Could This Government Vehicle Have Been Any More Misused?

An Army Engineer District employee in Anchorage, Alaska, really bolloxed things up when he got the agency’s vehicle stuck late at night on a sand pile and the police arrived to investigate what was going on. I could not make these facts up if I had to, so read on to see how he ended up losing his job in the bargain. The facts are taken from the court’s opinion. (Hoofman v. Department of the Army (CAFC No. 2013-3029 (nonprecedential), 5/13/13))

Hoofman was a Construction Control Representative who somehow managed to get his government vehicle stranded on top of a sand pile while supposedly on his way home late one night “through a chain of events that remains unclear.” (Opinion p. 2)

He rocked the vehicle but it stayed stuck. Then the police arrived around 1:30 a.m. They took in Mr. Hoofman, the beached vehicle, and two passengers inside the vehicle. When they asked Hoofman to take a sobriety test, he declined, although he apparently admitted to authorities the next day that he had been drinking. In Alaska refusal to take a breath test led to Hoofman losing his driver’s license, spending some time in jail, and having to use an ignition interlock system. (p. 2)

The very next day Hoofman found himself before the court where all of these things happened to him simultaneously. So, did he call his government supervisor and report what had happened? No. He called the boss and asked for two weeks leave “due to personal family reasons.” (p. 2)

As for the beached vehicle, which by now local police had impounded, Hoofman asked a work colleague to retrieve it and not tell a soul at work. When Hoofman got out of jail ten days later, he reported the incident to his supervisor.

Not too surprising that the Army proposed to fire Hoofman for various “donts” involving a government vehicle: driving it after drinking, using it for other than official reasons, losing his driver’s license for a year and then for another year having to use the interlock device, and trying to keep all of this from the boss.

While Hoofman did not try to deny the charges, he did try to explain with additional facts. Perhaps somewhat incredulously the court felt the need to quote at length from Hoofman’s signed statement where he tried to explain everything away:

“Mr. Hoofman admits he was driving the Government truck and got it stuck, sometime around 2300 hours. He states he was driving alone and had not been drinking. When he could not get the vehicle unstuck, he walked to his apartment that was nearby. At the apartment, he admitted he consumed alcohol. About 0100 hrs, walking back to the truck, he met 2 individuals nearby and asked for their assistance to get his truck unstuck; they agreed to help provided Mr. Hoofman provided them a ride (somewhere) afterwards, Mr. Hoofman agreed. They could not get the vehicle unstuck. . . . He does not recall when the 2 individuals got into the vehicle.”

Unpersuaded, the Army removed Hoofman and he appealed to the Merit Systems Protection Board. He must have been buoyed considerably by the Administrative Judge’s initial decision that reversed the agency for, among other things, relying on the police affidavit, which the AJ branded as hearsay. The joy was short-lived however, as the full MSPB reversed its AJ and sustained Hoofman’s removal. The Board had no problem relying on Hoofman’s own admissions rather than the police affidavit. (pp. 3-4)

Hoofman picked up on the AJ’s hearsay logic in his appeal to the Federal Circuit. The court also found Hoofman’s declarations and admissions sufficient to support the full Board decision and found nothing improper in the Board using those admissions to support the charges against Hoofman.

In short, one crazy night cut short Hoofman’s government career. He remains fired.

Hoofman v. Army

© 2016 Susan McGuire Smith. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced without express written consent from Susan McGuire Smith.

About the Author

Susan McGuire Smith spent most of her federal legal career with NASA, serving as Chief Counsel at Marshall Space Flight Center for 14 years. Her expertise is in government contracts, ethics, and personnel law.

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