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Wordsmithing 101

Or: How to create an alternate reality on paper when reality is not to your favor

By Donald Hands

The Navy is trying to take a bite out of its Nonappropriated Fund workforce at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and justifying it using clever wordplay, the union’s chief steward attests.

Here at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Nonappropriated Fund (NAF) officials are in the process of executing a Business-Based Action. They are going to directly convert, i.e. replace, the Nonappropriated Fund employees who work at our local restaurant called the Tirante Tavern with contractors. AFGE Local 2024 believe this action is unnecessary and contrary to law and DOD guidance.

This is one of those times when reality, facts, and the law just don’t fit management’s agenda. But, fear not, there are ways to manipulate information to create or artificially justify your agenda. If you learn to do this well, no one will be the wiser. Here are some of the “tricks of the trade” of wordsmithing I have observed from the U. S. Navy practices:

1. Either know your material, or sorta, kinda know your material. In any case – forget the “big picture” and just focus on your agenda.

Example: The big picture is that these programs exist to save taxpayers money. I have no issue with that. However, to directly convert from government workers to contractors without so much as a public-private competition or a cost comparison is senseless and I believe unlawful. Where are the savings? In the case of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, how much of this alleged savings was used ahead time to completely refurbish the Tirante Tavern kitchen? I don’t know specifically what it cost. For all we know it was tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars. Management hasn’t answered my request for information. What I do know is that most parties agree that the restaurant lost money, at least partly because it was poorly managed.

2. Blatantly disregard points that, even if they are lawful, don’t fit your agenda. In other words – cherry pick the material and don’t be so worried about the legality of it. 

Example: Management asserts that their limited definition of a federal employee comes from the OMB circular A-76. However, the OMB Circular A-76 is not law – and the law supersedes agency regulations.

3. Become adept at writing to convince the reader of how important a law, rule, or regulation is to your argument. At the same time, be adept at arguing that same law, rule, or regulation is irrelevant.

Example: I attended a meeting about two weeks ago where a Nonappropriated Fund management official informed me that A-76 does not apply as this is a Business-Based Action. However, I have correspondence that specifically cites A-76 in management’s supposed justification of the so-called Business-Based Action.

4. “Read into”, that is, put your own spin on what you have read. Then you can claim your spin to be the only reasonable interpretation. You may go so far as to say all others points of view don’t matter.

Example: In our correspondence with the U. S. Navy, we referred to two DoD memorandums. The first was dated Dec. 1, 2011; the second, Mar. 8, 2012. Neither of these memorandums allows for nor refers to any exception to definitions of government employees. You would think that the Navy would be bound by DoD requirements – but I guess the Navy is just reading into the documents what it wants to. It appears to me that any other perspectives, including those of DoD and the unions, are for some reason irrelevant.

When you get really good at this, you may be able to deceive others into thinking that an unlawful act is lawful. You may be able to deceive government leaders into believing that you know and understand the issues and that your course of action is proper.

As for myself, I do not practice nor recommend wordsmithing. The only reason I was able to write this article is because of the fine example the Navy has provided in its improper dealings with NAF employees and the local here at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.  Because of the excellent wordsmithing, several employees here will be losing their jobs. Nationally, about 25,000 people may be at risk of losing their jobs through the same Business-Based Process.

At the shipyard, the only persons scheduled to lose their jobs so far are outspoken union supporters. One is a steward. But that is an article for another day.

Donald Hands is Chief Steward of AFGE Local 2024 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire

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