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Thursday, November 19, 2015

6 Questions to Ask During a Startup Job Interview

Interviewing for a startup is mostly about making sure you want to work there rather than making them to want you on board.

After hiring for my own startups, I’ve learned a lot about what hiring managers look for in a startup setting. The following six questions will help you stand out from other candidates. Also, they’ll help you decide if the startup is the right fit for you, which is equally important.

What are the first projects that I will need to complete in the first three months on the job?

Everyone thinks they know what a fast workflow is like — until they work at a startup. Priorities change by the day. The whole direction of the company could shift in a week. Force your interviewer to think about the job and talk about details as if you’re already in the role. This question forces your interviewer to talk about the job as if you’re already in it, which gives you an opportunity to ask smart follow-up questions about the work you would likely be doing on the first day.

What performance metrics would I need to meet and exceed, for me to score an A+ on my first evaluation?

You’ve already placed yourself in the role. Now assume you’re a Pro Bowl hire. Asking about your performance review shows that you have the confidence not only to think you’ll get the job, but also to do whatever is expected to be a high achiever. Also, this is a practical question to ask. The way a startup executive judges success, may differ from your previous employer. Get insights into expectations and learn about the priorities of your future boss all at same time.

Do you see any areas in my experience or skill sets that would prevent you from hiring me for this position right now?

It’s a bold question, but also one that, if asked with finesse, can add some levity to the interview. You want your interviewer to see your ambition and confidence, and you also want to put them in a position where they see you as a natural fit. In a worst case scenario, they sum up what you’re lacking and at the very least, you have the opportunity to counter their negatives with positives.

What companies are our biggest competitors? What are our strengths, both corporately and culturally, compared to these competitors? What are our weaknesses?

The preceding questions are focused on the work and about your skill sets, but this question lets the interviewer know that you’re already thinking about the position as if you owned it. This question also shows that you think like a leader — someone who knows how to put the company first. In the startup, world leaders are forged in fire. Demonstrate that you’re ready for the challenge from day one.

How would you describe your leadership style?

You’ve heard it before — in interviews, about getting the interviewee to talk about herself. People always like to discuss their accomplishments, and by asking about a specific leadership style, you’re teeing it up for the interviewer to hit a home run to pat themselves on the back all the way around the bases.

What do you like the most about working for Company X?

The last big question you should never forget to ask on an interview pertains to the actual quality of life at the company where you’re seeking employment. What does your interviewer like about working there? How are the hours? Does it fulfill a life mission to work in X field? Why should you want to work there as well?

Remember, interviews are two-way conversations. At this point in the interview, your interviewer should want to convince you to work for them as much as you’re trying to secure the job.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

5 Things to Know Before You Interview With a Cannabis Company

by Todd Michem

NOVEMBER 16, 2015

I was a successful leader of one of the largest consulting firms in the world. I coached some of the world’s top business leaders. Then I left corporate America to work in the cannabis industry, where I assumed my decade-plus of leadership experience, corporate design knowledge and other skills would be of value.

I was both right and wrong.

To be sure, many of the people I met in the industry appreciated the help I could offer their emerging companies. But it was my initial approach, and my lack of intimate knowledge of the industry and culture, that nearly killed my budding -- no pun intended -- new career. So, I began working around the clock to make myself expert in this new industry.

And, eventually, my newly humble approach helped me gain the knowledge and experience (as well as respect) I needed to become an industry leader. Here are the top five things I’ve learned about landing a job in the cannabis world:

1. We don’t often call it weed, pot, or marijuana. It’s 'cannabis.'

One of the first things I learned is that this industry is shaking off the stigma of “weed” and “stoners” and replacing those images with the more professional one of “cannabis.”

When you are in this industry (or interviewing for it), be mindful of the words you use and the jokes you toss off. We hate the typical “stoner” jokes the media makes. It’s a plant first, and its name is cannabis. 

2. Don’t assume anything . . . and ask lots of questions.

I made some pretty big assumptions about the industry back when I started. Number one, I assumed that all owners drove Ferraris and were among the richest people in the world. This is dead wrong. Many of the leaders aren't wealthy, live modestly, drive the same cars they have for years and put all their profits back into their businesses.

I also assumed that I would be surrounded by people who were not particularly professional. Also false. In fact, this industry is producing very passionate, innovative and professional people.

The best way to avoid these same mistakes is: Ask lots of questions. Determine if the company you hope to work for is structured or not. Find out how its team manages day-to-day operations, and who has decision-making power (sometimes it is the founder, and sometimes others in the company).

3. Be ready to work hard . . . maybe harder than you have before.

Another surprising aspect of the industry, I found, was the speed at which it operates. I often say the cannabis industry is "like the dotcom era meets the industrial revolution and is moving at the speed of light." In fact, a month in the cannabis world is like a year in the corporate world, and that’s no exaggeration.

If you work in this industry, you can expect long hours and hard work.

The good news is that you’ll have a purpose. It feels like we are changing the world, which means we are focused on success, ideas and innovation every minute of every day. Just remember that once it takes hold of you, it won’t let go. If you want the most exciting career of your life, strap in, hold on and be ready to work.

4. Self-starters are wanted here.

In the corporate universe, workers have leaders, and those leaders often give direction. Sometimes, leaders give clear direction, but oftentimes people run around their offices wasting their days in a land of indecision, committees and meetings, with little to show at the end of the day.

This industry is different. We demand your best ideas every day to make us better, and we always expect a self-starter attitude. Make your own way, help us find better solutions and contribute.

At High There! our head of social media and marketing, Megan, is young, smart and educated. She shows up every day with a million new ideas, suggestions and improvements. She has a seat at the table, which is more than most people her age have in most companies. But that is because she comes in every morning ready to contribute. That is how you win in this industry -- by being humble, ready to work and excited to be on board.

5. Prepare to be around cannabis a lot.

Simply put: We like cannabis. And we use it as a medical and recreational product. In fact we call it a “medicreational” product, since it’s fun and good for us.

While of course it's not a requirement to consume cannabis to work in the industry, be prepared to articulate your personal relationship with it when you’re interviewing.

One of the questions I ask all people I interview is, “What is your relationship to cannabis?” The answer is very important because it tells us your attitude in regards to the plant.

Warning! If you have an aversion to cannabis, go no further. If you’re simply looking for the opportunity to make money or build a career in this space, but don’t believe in the plant and all it can do, I suggest you save yourself time and energy.

We are a very unique industry that stands firmly in the belief that cannabis is good and has amazing health benefits. We have built a multibillion dollar industry on this, and we’re not stopping any time soon.

House Passes Bill Capping Fiscal 2016 VA Senior Executive Bonuses

by Kellie Lunney, Nov. 17, 2015

This story has been updated.

The House on Monday unanimously passed legislation capping fiscal 2016 bonuses for Veterans Affairs senior executives at $2 million.

The measure amends the 2014 Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act to specifically limit the total amount of performance awards and bonuses given to top career executives at the department in fiscal 2016. 

The language in the Choice Act required the department to cap the aggregate amount of award and bonuses doled out to all VA employees at $360 million in each of the fiscal years 2015 through 2024. 

The VA had nearly 360,000 employees as of June 2015, according to data from the Office of Personnel Management’s Fedscope; of that total, 335 were listed as career senior executives.

The provision was inserted into H.R. 1338, which requires the department to study the burial of veterans’ unclaimed remains in national cemeteries run by the National Cemetery Administration.

House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., praised lawmakers for “reining in VA’s outrageous, everyone-gets-a bonus culture,” calling on the Senate to follow suit.

The Senate companion bill to H.R. 1338 was folded into a larger measure aimed at improving VA’s disability compensation claims backlog, which the Senate passed last week. Neither one of those bills contained a provision that would cap senior executive bonuses in fiscal 2016, as H.R. 1338 does. 

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., unsuccessfully offered an amendment earlier this month to the fiscal 2016 Military Construction-VA spending bill that would have prohibited senior executives at the Veterans Benefits Administration from receiving bonuses.

A Nov. 11 USA Today report found that the VA paid out more than $142 million in performance-based bonuses in 2014 to senior executives and other employees despite the department’s wide-ranging management problems.

“Among the recipients were claims processors in a Philadelphia benefits office that investigators dubbed the worst in the country last year,” the report said. “They received $300 to $900 each. Managers in Tomah, Wis., got $1,000 to $4,000, even though they oversaw the over-prescription of opiates to veterans – one of whom died.”

The newspaper’s editorial board on Monday criticized the department for rewarding employees involved in mismanagement with bonuses.

“Misbegotten bonuses are not the VA’s most vital concern, but they're a troubling sign of ongoing dysfunction,” the piece stated. “If the agency can’t even stop handing out rewards to employees implicated in scandals, prospects seem poor that it can fix its far more complex problems.”

VA has argued that performance awards and bonuses are an important way the department recruits and retains a talented workforce. "We are making every effort to recruit more quality people to help us care for those who 'have borne the battle,' particularly health care professionals," wrote VA Secretary Bob McDonald, in a separate op-ed published in USA Today on Monday. "We need every tool to compete and attract exceptional people to serve veterans as well as they served our nation."

McDonald pushed back on the criticism over the newspaper's report on performance awards, saying that "severely curtailing" such incentives only at the VA would be a "mistake." He also noted that the bonuses mentioned in the story were "more than a year old" and adhered to Office of Personnel Management standards.

"They are based on performance during that period, not on events occurring after it. The majority who received awards were rank-and-file workers," he said.

Yet Another Agency Head Asks for More Firing Authority

by Eric Katz, Nov. 17, 2015

The embattled Secret Service should have an easier time firing misbehaving employees, agency director Joseph Clancy told a bicameral panel of lawmakers on Tuesday.

Clancy continually agreed with members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and House Homeland Security committees as they deplored recent scandals involving Secret Service employees, a lack of leadership at the agency and the need for increased accountability. 

He promised that some employees have already been disciplined and promised to further punish supervisors as external investigations are concluded.

Among non-Senior Executive Service employees, Clancy said the agency will propose 42 suspensions ranging from three to 12 days. He added the Secret Service must do more and repeated many of the criticisms lobbed by the lawmakers.

“Reprehensible, embarrassing,” Clancy said, summarizing the committee members’ assessments of some of his employees’ actions. “I agree with everything that’s been said today, and so does my workforce.”

He acknowledged, however, his words would not be sufficient.

“I also understand that apologies and expressions of anger are not enough,” Clancy said. “Appropriate discipline is being administered in accordance with [Homeland Security Department] and Secret Service policy. I am confident that the actions regarding the individuals involved will be prompt, fair and appropriate.”

Several lawmakers made clear they were not satisfied with the actions proposed by the Secret Service, saying employees should be fired. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., chairman of the governmental affairs committee, said, “there’s nothing more corrosive in an organization with a cultural problem” than allowing malfeasance to go unpunished. Johnson specifically asked Clancy if he would like Congress to provide additional authority to take disciplinary action more quickly, to which the director said he would.

In dealing with recent scandals at their own agencies, leaders at the Veterans Affairs Department, Environmental Protection Agency and Drug Enforcement Agency have all asked Congress for more authority in removing employees. To date, Congress has only made good on VA’s request.

While Clancy blamed civil service protections afforded to federal employees for holding him back from taking more immediate or severe actions, some lawmakers did not buy the excuse.

“Why so slow?” asked Rep. Curt Clawson, R-Fla., of the time it has taken for the Secret Service to hold employees accountable. “Systematic, shmysteshmatic. You’re the chief; you’ve got the head of Homeland Security [on your side]. Let’s go.”

Clancy said the Secret Service would publish all the final disciplinary actions to the entire workforce to boost transparency and demonstrate he is dealing with the bad apples. In addition to heightened staffing levels and training, Clancy said accountability would improve the sinking morale at the agency. He conceded part of the issues stem from the top ranks.

“It starts with me,” Clancy said.

Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., said the misconduct at the Secret Service -- and what the congressman saw as insufficient discipline -- could signal more pervasive problems throughout the federal workforce.

“If it happened at the Service, what’s to say any other federal agency is any better?” Perry asked.

Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., called for a cultural shift at the agency -- as did just about ever lawmaker present at the hearing Tuesday -- but defended federal employees at large.

“We have a tremendous number of people that work in the federal workforce that are great people,” Lankford said, “that generally love the country and love what their job is.” 

The problem, he added, is the small fraction, “the 1 percent,” that engage in misconduct. Lankford also said if the tables were flipped, there would be a lot more than 1 percent of Congress involved in embarrassing activity.

To turn things around at the Secret Service, Lankford proposed making the overtime system more consistent, holding managers accountable, providing agents with the newest technologies and providing a more consistent career track. The situation, he said, could be worse.

“No one’s been shot,” Lankford said. “There’s just some things that are messed up.”

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Federal Managers Want to Know What Will Become of Union’s VA ‘Hit List’

by Kelley Lunney, Nov. 11, 2015

Advocates for senior executives and federal managers want to know what the secretary of Veterans Affairs plans to do with a union report detailing the alleged bad behavior of several department supervisors.

Citing a “growing concern on the status of labor-management relations at the VA,” the Senior Executives Association and Federal Managers Association sent VA Secretary Bob McDonald a letter on Tuesday asking that he give “little creedence [sic]” to a July report compiled by the American Federation of Government Employees Local 17, allegedly at McDonald’s request. The 40-page report details alleged incidents of harassment, discrimination, bullying and incompetence by “disruptive and ineffective” managers who work in VA’s Central Office.

“We ask that you examine the personnel records of those managers and supervisors listed in the report before any actions are taken,” the groups wrote. “We call upon you to examine charges filed against them and the failure to find supportive evidence.”

SEA and FMA said they had been contacted by several managers named in the report. “While they corroborated the fact that complaints have been filed against them, complaints were often found to be unsubstantiated. Because these managers and supervisors had repeated, yet groundless, accusations against them, FMA and SEA worry that instead of thoughtfully examining constructive means to improve VA, Local 17 is personally targeting managers and supervisors and perpetuating labor-management hostility,” the letter stated.

The groups also said that since the report surfaced, they have heard from “several VA managers and supervisors who have been verbally threatened and harassed by union representatives and members.”

Some of the allegations against the managers detailed in the report are specific examples of abuse or intolerance, while others are more general criticisms of managers’ leadership abilities and communication skills.

One senior executive allegedly directed subordinates to sign documents indicating that mid-year performance reviews had taken place even though they had not; another manager played favorites with employees who share his religious beliefs, according to the report. Another supervisor, who is described as a “disgrace” with a “disordered personality,” harasses female employees, the report claimed, while others have allegedly made disparaging remarks about a subordinate’s sexual orientation, forced employees to ask for permission to use the bathroom, yelled and cursed at subordinates, and ignored requests for reasonable accommodations and advance sick leave – some from disabled veterans.

“Secretary McDonald has yet to confirm whether or not he specifically asked for this report, or even if he has received it,” said Tim Dirks, SEA Interim President. “We're seeking clarity at SEA and FMA, and if the secretary does read the report, we are kindly reminding him that the union’s report only presents one side of the story and their list of grievances should be taken with a grain of salt.”

VA responded to an inquiry about the letter on Wednesday, but could not answer whether the department had received it, or what the secretary planned to do with the report. A call to VA Secretary McDonald’s cell phone was not immediately returned. AFGE also did not immediately respond to questions about the SEA-FMA letter.

In addition, SEA and FMA have asked the leadership of four congressional committees, including Veterans’ Affairs, to investigate whether the report was compiled on official time. “While official time provides for federal labor organizations to conduct representational activities, it does not cover a union investigating agency managers and executives for the purpose of creating a ‘hit list’ of those it seeks to have removed from the agency,” the groups said in the Nov. 10 letter.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Despite Drugs, Sex with a Minor and More, EPA Employees Still Got Paid

Insubordination, disruptive behavior, falsifying documents, threatening colleagues—those were the least egregious reasons employees at the Environmental Protection Agency were placed on extended administrative leave as documented in a recent audit by the agency inspector general. Administrative leave is an excused absence without loss of pay or benefits, including personal leave time.

There was the employee jailed for felony drug possession, and another who admitted to knowingly having sex with a minor—both of whom spent months away from work while still pocketing pay as EPA managers and administrators determined their employment status.

The audit follows an “early warning report” the IG issued EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in November 2014 about excessive costs the agency was incurring while employees were under investigation.
That report found that among a sample of employees, eight had totaled nearly 21,000 hours of paid administrative leave, costing taxpayers more than $1 million. Four of the eight employees had been on leave for longer than a year.

The subsequent audit, released yesterday, details seven of those cases (the eighth remains under investigation and was therefore not included in the audit).

A major problem was a lack of documentation to explain why the leave was authorized. In one example, and employee received 5,881 hours of administrative leave. Despite two separate efforts to remove the employee for hostile and disruptive actions in the workplace, the employee was ultimately allowed to take disability retirement.

“This was a significant and costly offer, but there was no documentation in the file as to how the settlement agreement terms were arrived at. During interviews, agency officials said litigation risks and other factors were considered in the decision, but those factors were not documented,” the audit said.

Retirement was also offered in the case of the employee who went to jail for drug possession (the worker was indicted for third-degree felony possession of marijuana). The employee signed a separation agreement after months of receiving paid leave, under which the employee voluntarily retired and agreed not to reapply for any position with the agency for five years.

According to the Government Accountability Office, there is no general statutory authority for the use of paid administrative leave. The Office of Personnel Management condones “brief absences” in connection with disciplinary measures because employees are entitled to at least 30 days advance written notice before removal or suspension under the Code of Federal Regulations.

Where employees have committed crimes that would require jail time (or are reasonably believed to have committed such crimes), the advance notice required is only 7 days.

The regulations presume that employees will remain working during the advance notice period, unless their presence poses a threat, is too disruptive or jeopardizes government interests, the IG noted.

The IG recommended that EPA tighten the policies and procedures for approving and documenting administrative leave. Agency officials concurred with the recommendations and have begun taking steps to do so.

Disabled Vets Hired as Feds Get Advance Sick Leave

By Kellie Lunney

November 9, 2015

Disabled veterans hired as federal employees now have access to their full year’s sick leave immediately upon starting their jobs.

President Obama has signed into law the 2015 Wounded Warriors Federal Leave Act, which gives 104 hours of sick leave up front to first-year feds who are vets with a service-connected disability rating of at least 30 percent to attend medical appointments related to their disability. 

During their first year on the job, those vets would still accumulate their normal sick leave. The employees would only be able to use their extra sick leave for treatments directly related to their service and would not be able to carry over the one-time “wounded warrior leave” after the first 12 months on the job.

Prior to the legislation, full-time federal workers in their first year on the job did not have access to sick leave when they started, accruing four hours of such leave per pay period. 

That amounts to a balance of 104 hours at the end of their first year. But disabled vets, who must attend regular medical appointments to maintain their health, and also to continue receiving their veterans’ benefits, quickly burn up their sick leave, according to the Federal Managers Association, which lobbied for the legislation. Many vets also have to travel far to reach the nearest Veterans Affairs Department facility to receive treatment, which can eat up leave time.

The bipartisan bill had wide support in both chambers of Congress.

“As we approach Veterans Day, I am grateful that the federal government is meeting the needs of these wounded warriors, whose lives will be positively impacted by this legislation,” said FMA National President Patricia Niehaus, in a statement.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Push for Paid Leave

by Valerie Jarrett, Aug. 14, 2015

I often reflect on the challenges of raising my daughter as a single mom. I struggled mightily to fulfill my responsibilities in demanding jobs while ensuring my daughter's every need was being met.

Most days it seemed as if I were juggling a thousand balls in the air simultaneously, and the anxiety I felt was, at times, simply overwhelming. But I was one of the lucky ones. All of my employers provided generous paid leave and paid sick leave. My compensation was equal to that of my male peers.

I had extraordinary, reliable and affordable child care. And from the time my daughter was 2 years old, my employers have all been supportive of my need for workplace flexibility. I have no doubt that their help allowed me to excel at work and enabled me to create a nurturing environment for my child.

However, every day, far too many parents face an impossible choice: bonding with their newborn babies and caring for themselves or their families, or earning essential wages and safeguarding job security. Forty-three million private-sector workers in America lack access to a single day of paid sick leave, a problem that disproportionately affects women of color. In fact, we are the only advanced country that does not guarantee every worker paid leave.

Forty percent of working mothers are now the sole or primary breadwinners, and 55 percent of African-American families are headed by a single mother—compared with 21 percent of White households. Women still earn 77 cents on the dollar compared with men, and African-American women earn just 64 cents on the dollar compared with men.

Making sure people can balance their work and family responsibilities effectively is critical not only for American workers but also for our businesses and the economy. Growing evidence proves that family-friendly policies, including paid leave, paid sick days, equal pay, workplace flexibility and affordable child care, boost employee productivity, reduce turnover and increase profitability in the private sector.

In June 2014, in order to highlight the importance of family-friendly workplace policies, the President held the first-ever White House Summit on Working Families. We brought together workers, business and union leaders, elected officials, economists and family advocates to discuss research that indicates the importance of updated workplace policies, and we shared the best practices from around the country.

Since the summit, President Obama has taken steps to modernize the federal workplace. Employees who are parents of a new child can now receive up to six weeks of paid sick leave. He has also called on Congress to pass legislation giving federal workers an additional six weeks of paid parental leave and to pass the Healthy Families Act, which would enable millions of Americans to get up to seven days of paid sick time. Moreover, the President proposed new funds to encourage states to develop paid family and medical leave programs.

Over the past few months, U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez and I have hit the road for our Lead on Leave: Empowering Working Families Across America tour, which highlights cities and states that are embracing the benefits of paid leave and family-friendly workplace policies. Employers are also following the President's example by implementing competitive leave programs and other family-friendly policies. For example, Goldman Sachs and Johnson & Johnson have expanded their leave policies. Microsoft and Facebook are requiring new paid leave policies for their vendors and suppliers, and Walmart, Target and McDonald's, together with many others, have instituted wage increases. But much work remains.

Those of us who are lucky enough to have jobs that prioritize our health and family responsibilities must not forget that there are millions who are forced to make impossible choices every day. Please join President Obama and raise this issue in your communities. Decision makers need to know that supporting working families is in everyone's best interest, and it's up to each of us to take action. This is not a partisan issue. When women succeed, America succeeds.

Valerie Jarrett is senior advisor to President Obama and chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls.

This article originally appeared in the September 2015 issue of ESSENCE magazine, on newsstands now!

VA Settles with Psychologist Who Claimed Retaliation for Whistleblowing


The Veterans Affairs Department agreed to settle and pay compensatory damages to a staff psychologist who was demoted and subjected to a hostile work environment after exposing time-and-attendance fraud and other financial irregularities, the Office of Special Counsel announced on Tuesday.

David Tharp, a specialist in the post-traumatic stress disorder program in Waco, Texas, worked with the OSC to arrive at a settlement that includes adjusted pay, compensatory damages and “other actions to make him whole,” the office said.

Tharp joined VA’s Center of Excellence for Research on Returning War Veterans in July 2009 as a team leader. According to the OSC’s account, he soon reported “research and financial improprieties and waste, including improper diversion of research funds; falsification of records; and failure to conduct any published research” on traumatic brain injury and PTSD. He also alleged that the office was not adequately using a multimillion-dollar mobile MRI scanner on patients.

Tharp’s manager, identified as Dr. Suzy Gulliver, “took steps to prevent him from earning the same pay as the other team leaders,” the special counsel said. “She also refused to give him performance appraisals and denied Dr. Tharp the bonuses that were given to his peers.”

In September 2010, Tharp relayed his reports to the VA Inspector General before deploying to Afghanistan as an Air Force reservist. While overseas, he provided detailed testimony to the IG, who in a February 2012 report backed his claims. When Tharp returned from active duty, his manager “forced him to take a different position doing administrative and technical support work unrelated to psychology,” the OSC said. The manager then retired.

“Dr. Tharp has served our nation and veterans both in uniform and as a civilian. He deserves our gratitude for his disclosures to improve care at the VA,” said Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner, adding that two veterans associations had commended Tharp for his work. “I appreciate the VA’s efforts to work with OSC to settle Dr. Tharp’s meritorious claims.”