Open Record Docs: Walker's "Employee Recognition Program" A Sham From the Start | WisCommunity

Open Record Docs: Walker's "Employee Recognition Program" A Sham From the Start

[img_assist|nid=197008|title=State Employee Recognition Nomination Form|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=454|height=120]

Step into the time machine.  We're going back one year, to May 2, 2011.

A few weeks earlier, Governor Walker not only decided to balance the budget on the back of teachers and other public workers, but he also stripped them of their collective bargaining rights and ability to unionize.

In an attempt to alter the public perception that he had unfairly attacked public workers, Walker rolled out "The State Employee Recognition Program." He released this announcement:


Thank you for your service to Wisconsin.  Our state is proud of the hard work and dedication you bring to your job every day.  To express our appreciation, we are creating a new that will honor state employees who have gone above and beyond the call of duty.

The program will have three awards.  The first will be for outstanding customer service.  We’ll be asking Wisconsin residents to nominate the state employees who have impressed them with outstanding service.

 The second award will be for outstanding innovation.  We are asking you to nominate your colleagues who have demonstrated innovation, ingenuity, and creativity in problem-solving, efficiency, and cost-saving techniques in carrying out their work.

The third award is for ongoing dedication.  This award is for the unsung heroes who serve as role models to other employees; the employee who always pitches in to help, who consistently exhibits a positive and helpful attitude, and always “goes the extra mile” to assist his or her colleagues.  Again, we are asking for your help in nominating your peers who deserve this special recognition.



A year later, nobody has been recognized by the program. 

In fact, all information about the program has been scrubbed from the governor's website. (You can still view it on Way Back Machine's , though.)

So what happened?

According to emails obtained from an Open Records Act request, the program was doomed from the start.  On April 20, 2011, Jessica O'Donnell, the top staffer at the Office of State Employee Relations (OSER) complains to Cynthia Archer, Deputy Secretary of the Department of Administration (DOA) that Governor Walker's Press Secretary, Cullen Werwie had just told her of his idea for the State Employee Recognition Program. O'Donnell responds to Archer that she warned Werwie that such a program was impractical because of all the time and resources it would require:


I just had a call from Cullen in the Governor's Office. He said that the Governor will be videotaping an Employee Recognition message that will be sent via e-mail to all state employees on May 2nd and posted on the Governor's website. It will include an announcement by the Governor about programs under which 1) members of the public can nominate a state employee for special recognition and 2) state employees can nominate a peer for special recognition.  Cullen asked to whom the nomination materials should be referred, by whom they would be evaluated and a timeline. I tried to explain that this could be a very large and time consuming project, but he assured me that the only thing that has to happen right away is the announcement and instructions as to where the nomination materials should be sent.

I really don't know what to tell him. Please advise.



 Cynthia Archer then writes back to O'Donnell and BCCs Cullen Werwie:


Tell him to sit tight-- that we will get something for him first thing tomorrow and that gives us time to discuss.

First thing is we need three or four criteria that the Gov can say in video. For example employees who have gone the extra mile in serving citizens; employees who have come up with innovative ideas that improve gov service or lower costs. Start working on what the criteria should be and we can talk about the rest in the morning.



Apparently O'Donnell was quickly set straight. Later emails show that a deadline of May 31, 2011, was set up for nominations to be sent in and that the governor's communications staff would be the folks managing the program. On May 23, 2011, O’Donnell writes to Archer:


The Outstanding State Employee nomination form states that it should be sent to the Governor's Office, but some nominations are instead being sent to agencies. Would you please remind agency heads at Cabinet to forward nomination materials to the Governor's Office?  I know Cullen wants to see them.



Later, O'Donnell is baffled and questions how exactly this all will work:


It is my understanding that Governor's Office will sort the nominations and forward them to the agencies for evaluation.  However, no information has been disseminated regarding the timeline for the rest of the process, such as the date by which agencies should screen their employee nominations, date by which top nominations from each agency will be screened by the OSER lead of Agency HR Managers, or the approximate date the entire process should culminate in an awards ceremony.



Here is where the trail goes cold. It is unclear, because of the very limited view that an open records request yields, what, if anything happened next.

What is clear, however, is that:

  • Jessica O'Donnell warned Cullen Werwie that this would be a massive project and he told her, essentially, not to worry about it.
  • That all the nomination papers ended up in the governor's communications office.
  • That there has never been even a single person honored by this program.

Clearly, this whole program was nothing more than an ill-conceived publicity stunt that put a great deal of energy into the front-end optics, but did very little, if anything, in the actual implementation of the program. 

Ironically, Governor Walker's Employee Recognition Program gives all of Wisconsin a clear opportunity to recognize the high level ineptitude and cynicism of Walker's team of cronies.





















May 7, 2012 - 1:43pm