Missile alert highlights government’s hiring practices

The false missile alert continues to be the subject of much speculation over what really happened and why.

First, it was a mistake.

Then, it was that the so-called button-pusher thought there really was an attack and thus, he sent the alert, on his own accord, with no checks or balances.

And early on, no one was fired because it wasn’t the fault of any one person, just a bad system.

Then, the button-pusher was fired and the HEMA administrator resigned.

And there are those conspiracy folks who believe this was no mistake at all, that a missile really was fired by some clandestine group, and shot down in Hawaii waters, and the government doesn’t want folks to realize what occurred.

The opinions have been many and varied. Some people remain upset. Others have moved on and said it’s time to let it go. So we will. Almost.

Gene Park, an audience editor for The Washington Post, had an interesting take recently published on the situation.

He explains that he worked as a Hawaii state employee for a short time, serving as spokesman for a division of the Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, and then spent more than seven years dealing with the government as a journalist. His is a valid perspective.

• “Anyone who knows how Honolulu functions can’t have been surprised by the FCC’s revelations. The sad part is that the worker’s ineptitude and the chaos he caused have exposed to the world old, ugly tropes about Hawaiian accountability and competence that residents would love nothing more than to shake off.

• “There’s a strong assumption in the islands that once you enter the state government system, you’re set for life. There are great retirement benefits, union protections, and the ability to move up or laterally across departments. (According to figures drawn from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Hawaii has the second-highest rate of union membership, more than 20 percent, after New York.) The prevailing notion is: You don’t have to work that hard.

“And there is often no cost for screwing up. Vern Miyagi, the emergency management chief who resigned in the wake of the FCC report Tuesday, had made his reluctance to fire the alert author clear: “You’ve got to know this guy feels bad, right? I mean, he’s not doing this on purpose.”

• “Hawaii is a small community with a strong local whisper network (coconut wireless, as it is called), but the community there dislikes shaming. Despite the fact that his salary is paid by tax dollars and that he led hundreds of thousands of people to believe they would imminently die, the man behind the phone alert remains unaccountable to the public. Locals seem nonplussed.

• “Hawaii desperately wants to diversify its economy beyond tourism and U.S. military spending. Plantation agriculture kept the state afloat for the past century but is now a dead industry. The state wants to “develop foundations for an innovation economy and nurturing emerging industries,” according to a government strategy plan. But it’s hard to see how this episode inspires any confidence among investors and start-up wunderkinds.”

• “Culturally, Hawaii tends to reward seniority, not competence. Careers often advance only when incumbent workers resign or die. In 2006, after Time magazine called Hawaii’s octogenarian Sen. Dan Akaka one of the five worst U.S. senators — for sponsoring only minor resolutions and bills that died in committee — then-Rep. Ed Case decided to challenge him in the Democratic primary. A Honolulu Star-Bulletin piece surveyed the widespread reaction to this brazen maneuver. Sample comment: “Wait his turn! Has he no respect for his elders?” Case lost by 10 percentage points.”

• “I often heard residents of my old state parrot a Japanese saying: The nail that sticks out gets hammered down. And people who want reform, or just want to try something new, hear a common refrain in Hawaii’s private and public sectors: “That’s not how things have been done before.” Play your role, and you’ll be rewarded when you’re good and old.

“That attitude has consequences. The FCC report shows it was no secret that the missile alert’s author was inept. Yet he somehow landed the critical job of telling an entire state whether its people could die in a nuclear blast. While 10 years passed, his supervisors did nothing to remove him from a job they knew he was unqualified for, nor did they implement procedures for what to do if someone accidentally sent a missile alert. It took a national embarrassment to dislodge him from his job.”

Park makes good points. Accountability is the key. Hiring people based on skills for the job should be the priority. Work experience should be a factor. Perhaps than we wouldn’t have a million people being scared for their lives.

But, we all know those often are not the key considerations when hiring is done in government. It is often about who you know and taking care of friends.

Unfortunately, as Park notes, it’s doubtful even this false missile alert mess will change that.

  1. Solutions February 13, 2018 7:09 am Reply

    Traffic, crumbling infrastructure, wasteful spending, problems with ‘the County’, horrible schools, unresponsive government…? This article NAILS it. In Hawaii, powerful jobs do not go to the most qualified, and there are no consequences for ineptitude or inefficiency. (sending 5 cousins to spend all week to fix one pothole). Google ‘nepotism.’ We must adopt a merit-based system of government hiring and mandated audits of competence and efficiency. Until then – the State and County governments will continue to infuriate and embarrass Hawaii’s voters and tax payers. Government employees work for US….not the other way around.

  2. Jake February 13, 2018 7:48 am Reply

    Missing is the fact that there are so many more qualified people moving to the Hawaiian Islands every day. But, because they are not “born and raised”, the right color, the right race, they are not hired by county and state government. Kauai County Council members are on record for wanting to hire “locals” for the police department over more qualified and experienced qualified officers from the Mainland. Is it any surprise why nothing gets done on this island?

  3. Suzan Kelsey Brooks February 13, 2018 8:26 pm Reply

    This editorial focuses too much attention on the lower level employee who initiated the alert and not enough on a system that values political patronage and expedience over qualification. This is not a problem unique to Hawaii but one that has long riddled government at every level, from municipalities to state and national administrative teams.
    There is a point where training, education, and experience must overrule popularity, longevity, or traditional patterns of reward. We can all see that when selecting a surgeon. We’d better see it when dealing with state and national security and emergency services and other matters of government that affect our lives.

  4. Toni L February 15, 2018 9:51 am Reply

    Wow! PMRF electronic and plasma energy war games in Kauai waters are now top secret CLASSIFIED! At the Navy and NOAA joint venture propaganda talk in Lihue Friday night I was told on video of some out right scary information that makes me very concerned for our marine life here in Kauai.
    NOAA is now joint venture with the environmental company out at PMRF that told me in person with witnesses that they have NEVER gone underwater and studied the effects of the war games and RIMPAC on our coral reefs and marine life!
    Now NOAA is promoting the US Navy as being “Protectors of our marine environment.” This is the very same NOAA that gives the Navy permits to kill our whales all throughout Hawaii including the NW Hawaiian Islands! This is the same NOAA that comes out and removes our whales when they die and wash up on the beach so we will never know what killed the whales.
    At the meeting they presented nothing new at all. The Navy biologist talked about the Navy study being done on the effects of sonar on whales. This study has been ongoing for 20 years. The Navy and NOAA claim they are protecting the oceans by doing this one whale study. Whales can move away from sonar! Turtles, coral reefs and fish cannot move away from billions of watts of electromagnetic energy being blasted at them 24/7.
    I asked the Navy biologist if she knew of ANY study being done on the effects of the massive underwater electronic war testing being done here in Kauai? Her answer was “that information is now classified and they are not being paid by the Navy to do ANY studies other than there whale study vs sonar.”
    We now have no law enforcement in Hawaii to protect our whales, dolphin, sea turtles, coral reefs and marine life because the military has “classified” their activities and NOAA gives them the permits to do these activities! Now NOAA is trying to market the Navy as “Protecting the Marine Environment”. This is like marketing Trump as an environmentalist!
    Yes the Navy is doing a sonar study with NOAA but our marine life is not dying from the Navy sonar, it is dying from the Navy use of underwater electromagnetic energy. This actually is easy to prove.
    This is all very disturbing as we are very close to loosing our rights under the law to protect our wildlife. We cannot get any information from the military about their ongoing war on our marine life because it is now top secret classified and the law enforcement agency that is here to protect our marine life is now joint venture with the military! The public is simply being told that the military is now taking over Hawaiian waters so stay out and shut up!
    What is also VERY disturbing is that politicians like Derik Kawakami are giving awards to the military for their actions and funding the military for the “classified” take over of our seas! NOAA and they NAVY have in all their propaganda brochures pictures of Kawakami giving them the awards and one can easily fact check how much money has been raised for the Navy operations out at PMRF by Kawakami in Brian Schatz. 0 dollars raised for marine life studies but millions for the PMRF electromagnetic war testing!
    NOAA and the Navy even claim that they are working with and funding private organizations and non profits to help “study and protect” our oceans. I did some research on these groups and not one of them has done an underwater study here in Kauai to monitor the effects of the ongoing military operations!
    I now know why NOAA has tried so hard to discredit my free 3,000 hour underwater coral reef and marine life study here in Kauai where I monitored the effects of the Navy operations with a video camera. NOAA does not want that information out there because they are in the middle of a massive propaganda trying to label the Navy as protectors of the sea!

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