J. Kirk McGill

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J. Kirk McGill (born January 25, 1987) is a Senior Federal Auditor assigned to the Rocky Mountain Branch Office of the United States Department of Defense - Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA). McGill is best known as the first "official whistleblower" in United States history[1] when he disclosed information to Congress demonstrating serious problems with the National Science Foundation's National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) project that led to the firing of NEON, Inc. from the multibillion-dollar project. He also disclosed that a systematic cover-up of these allegations had taken place at DCAA, and that he suffered retaliation by senior DCAA management as a result of his disclosures - allegations presently under investigation by the United States Office of Special Counsel.[1]

Early life

Joshua Kirk McGill was born on January 25, 1987, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He is the son of Ben K. McGill, an attorney, and Laura M. McGill. In 1996 his family moved from Tulsa to Durango, Colorado where McGill maintains his permanent residence.[2]

Education

McGill attended Durango High School and graduated as a Valedictorian in May, 2005.[2] He was awarded the prestigious Helen K. and Arthur E. Johnson Foundation [3] scholarship to attend Regis University in the fall of 2005.[2] McGill graduated Summa cum laude In cursu honorum in June, 2009, with a B.S. degree in Accounting (Minor in English Literature) and a B.S. degree in Business Administration (with an emphasis in Finance).[2] He attended the University of Colorado Denver Business School and graduated in August, 2014, with an M.S. degree in Accounting (specializations in Taxation, Auditing, and Forensic Accounting.[2]

During high school and college he was heavily involved in competitive forensic communication (speech & debate), competing at the state and national level. He was a national finalist in Student Congress in 2005[2][4] and won a national championship (as top novice speaker) in 2006.[2]

Career

McGill began work as a Revenue Agent with the Colorado Department of Revenue in January 2010, a position he held until February 2012[2]

On February 27, 2012, he began work as a Federal Auditor with the Defense Contract Audit Agency, where he is currently employed as a Senior Auditor (GS-12).[2] McGill is one of the most qualified Federal Auditors presently in Government service, and in terms of education, professional certifications, licenses and memberships may be the single most qualified.[2]

Whistleblowing

Although the Defense Contract Audit Agency primarily audits Federal defense contractors, prior to the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 it was also permitted to audit entities doing business with other parts of the United States Government at the request of the cognizant oversight authorities.[5] Such a request would usually occur when the oversight authority in question did not have the resources or expertise to perform an audit themselves.

Beginning in 2011, the National Science Foundation (NSF) Office of the Inspector General [1] (NSF-IG) requested assistance from DCAA in examining the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON), the largest construction project in the NSF's history. DCAA auditors examined the initial (2008) proposal by NEON and concluded that the proposal was so defective that the project should never have been funded based upon it. Subsequently, the NSF-IG requested that DCAA examine NEON's accounting system to determine whether it was properly stewarding taxpayer funds. McGill was the Auditor-in-Charge of that engagement. McGill (a Certified Internal Auditor) and his team ultimately determined that NEON's system of internal control over taxpayer funds was riddled with material weaknesses and significant deficiencies.[1] McGill (who is also a Certified Management Accountant) concluded that NEON's management accounting was so deficient that the project could go millions of dollars over budget before NEON's management or the NSF would be able to react. Of even further concern, McGill (an expert on fraud and both a Certified Forensic Accountant & Certified Fraud Examiner) discovered that NEON had spent approximately $1.8 million of taxpayer money through an extra-legal methodology known as a "management fee" on illegal expenditures including alcohol, lobbying, parties, and luxury travel.[1]

McGill prepared a draft audit report for review by his superiors containing the findings above. That draft was approved (after routine revisions) by his immediate superior, Supervisory Auditor Michael Quant, as well as by his second level supervisor Field Audit Office Manager Allen Jones. The office's quality assurance specialist Angie Vaill concurred. NSF Inspector General Allison Lerner was personally briefed regarding the findings on May 23, 2013.[1]

Unfortunately, McGill's finding that "management fees" such as that used by NEON were nothing more than a fraudulent evasion of the prohibitions against spending taxpayer money on certain expenditures would have seriously embarrassed the United States Department of Defense - the largest payer of those fees within the United States Government. Perhaps in response to this situation, DCAA Regional Audit Manager Jerry McAfee and DCAA Central Region Deputy Regional Director Martha McKune (McGill's third and fourth level supervisors respectively) ordered McGill, Jones and Quant to issue an unqualified (clean) audit report on NEON. When they refused, DCAA Deputy Director Anita Bales called McGill and threatened his employment if he did not stop 'rocking the boat'. When McGill again refused to falsely issue a clean opinion, McAfee (acting on orders from McKune) informed the NSF-IG on that DCAA had found no wrongdoing at NEON (contrary to the briefing on May 23, 2013) without telling McGill, Jones, Quant and Vaill that he had done so. On April 4, 2014, McGill, Quant, Jones and Vaill were given a direct order to issue the clean opinion. McGill refused and resigned from the audit rather than sign a "false report", while Jones, Quant and Vaill agreed to follow the order under protest.[1]

McGill notified retiredUnited States Army Criminal Investigation Command Agent Angela Janysek, then the Assistant Director of Internal Review at DCAA (and later its Inspector General), that the order to issue the clean audit report was illegal. The audit was sent to DCAA's Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern Regions for additional reviews. The Mid-Atlantic review concluded on March 14, 2014, that "We don't comment on Management Fee. I[n], the nonprofit arena, this is how the contractor pays for unallowable costs and the agencies know this to be a fact" - in other words, DCAA management was aware that "management fees" like the one at NEON are used to pay illegal costs, but had deliberately looked the other way. On June 27, 2014, the Northeastern Region review determined that none of McGill's major findings (including the lack of control, and the "management fee") issues were legitimate, and ordered them removed from the final report. Jones, acting on this direct order, signed the final audit report and issued it without McGill's findings. McGill stated that he would take the matter to the appropriate oversight authorities. Immediately thereafter on June 30, 2014, DCAA Director Patrick Fitzgerald abruptly announced his retirement from Federal service (perhaps to avoid responsibility for the debacle), and DCAA Deputy Director Anita Bales (who had threatened McGill in January 2014) was appointed to replace him.[1]

McGill concluded that both the underlying findings at NEON as well as the order to remove those findings from the final audit report constituted fraud, waste, abuse, and/or corruption. As a result, he determined that he was obligated to report the matter by 5 CFR § 2635.101(b)(11) - the Code of Ethics for Executive Branch Employees.[1] Because McGill determined that he was required to report the alleged wrongdoing by both NEON and DCAA as part of his official duties, and because the Antideficiency Act prohibits Federal Employees from performing any of their official duties off the clock, McGill argued that blowing the whistle on the wrongdoing was actually part of his job, rather than a private act (as all whistleblowing had been prior to this point).[1] McGill argued that the Whistleblower Protection Act, as modified by the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012 protected his activities as whistleblowing, at the same time as the Antideficiency Act and Code of Ethics required them. DCAA was forced to agree with his arguments, and McGill became the first Federal Employee authorized to perform protected whistleblowing activities on official time. This could have a major impact on the willingness of Federal Employees to blow the whistle, as prior to McGill all whistleblowing was performed on personal time - an expense many Federal Employees were not willing to bear.[1]

Thus authorized to act, McGill notified the Office of the Inspector General, U.S. Department of Defense (DoDIG) of the wrongdoing. When DoDIG failed to act, McGill went directly to Congress and notified several members and committees including: the United States Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation,the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary, the United States House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, and the United States House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. He also informed Senator Rand Paul, Senator Chuck Grassley, Senator Claire McCaskill, and Senator Michael Bennet.[1]

On September 3, 2014, Senators Grassley and Paul sent joint letters to NEON and the NSF asking for an explanation for McGill's findings.[1] On September 18, 2014, The Washington Post broke the story.[6]

On September 25, 2014, McGill was contacted by DCAA Security Officer Jenny Lindenbaum. Lindenbaum accused McGill of making terrorist threats against the United States Capital and stated that she had received "multiple reports" that he was taking medication related to mental illness, that he was seeking treatment for mental illness, and that he was a danger to his coworkers. Lindebaum stated that McGill's security clearance eligibility could be revoked (leading to his firing), and denied knowing that McGill was a whistleblower, but Assistant Director Janysek confirmed to McGill that she personally told Lidenbaum that McGill was a whistleblower. McGill denied the accusations in writing, and also noted that Lindenbaum had lied about knowing that he was a whistleblower. The investigation was apparently closed without comment.[1]

On October 1, 2014, McGill and his entire team was involuntarily transferred from the Denver Branch Office of DCAA, to the Rocky Mountain Branch Office. At the same time, Supervisory Auditor Quant was sent to a different office—splitting the team of McGill, Jones and Quant into three pieces. Meanwhile, Deputy Regional Director McKune and Regional Audit Manager McAfee were transferred to different positions in DCAA.[1]

On December 3, 2014 a hearing on the matter was held before the United States House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.[7] A second hearing was held on February 3, 2015.[8] In April of 2015 the Office of Management and Budget ordered all departments and agencies not to use "management fees" to pay for illegal expenditures. Meanwhile, NASA banned the practice entirely. On September 18, 2015, a third hearing was held.[9] The Committee ultimately substantiated McGill's allegations towards NEON and on December 11, 2015, NEON was fired from the project.[10][11][12] This represents one of the largest Federal agreement terminations for cause in history.

McGill's case for whistleblower reprisal under 5 U.S.C. § 2302 remains under investigation at the United States Office of Special Counsel.[1] This is not the first time DCAA has been caught ordering its auditors to remove negative findings from its audit reports, nor the first time that it has been caught retaliating against auditors when the refuse to do so.[13] The previous incident cost DCAA Director April Stephenson her job, perhaps explaining why DCAA Director Patrick Fitzgerald chose to retire rather than face scrutiny, leaving his deputy to attend the December 3, 2014, hearing in his place.[7]

As noted above, McGill's whistleblowing was conducted pursuant to his official duties, meaning that unlike many whistleblowers he remained at his post and blew the whistle without going outside of his duties. As mentioned previously, this could have a major impact on Federal whistleblowing in the future.[1] Regardless, the fact that McGill's actions directly led to the termination of NEON's management of the multibillion-dollar National Ecological Observatory Network project makes him one of the most successful whistleblowers (at least dollar-wise) in history.

McGill also alleged on April 24, 2015 that DCAA is not actually an independent audit agency because it does not comply with the independence requirements of Government Auditing Standards. As a result, DCAA has not assigned him any assignments requiring independence since April, 2015.[14]

Published Works

  • McGill, J. K., Z. McGill, B. McGill, R. J. Margesson, D. Palmer, and T. Bowie: The Right to be Left Alone – The Evolution of the Right of Privacy in American Jurisprudence (Regis University, 2009)[2]
  • Symmes, B., J. K. McGill, Editor. Post-Transcriptional Shaping of Neurons: The Role of miRNAs and FMRP-Interacting P-Body Components in Regulating Neuronal Structure. (University of Denver, 2014)[2]

Professional Certifications & Licenses and Memberships in Professional Societies

State of Colorado: Department of Regulatory Agencies – Division of Professions & Occupations, Board of Accountancy

Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) Associate (2012), Member (2012 – Present)[2]

Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA) Member (2014 – Present)[2]

Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA) – Member (2013 – Present)[2]

Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) Member (2013 – Present)[2]

American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) Candidate (2011), Member (2012 – Present)[2]

American Board of Forensic Accounting (ABFA) Member (2012 – Present)[2]

References

  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 McGill, J. Kirk (2014-04-27), English: J. Kirk McGill's April 27, 2014 Whistleblower Disclosure, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:J._Kirk_McGill_2014-04-27_Whistleblower_Disclosure.pdf, retrieved 2016-01-05 
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 2.15 2.16 2.17 2.18 2.19 2.20 2.21 2.22 2.23 2.24 2.25 2.26 2.27 2.28 2.29 McGill, J. Kirk (2016-01-05), English: Resume for J. Kirk McGill, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Resume_-_J_Kirk_McGill_2015-01-05.pdf, retrieved 2016-01-05 
  3. "Helen K. and Arthur E. Johnson Foundation". http://www.johnsonfoundation.org/. Retrieved 2016-01-05. 
  4. "Stennis Center for Public Service". http://www.bellairedebate.com/publicfiles/2010_Stennis_Center_for_Public_Service.pdf. Retrieved January 5, 2016. 
  5. "Defense Contract Audit Agency 2016 Budget Estimate". United States Department of Defense. http://comptroller.defense.gov/Portals/45/Documents/defbudget/fy2016/budget_justification/pdfs/01_Operation_and_Maintenance/O_M_VOL_1_PART_1/DCAA_PB16.pdf. Retrieved January 5, 2016. 
  6. Kindy, Kimberly (2014-09-18). "Sens. Paul, Grassley challenge climate group’s spending on lobbying, alcohol and parties" (in en-US). The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/federal-eye/wp/2014/09/18/rand-paul-chuck-grassley-shine-a-light-on-the-nonprofit-climate-change-group-neon/. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 "Full Committee Hearing - Review of the Results of Two Audits of the National Ecological Observatory Network". https://science.house.gov/legislation/hearings/full-committee-hearing-review-results-two-audits-national-ecological. Retrieved 2016-01-05. 
  8. "Subcommittee on Oversight and Subcommittee on Research and Technology Joint Hearing - NSF’s Oversight of the NEON Project and Other Major Research Facilities Developed Under Cooperative Agreements". https://science.house.gov/legislation/hearings/subcommittee-oversight-and-subcommittee-research-and-technology-joint-hearing. Retrieved 2016-01-05. 
  9. "Subcommittee on Research and Technology and Subcommittee on Oversight Hearing: NEON Warning Signs: Examining the Management of the National Ecological Observatory Network". https://science.house.gov/legislation/hearings/subcommittee-research-and-technology-and-subcommittee-oversight-hearing-neon. Retrieved 2016-01-05. 
  10. "NSF Letter to NEON on 12/11/2015". http://news.sciencemag.org/sites/default/files/NEON%20Letter%20Dec%2011%20(2).pdf. Retrieved January 5, 2016. 
  11. "NSF fires managers of troubled NEON ecology project". http://news.sciencemag.org/environment/2015/12/nsf-fires-managers-troubled-neon-ecology-project. Retrieved 2016-01-05. 
  12. "NSF looks for new contractor to finish troubled observatory". http://news.sciencemag.org/environment/2015/12/nsf-looks-new-contractor-finish-troubled-observatory. Retrieved 2016-01-06. 
  13. Defense Contract Audit Agency. https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Defense_Contract_Audit_Agency&oldid=697320195. 
  14. McGill, J. Kirk (2015-04-24), English: J. Kirk McGill's 24 April 2015 Whistleblower Disclosure regarding DCAA's Independence, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Whistleblower_Disclosure_(McGill_-_Independence)_Rev._03-PDF.pdf, retrieved 2016-01-06 
  15. "CPA License Verification". https://www.colorado.gov/dora/licensing/Lookup/PrintLicenseDetails.aspx?cred=921628&contact=984091. Retrieved 2016-01-05. 
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 16.4 16.5 16.6 16.7 McGill, J. Kirk. "Linkedin". https://www.linkedin.com/in/j-kirk-mcgill-85a0652a. Retrieved January 5, 2016. 
  17. "CFE Directory Search Result". http://nf.acfe.com/eWeb/DynamicPage.aspx?Site=ACFEWEB&WebKey=e87d2e3d-cfd5-4dbc-adda-51cc8af05887&FromSearchControl=Yes. Retrieved 2016-01-05. 

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