Human Terrain System Program Manager Dismissed: Georgia Tech Wants Out

Steve Fondacaro is now the former program manager of the US Army’s Human Terrain System. He was dismissed on or about 11 June 2010. Sources speculate there are many reasons that may have led to his departure to include personal issues.

His departure comes just as the HTS propaganda film Talibanistan was released by National Geographic. An excellent breakdown of the film is was produced by Max Forte here. Somehow, Fondacaro and senior social scientist Montgomery McFate found time to star as members of a Human Terrain Team as the HTS program collapsed around them. Go figure.

At any rate, below is the good bye Fondacaro notice from Maxie McFarland, Fondacaro’s boss. Note some of the details in the letter concerning temp HTS PM and “civilian hire.”

The interim HTS manager Colonel Hamilton has an unenviable task not the least of which will be dealing with some colorful personalities. Sources hope Hamilton and the next PM will right the ship.

“It is with great regret that I announce the departure of Mr Steve Fondacaro from the HTS program. Steve has done a tremendous job in standing up HTS and providing our forces with this valuable capability. He is a tireless leader and we will miss his passion and superb understanding of Human Terrain. Effective 11 June 2010, Steve Fondacaro departs the G2 and the HTS program. We wish Steve the best in his future endeavors and thank him for the hard work and dedication to bring the HTS from concept to reality.

COL Sharon Hamilton, Deputy G2, is the Director, HTS until further notice We will hire a civilian Director in the near future. Until that time, I expect you to fully support COL Hamilton in her new role.

We are at an important mission transition point for HTS and I look forward to continuing our team effort to provide essential support to our deployed forces. V/R Maxie”

Lastly, the public spokesperson for Georgia Tech Research Institute, as reported earlier this month, stated that GTRI will not seek further work with HTS upon completion of its current contract.

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6 thoughts on “Human Terrain System Program Manager Dismissed: Georgia Tech Wants Out

    1. Maximilian Forte

      It would not be surprising if this were a mere face-saving measure, as a means of showing bodies such as the HASC that the Army is in fact taking care of the problems by removing the program manager. I am sure the Army was hoping to see some positive spin, along the lines of “Now that the HTS PM has been removed, we can expect to see much better performance from HTS.” I doubt it. The fish rots from the head down (a saying, I have no idea how true that is literally), and this fish had been many heads.

  1. Arthur

    If everything you all are reporting on is true, then I can only think that the problems are too systemic to be cured–short of a massive restructuring of the program and major lay-offs of people who have modeled such alleged poor behavior and have spent four years apparently being unaccountable and putting people’s lives at risk. I understand that BP is looking to hire some new managers to oversee its operations in the Gulf of Mexico. Managers at HTS who get sacked could apply there.

  2. Arthur

    I found a copy of the Human Terrain Team Handbook on the internet. I read it thinking that it might offer some clues about how the teams do scientific research. The handbook refers to something called “research design” and makes it seem as if that is all people on a research team do for planning their research. I know from my own education that research design is just a portion of what a researcher conceives in advance of conducting any kind of research. Most graduate schools have you follow a format in this order: INTRODUCTION with a problem statement and its significance, along with a literature review, research questions, and limitations to the study; RESEARCH DESIGN, with a strategy and rationale, statement about the setting, people, behaviors, process, research team’s biographies, and ethical dimensions; DATA COLLECTION METHODS, of which there are too many in the social sciences to list here; RECORDING AND MANAGING AND ANALYZING DATA, with personnel and resources; and CRITERIA FOR THE STUDY’S SOUNDNESS. I would love to know who wrote that handbook, which doesn’t even deserve to be called a handbook, in my opinion, because it is so thin on the important details. So I have to ask, is there any evidence that these teams conduct scientific research? I would expect more from the handbook if that is the case.

    1. Maximilian Forte

      Very important observations Arthur, just as you and PJ exchanged a week or so ago here. It is interesting that HTS even aims for such a “one size fits all” approach instead of looking for ways to build on the specializations of people in diverse disciplines, with different norms and data collection and analysis methods. Indeed, it’s interesting that they have to produce such a handbook at all, or have training in methods, when one would have assumed that if they hired people with advanced degrees that this would be very redundant, irrelevant, or entirely inadequate in contrast with what they bring to the program. That clearly is not the case.

      The other possibility is that the handbook is part of the larger sales pitch, an artifact that serves aesthetic purposes. The public should be cheered, presumably, at the obvious (looked at superficially) effort to systematize information gathering and analysis in a methodical manner. Smart people, not just smart bombs.

      It has been a while since I read the handbook, so you might recall better: does it say anything about “shaping perceptions” and “winning hearts and minds”? Since that is supposedly one of the other functions of HTS (there is always some “other” function, it turns out), one would expect a handbook to speak to that. Of course, the handbook itself serves such a purpose, for the American public. I suspect that this “wikileak” was deliberate subterfuge.

  3. Pingback: Montgomery McFate: Gone from the Human Terrain System « ZERO ANTHROPOLOGY

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