‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ Team Building Event Sparks Federal Investigation

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Last May some of the people who work for NOAA took the afternoon off for a team building exercise to attend a matinee of Star Trek Into Darkness. The event resulted in a government investigation and (just released) 21-page report. Get the details below.

Government Report: Watching Star Trek Movie Offers ‘No Professional Development’

The Satellite Operating Facility in Suitland, MD is home to a staff of 106 people who are responsible for the ‘ground segment’ of NOAA’s Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite – R Series, which monitors, among other things, space weather. And last July the Dept. of Commerce Office of Inspector General received an anonymous "whistleblower" complaint alleging that managers from that facility "encouraged more than 100 GOES-R government and contract employees to miss a half-day of work on May 23, 2013, to attend a matinee showing of the latest Star Trek movie." This complaint ended up launching an investigation resulting in a 22-page report, which was released this week (and spotted by the
Washington Post
).

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Staffers from this NOAA facility in trouble for taking Star Trek excursion last May

The investigation confirmed that there indeed was an organized event for a lunch and matinee showing of Star Trek Into Darkness, with 21 staff members attending (a mix of federal employees and contractors). However, the event wasn’t just some satellite nerds slacking off to see Star Trek, it was organized in order to fix a morale problem. As noted in the report:

Numerous witnesses told the OIG that GOES-R Ground Segment staff often worked more than 40 hours weekly without earning overtime pay or compensatory time, and Supervisor 1 was aware of “a morale issue” that he hoped to address with an activity that would “bond” the team.

But that wasn’t good enough for the IG, who determined that Trek doesn’t fix the problem:

Although Supervisor 1’s intent in organizing the event appears to have been an effort to boost low morale, the OIG found that the execution of the event resulted in several problems. The OIG concluded that, unlike training events, which are designed to develop professional skills and therefore may be counted as work-hours, watching a Star Trek movie offered no professional development opportunities. Therefore, even if such an event resulted in greater unity or cohesion, the hours spent at the event should not have been billed to the government.

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Morale was low inside NOAA’s Satellite Operating Facility – but government determines watching "Star Trek Into Darkness" is not the answer

What’s the big deal you may ask? Why make a Federal case about it? Well, the report has you covered there too, noting:

Pursuant to 31 U.S.C. § 3729, “any person who knowingly presents, or causes to be presented, a false or fraudulent claim for payment or approval. . .is liable to the United States Government for a civil penalty. . . .”

That’s right, by seeing a Star Trek movie this group of staffers had broken Federal law. However, the subsequent investigation determined that all the federal employees who attended the event had worked so many hours (which was part of the morale problem) that even though they took half a day off, they all made up for the time spent at the event. But the IG did determine that some of the contractors (four specifically) improperly billed the government for their time at the event and had the contractors "credit back" a total of $1,460.12 in wages.

One has to wonder how much the investigation and report cost and was it more than $1,460.12?

Star Trek Into Darkness
Watching the Enterprise struggle to maintain orbit doesn’t help build the morale of a group who monitor space weather satellites?

So is the IG a total buzzkill? Well, the report offers this defense: 

The results of this investigation are not intended to suggest that GOES-R management discontinue attempts to build unity or morale through appropriate events. However, events like the matinee viewing of the latest Star Trek movie held in May 2013 should not be conducted at the expense of taxpayers.

There is also the question as to who ratted out these Trek movie goers? The report has special praise for this person, noting:

We also note that the issues described below would likely not have come to light without the anonymous whistleblower who first raised the allegations to the OIG. Whistleblowers are essential to effective oversight of government programs, and we credit the complainant for stepping forward and raising the allegations at issue in this investigation.

TrekMovie is guessing it was a Star Wars fan.

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Was it one of these guys who ratted out the NOAA Trek movie goers?

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