken when there are older veteran service organizations/charities (eg – Disabled American Veterans) who are focused on expanding programs that helped veterans instead of focusing on branding and advertising.

  • The Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) was finally disbanded after an
    avalanche of scandals were exposed by NBC, CBS, Fox News, NPR, the AP, and Stars
    and Stripes. Multiple government investigations then found gross mismanagement
    and a total lack of leadership. The American public and families of our lost
    heroes channeled their anger, frustration, humiliation, and feelings of betrayal
    to demand the immediate removal of those responsible for what the the Chairman
    of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, testified was
    “Disgraceful”.

    Sadly, the government’s idea of the massive reform necessary was a
    superficial name change of the organization and re-shuffling the same poor
    executives and laboratory managers to new desks and titles in a brand new $85
    million dollar building in Hawaii. Even the management planning and construction
    of the new building was so inept that it’s original design contained no phone or
    computer lines and was finally completed without the proper fire suppression
    system for JPAC’s antiquated paper records system, forcing the government’s own
    researchers to travel offsite to do their job. Disgraceful!

    A “new” Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) was created to replace the
    scandal plagued JPAC. The “new” director of DPAA was reportedly involved in
    selecting himself. Did he do this because he had just retired from the military
    and was looking for a new high paying gig? Ethically, does this inbred
    selection pass the smell test with any tax paying citizen or does it just
    stink? Disgraceful!

    The “new director” simply reassigned the previous JPAC Scientific Director
    to be in charge of “partnering with private groups”, which was announced as
    vitally important “to help reinvigorate a troubled POW-MIA accounting mission”.
    There are many truly dedicated private groups who refuse to deal with DPAA
    because of the past arrogance and abuse by this same old group of poor leaders
    and managers who continue to remain in functional control of the “new”
    organization. Disgraceful!

    JPAC had many dedicated men and women in non-management roles who believed
    in the mission: researchers, military recovery specialists, and field
    investigators who hack through jungles, climb mountains, and wade rivers only to
    be sabotaged in their work by a completely dysfunctional command. Those few
    essential workers that remain at DPAA are dismayed, disillusioned, disheartened,
    and disgusted at what they experienced at JPAC and what they now see as a lack
    of action at DPAA in holding those responsible accountable for the abysmal
    failures of their leadership. Disgraceful!

    The “new” director continues to leave unaddressed a long pattern of
    dysfunction, inefficient practices, wasteful and poor management, lack of
    leadership, more than 40 pending complaints of sexual harassment by command
    personnel, EEO violations, criminal investigations, lawsuits, and complaints of
    managerial reprisal that were detailed in scathing official reports by the
    Inspector General’s Office and the Government Accountability Office. Even more
    complaints have been added since JPAC was disbanded. Disgraceful!

    The same group of serial offenders responsible for this ineptitude remain
    in the “new” DPAA. The same group that brought us multiple outrageous scandals
    including phony “arrival home” ceremonies and the fraud, waste and abuse of
    government funds that produces only five or six dozen identifications a year
    with an annual budget that exceeds $130 million. Disgraceful!

    In 2015, DPAA produced a grand total of 70
    identifications at a gross cost of almost $2 million per
    identification! This was a whooping one more
    identification than JPAC’s proven dysfunctional system produced the previous
    year! Five identifications in 2015 were from remains discovered by a
    private group at a construction site . Another identification was the result of
    a family filing a Federal lawsuit to force DPAA’s management to act after JPAC’s
    own investigation matched the missing serviceman’s identity with a precise
    burial location! But half of the 70 identifications were from remains turned
    over by North Korea in 1991 that had been sitting on the JPAC/DPAA Laboratory
    shelves for 24 YEARS! Disgraceful!

    In another 2015 management disaster, DPAA exhumed over 300 bodies from the
    USS Oklahoma dead buried at Pearl Harbor, promising the families prompt
    identifications. DPAA then shipped the remains to another DPAA Laboratory in
    Nebraska after separating the heads from the bodies, keeping the skulls in
    storage at the DPAA Laboratory in Hawaii. Most families found out about this
    dismemberment of their loved ones from reading the Washington Post newspaper.
    Disgraceful!

    Meanwhile the JPAC/DPAA management mantra of “Delay, Deny, and wait for the
    families to Die” continues. The current response time for basic information to
    families and researchers under the Freedom of Information Act is over ONE YEAR!
    Federal law requires this information to be provided within 20 days, which DPAA
    routinely violates without consequences. Disgraceful!

    The JPAC/DPAA Laboratory’s antiquated methods and dysfunctional management
    take years to accomplish identifications of recovered remains. if ever. There is
    a backlog of over 1,400 sets of remains of American service men and women
    sitting in cardboard boxes at DPAA awaiting identification right now. The
    AVERAGE time for identification after remains are received in the DPAA/JPAC
    laboratory is ELEVEN YEARS! Disgraceful!

    Anyone with any management experience knows that the entire operation that
    was JPAC should have been deconstructed, brick by brick. Such needed massive
    reform simply did not happen. Just when families of our missing servicemen and
    women thought things could not get worse, it did. The same infectious disease
    of JPAC arrogance and lies to the families of American heroes took root all over
    again at DPAA. This incredibly dysfunctional organization continues and has been
    added to the VA Hospital, Dover Mortuary, Arlington Cemetery, and the Viet Nam
    Unknown misidentification debacles. Disgraceful!