News & Politics

Pentagon Clears Official Accused of Hacking “Best Bosses” Contest

He'd allegedly forced staffers boost his standing on the annual "Best Bosses in Federal IT" list.

Image via iStock.

Brett J. Goldstein used the messaging app Signal in violation of Defense Department policies when he was the director of its Defense Digital Service, a report from the Defense Department’s Inspector General says. But he did not, as some alleged, hack FedScoop’s annual list of the Best Bosses in Federal IT.

The annual list celebrates “champions of federal technology,” and its winners are selected by open voting. It was precisely that system that whistleblowers alleged Goldstein encouraged his subordinates to “hack,” according to the report, which was published Monday. But Goldstein, the report says, “denied asking any subordinate to create a script so that he could win the competition.” It continues:

The DDS legal advisor told us that subordinates joked about creating a script that could submit votes for Mr. Goldstein but they were told that doing so would be inappropriate, which resolved the issue. We found no evidence that Mr. Goldstein took an action in violation of a standard as alleged in these complaints.

Goldstein did make the 2020 list. “We were surprised to see that in the IG report,” Billy Mitchell, the editor-in-chief of FedScoop, tells Washingtonian via e-mail. Asked whether his team detected any shenanigans with the 2020 vote, Mitchell replied, “No shenanigans noticed, but we’re looking into it currently to double-check.”

The list-packing question was among several allegations the Inspector General dismissed against Goldstein in an investigation it says involved interviewing 38 witnesses, Goldstein, and the complainants, as well as going through “more than 6 gigabytes of data, including more than 26,000 official e-mails and other electronic messages, personnel documents, and applicable standards.” Whistleblowers, as the IG describes their claims, accused Goldstein of “fostering a negative work environment by failing to treat his subordinates with dignity and respect.” However, except for Goldstein’s use of Signal for communications—subordinates told the IG they “believed it was more secure than communicating with their Government-issued cell phones or approved communication tools”—the IG found that Goldstein’s actions in the job “did not constitute matters of misconduct or failure to treat employees with dignity and respect.”

Goldstein announced last month that he would step down as the head of the US’s “SWAT team of nerds,” some of whose employees work behind a door in the Pentagon marked “Rebel Alliance” and is charged with improving the Defense Department’s technology. Politico reported in May that under Goldstein, Defense Digital Service’s achievements include tackling a “long-standing vulnerability that had allowed Defense department emails to outside parties travel the internet unprotected against snooping” and “created a Covid-19 symptom-tracking app for crews on aircraft carriers.” Goldstein was scheduled to leave Defense Digital Service at the end of June, Politico reported. He last tweeted on June 9, sharing the news that Katie Olson, the agency’s deputy director, was named to FedScoop’s 2021 list.

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Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.