Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Constellanut Blogging Again

With the immediate sale of Futures Group (back) to the creeps of Constella, it's only appropriate to restart ConstellaNut.

For first timers, Welcome. To everyone else, Welcome Back. ConstellaNut, the unofficial blog for employees of Constella Futures. This blog is being reestablished for employees and others to post information, express opinions, make comments and otherwise communicate about decisions, changes, events and other issues that are occurring, or will occure at Constella Futures.

Let's get to it.

Futures Group Sold Again! Third Time Is No Charm.

OMG. SRA announced today that it has sold Constella Futures LLC to a group of private investors led by former Constella Group Chairman & CEO Don Holzworth. And here is the bad news, as part of the transaction, Chris LeGrand will move to Constella Futures as CEO. Nevertheless, SRA stocks are up slightly.

Incredible. Even more so as this comes on the immediate heels of the Futures Group ESOP distribution - 4 + years after the original sale. It's no wonder they continue to lie and mislead about the eventual distribution.

It's like when Bonapart returned from exile in Elba to rule for 100 days war? Will the team of LeGrand and Holzwortz do any better this time around? Only shorty knows!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Futures Group Sold for Second Time in Two Years! Defense Contractor SRA International will be New Owner

After being acquired by Constella Group two years ago, the former Futures Group, its contracts and staff will be sold again to SRA International in July. The renamed Constella Futures is part of the wholesale sale of the Constella Group to the large defense contractor. We are stunned by this development especially in view of the tortuous transition process that has disrupted many aspects of the company's work since the original sale - not to mention the wholesale reduction of benefits and remuneration. Now, we will have to endure another transition which management has said will go very smoothly. Of course, that is what management said two years ago before the real troubles began!

SRA International largest market is national security including the the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Department of Defense, Guard, the Department of Homeland Security, other intelligence agencies, and other federal organizations with homeland security missions. They are heavily into data mining in these endeavors as well as in the provision and oversight of IT systems such as e-mail. Given Constella's practice of reading employees e-mails (see below), the two groups will be a good fit in at least one regard.

Various SRA press releases and published articles detail the expected benefits that will accrue to SRA from this purchase. Here is one of the clearer statements justifying the acquisition made by SRA Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Stephen Hughes:

"Constella's health market credentials address a key element of our long-term strategy. We expect this transaction to be accretive to earnings in Fiscal Year 2008, with significant cash tax benefits. We believe the strength and stability of our cash flows provide ample borrowing capacity to make further acquisitions in the near term." http://www.tradingmarkets.com/.site/news/BREAKING%20NEWS/565577/

An SRA spokesperson chose not to comment about potential layoffs at Constella. Given the layoffs that occurred after the Constella purchase of Futures Group, and the subsequent departure of scores of top staff, who knows what to expect.

Friday, June 1, 2007

E-Mail Not Private Anymore - Beware!

In a recent court case against the company on an arbitrary firing of a key staff member on Christmas Eve, the court stated that the firm "presented only vague and unsupported testimony" and that firm "failed to offer sufficient evidence in the record to establish the Claimant was discharged for misconduct..." (See DC Employment Court Decisions, May 2007)

This was a clear case of the demoralizing atmosphere that has existed since the take-over and has resulted in so many departures. Critical to the case that the company tried to make in the court hearing were a series of employee e-mails. The reading of employee e-mail is denied by management in the hallways, but yet they presented personal staff e-mails as evidence in court. It is clear from the court records that they sifted through staff e-mails trying to uncover 'evidence of disloyalty.' The reaction to this has been predictable. Many employees shifted to their private e-mail accounts for any communication that could possibly be construed as critical of the company. One former senior manager resigned after the gross privacy infringement and wrote the following letter to this blog:

“I understand the corporate reality is that your employer 'owns' your company e-mail address. We would all be well advised to be aware of this and have private address for personal matters. However, I was and am still troubled that the company felt that it could exercise its 'right' to go into email exchanges between employees are a way of drumming up proof to unfairly dismiss an employee. This action was NOT discussed at any senior management meeting and therefore, there was no opportunity for the leadership team to participate in this decision. This action yet again undermined the company's leadership team and made employees even more suspicious of us. Given, in our technical work we where we advocate for human rights and transparency, it strikes me as terribly inconsistent that they don’t practice the same values.”

It is this atmosphere that contributes to the staff defections that are still occurring at the firm.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Mass Defections of Key Staff after Take-over of Futures Group

In the 18 months since the full take-over of the Futures Group, there have been mass defections of numerous key management, technical, and finance staff. Many of these departing staff had been with the company for years and were instrumental in building the Futures Group programs and human capacity. The list includes very senior managers and officers, center directors, project directors, and internationally-known technical experts in reproductive health and HIV/AIDS.

In the U.S. alone, Futures has lost about 40 percent of the technical and management staff it had when Constella took over. A total of 16 senior staff at the officer or director levels departed, and numerous mid-and lower level technical and administrative staff have followed them. The following are some of the job titles of these critical staff members:
  • Vice President and Director of the Center for Analysis and Modeling
  • Chief Operating Officer
  • Director of the Center for Policy Development
  • Managing Director, Futures Group - Europe
  • President of Futures Group International, Vice President of Futures Holding, Futures Europe, and the Institute of Sustainable Development
  • Vice President, and Former Director of Center for Private Sector Solutions and Director Center for Policy & Advocacy
  • Vice President - Operations
  • Director Center of International Health
  • Former Director Center for International Health
  • Director of Center for Private Sector Solutions
  • Director of the Center for Analysis and Modeling
  • Deputy Director Futures Group - Europe
  • Director of the HPI Project
  • Deputy Director Center for HIV/AIDS
  • CFO Futures Group and Futures Europe
  • Director of Human Resources
  • Manager of Communications
Many of these experienced staff members also served as project directors for the company and were well-known and regarded by the company's main sponsors in USAID, DfID, and the Gates Foundation. In all, more than 50 individuals quit the company in the year and a half after the take over. Industry observers report that this is an extraordinarily high level of defections under any circumstances, and that it will no doubt affect the firm’s ability to expand it work in international health.

Insiders and former employees cite various reasons for the mass defections. Among these are severe cuts in benefits and overall remuneration, below industry average annual increases, reductions in holidays, and sick leave. For example, the 401k match was drastically reduced in 2006. Many former and current staff have also cited poor management and communications practices, senior management arrogance, and misrepresentations about the adverse impacts of the take-over on staff remuneration and benefits. It has been recently reported that Constella has been unable to fill several key management and technical positions despite months of recruiting.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Conflict of Interst: Greasing The Skids For HPV Vaccine

Some may not be surprised to hear that HPV is officially listed as a known carcinogen. But how many people know that the company that placed HPV on the federal government list has numerous drugmakers, including Merck and Glaxo, as clients? And that the company placed HPV on the list while Merck and Glaxo were developing HPV vaccines?

The scenario sounds like a conflict of interest, especially after considering that the Constella Group, whose official advisers include former US Health and Human Services secretary Tommy Thompson, added HPV within three months of receiving a $6.6 million government contract to compile a list of carcinogens. The contract was awarded four years ago. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on May 5 that a congressional investigation of this and possible other similar possible conflicts of interest was being contenpleted.

Constella has received more than $246 million from federal agencies in the past seven years while also working for drugmakers the government oversees, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. Constella says it has internal controls to prevent conflicts of interest between its government duties and its work for drugmakers, but the government doesn't require corporate contractors to disclose their private-sector clients.

Constella won't discuss its work for drugmakers, saying the info is confidential, but its government clients include the FDA, the CDC, and the NIH, which paid Constella $6.6 million to update and oversee the carcinogen list. The firm also won a separate $21 million contract to monitor and report vaccine side effects. Major vaccine-makers that Constella has listed as clients on archived editions of its web site include, Novartis, Eli Lilly and AstraZeneca.

Don Holzworth, Constella's CEO, says the firm has its own ethics board and other measures to protect against conflicts. "If we found ourselves in that situation, we'd remove ourselves from that situation. There is too much at stake to allow something like that to happen."

To fulfill the contract, Constella had to review nominations for the list, choose scientific literature to prepare technical reports, and draft a final report - all of which had in past years been conducted by government scientists.

“I was on this project back in the day,” says Jim Huff, associate director for chemical cardinogenesis at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, “at a time when it was decided by us in the institute which chemicals should be considered” (to be included in the report). “It’s the only list of known or reasonably anticipated carcinogens in the United States that’s official. It has a significant impact in this country, in particular, and around the world.”

In other words, the problem is outsourcing. To cut back, federal agencies are giving industry a greater role in making such important decisions. And that sets up the potential for conflicts. But if there’s no oversight, who does the public rely on to prevent or remedy a conflict?


Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Constella Pays Major Lobbying Firm for Access

After taking on Tommy Thompson as the Chairman of its influential Advisory Board, Constella made a $180,000 payment to Thompson's firm, Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, for unspecified lobbying services. The company's CEO Holzworth told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that, "He can make introductions for us." Thompson, as a member of President Bush's cabinet, oversaw many of the agencies that Constella works for today. "The majority of our business is through relationships with public agencies, both in the U.S. and foreign governments."

At the same time, Constella hired Thompson's longtime friend, Stewart Simonson, as a Vice President for "emergency health preparedness" - a field in which Constella has very little experience. (See 2006 entries below for more information.)

Susanne Rust and Cary Spivak, "Drug-testing industry turns to private sector", Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 1, 2007.
"Constella Group: Client Summary, 2006" Opensecrets.org, accessed May 2007.
"Report: Research company hired by feds denies conflict on virus", Associated Press, April 30, 2007.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Company hired by feds denies conflict on virus

A medical research company [Constella Group] hired by the federal government to update its list of carcinogens added a virus to the list while two of its clients were developing vaccines to combat that same virus, a newspaper reported Sunday.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said the Constella Group's two clients, Merck & Co. and GlaxoSmithKline, are involved in a push to have every adolescent girl in the nation receive the vaccine against the sexually transmitted human papilloma virus.

But Don Holzworth, Constella's founder and chief executive officer, denied in a letter to the Journal Sentinel that there is even a hint of a conflict.

"The work that we did on behalf of Merck and GlaxoSmithKline, and any other pharmaceutical or biotechnology clients, does not conflict with any work that we have previously done, or are currently doing, on behalf of our government contracts," he said.

The Journal Sentinel said Glaxo officials did not respond to repeated requests for comment, and a Merck spokesman declined comment.
Calls Sunday by The Associated Press to Constella, Merck and Glaxo were not immediately returned.

The Journal Sentinel said the Constella Group has received more than $246 million from an array of federal agencies during the last seven years while also working for drug companies the government oversees.

Holzworth told the newspaper the company has its own ethics board, among other measures, to protect against conflicts.

read more http://www.eagleherald.com/nvir0430.asp

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Drug-testing industry turns to private sector

In the 1980s, when pharmaceutical companies were looking to cut costs and speed up the process of getting drugs through the cumbersome federal review and approval process, an industry was born: contract research organizations, or CROs.

These private companies, staffed with scientists and analysts, are designed to provide pharmaceutical companies and federal health agencies with everything from testing new drugs to evaluating the safety and ethics of industry clinical trials - once the domain of in-house staff and university campuses.

And they're becoming increasingly popular because of the emphasis they place on fast results.
Universities "are not all about efficiency and speed, you know, it's a whole different mode," said Don Holzworth, Constella Group founder and chief executive officer. "It's pure thought leadership - they are paid to sit back and think and think and think and think, and then publish."


Monday, January 15, 2007

Constella Staff Receive Below Average Salary Increases for 2007?

Washington Post, November 13, 2006

"Did you get a raise this year? Expecting one in 2007? To adjust your expectations, consider one survey that indicates pay increases in the region will be about the same next year.

Companies surveyed in the Washington area say they plan to set aside 4.2 percent of their '07 payroll budgets for raises, bonuses and other compensation, a nudge higher than the 4.15 percent they reserved in 2006 (Constella was reportedly 4.0 percent for 2006 and about 4 percent for 2007 - below industry averages for D.C.-based government consulting firms).

Among the 197 companies surveyed, government contractors anticipated the biggest budgets for pay increases in 2007 -- about 4.5 percent for salaried workers, according to the Human Resource Association of the National Capital Area.

"It may not seem like a big increase, but 0.1 percent can mean the difference of hundreds of thousands of dollars for companies to give in pay increases," said Angelo Kostopoulos, a spokesman for the group.

The group surveyed businesses in several industries, including financial services companies such as Chevy Chase Bank and defense contractors such as Northrop Grumman Information Technology.

What the survey did not tell was how evenly those pay raises would be distributed among workers. A Washington Post analysis earlier this year showed that the most highly paid workers in the area received the biggest percentage pay raises between 2003 and 2005, while the lowest-paid received the smallest increases.

According to the analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data, those in the highest pay brackets -- chief executives, lawyers and other professionals earning more than $100,000 -- saw their wages rise 8.5 percent. From 2003 to 2005, the average wage for people in the lowest pay bracket, with salaries around $20,000, rose only 5.4 percent in the Washington region -- not enough to keep up with inflation. "

While keeping salary increases at the lowest level of the norm and reducing employee benefits, Constella senior executives and directors received their customary bonuses for 2006.

Friday, September 15, 2006

But who really is the man who will be "Vice President for Global Public Health Preparedness"

"Simonson's alleged lack of qualifications and of public health experience have been a target""...a behind the scenes fixer who gets funding and political support for long-neglected public-health initiatives..."

"So how is it that Simonson ended up in a position that could impact the lives and health of millions? Simonson's qualifications can be summed up in two words: Tommy Thompson." [Chairman of Constella Advisory Board of Directors] "Mr. Simonson is a lawyer, not a medical expert," declared Representative Henry Waxman, who highlighted Simonson in a list of five "inexperienced individuals with political connections."

Another "Brownie"?

A lawyer? A former Amtrak lawyer? And he is learning as he goes???

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Constella’s New Visual Identity Unveiled in Company Brochure: What Does Constella Do?

"The faces represent our diverse populations and convey expressions of hope and optimism. " huh?"Light and dark colors symbolize that our colleagues throughout the world are ..."
people of color?

"water and wheat, convey sustainability"
what about AIR can't live without it?

“Common ground is an important theme for us and is what makes us unique. I hope when employees look at this new brochure that they see a vibrant representation of what they do, why they do it, and most importantly, the people we serve.”
Who speaks like this?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

IF IT CAN BE DONE AT WAL-MART.....why not at Constella where benefits have been slashed?

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Employees of retail giant Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT - news) have set up their second trade union in China, pushing toward the Chinese labor federation's goal of unionizing every Wal-Mart store in the country.

The second union was established by 42 employees of a Wal-Mart outlet in the southern boomtown of Shenzhen, the official Xinhua news agency reported on Saturday.The first was set up late last month in the southeastern province of Fujian. A senior official of the state-controlled All-China Federation of Trade Unions has said the body will work toward establishing a union in every Wal-Mart outlet.\

The U.S. retail chain, which employs more than 30,000 people at stores across China, has long resisted pressure to unionize its workers in the United States and elsewhere.

Saturday, August 5, 2006

Welcome to ConstellaNut

Welcome to ConstellaNut, an unofficial blog for employees of Constella Group and others. This blog was established for employees and others to post information, express opinions, make comments and otherwise communicate about decisions, changes, events and other issues that are occurring at Constella. This blog is intended to provide a forum for people to express their views. It is not intended as a forum for disclosing classified or confidential information.