Late deal dodges FGIPC/IAC split

An 11th-hour agreement between leaders of two prominent government-related information technology professional organizations resolved a damaging dispute that threatened the future of the Federation of Government Information Processing Councils (FGIPC) and the Industry Advisory Council (IAC), its chief source of funds.

Discord between FGIPC and IAC came to a head earlier this month when FGIPC president Neil Stillman, deputy assistant secretary for information resources management at the Department of Health and Human Services, dismissed IAC's board of directors, fired its executive director and took control of the organization's finances.

Stillman said in an interview last week that he moved to gain control of hundreds of thousands of dollars in IAC membership dues that he said rightfully belonged to FGIPC, IAC's parent organization. "The IAC had illegally diverted funds to its own account that were FGIPC's," he charged. "The action was to correct an illegal act."

With the intervention of IAC board member Marv Gordon and IAC member Carl Peckinpaugh, Stillman and IAC vice chairman Bob Guerra were able to negotiate an agreement late Friday. The accord turned over the disputed IAC money to FGIPC and reinstated Guerra and other members of IAC's board and administrative staff.

The agreement was driven by IAC members who were frustrated and embarrassed by the organization's deteriorating relationship with FGIPC. Many IAC members noted with irony that their organization, which had been set up to facilitate communications between industry and government, was actually hindering the process.

"I am saddened by the dispute," IAC member Bob Steele, general manager of business development planning at Boeing Information Services, said last week. "IAC has done a lot of good things. IAC only exists because of FGIPC, and they need to work together."

One senior government official also expressed his displeasure with the FGIPC/IAC dispute. "They're throwing mud at each other, and we're all getting dirty," the official said.

Stillman and Guerra said their immediate priority is to instill confidence among their members. "We need to make sure the community in general understands there are mature adults running [IAC and FGIPC]," Guerra said. "We can't allow a dispute that went on for a couple of weeks to negate what we've worked seven years for."

"It's definitely done damage," Stillman said of the dispute. "The only way one repairs damage is to show a cooperative working arrangement. The more of that we do, the more people will forget what has happened."

Under the terms of Friday's agreement, principals of the two organizations will meet to discuss the details of their budgeting process. Guerra said the discussions will focus on whether FGIPC is operating at a deficit and, if so, where to make funding cuts.

Stillman said both sides would start immediately to repair the damage to his reputation as FGIPC president. Following Stillman's April 12 letter dismissing IAC's board, a majority of FGIPC's board called for his resignation.

"The concern that I had was that this agreement automatically makes the IAC board whole again, but it doesn't make my tenure as president whole again," Stillman said. "[Guerra] has assured me that the influence of the IAC board on FGIPC board members will be reversed."

Guerra said he would "personally support Neil in his position as president."

Established in 1979, FGIPC is a federation of government information processing and telecommunications councils. It offers a series of seminars and programs, the most prominent of which is the annual Management of Change conference. IAC, an advisory committee to FGIPC, was founded in 1989 to better communications between government and industry.

Sources said friction between the two groups began last August when FGIPC's Management of Change conference, held in 1995 in Leesburg, Va., brought in dramatically less revenue than predicted, leaving the organization with a $135,000 bill for conference facilities that it could not afford.

At about the same time, IAC members began expressing concerns that FGIPC was living beyond its financial means, including hiring a new association director at a premium salary instead of relying on volunteer workers, as done in the past, and opening a new office.

Guerra said the IAC leadership offered to serve as FGIPC's "administrative organ-ization" to set up and manage the conference and other events for no charge. "The next thing I knew, the IAC board was dismissed by Neil Stillman without any discussion," Guerra said.

Stillman initially unveiled the charges of IAC's alleged financial wrongdoing at a press conference earlier this month. "IAC was established as a vehicle to foster communications between industry and government," he said then. "However, the leadership of IAC has lost its way. It now fosters business interests rather than communication."

Stillman said FGIPC was operating in dire financial straits because IAC officials reneged on funds they had promised to FGIPC for 1995 and 1996. For 1996, he said IAC planned to turn over to FGIPC only $55,000 out of about $400,000 collected in membership dues.

But IAC chairman Israel Feldman said before the resolution was reached that the dispute really focused on Stillman's attempt to usurp IAC's money to bail FGIPC out of financial problems caused by Stillman's mismanagement. He said FGIPC had money in its coffers at the beginning of Stillman's term and is now in debt—largely because of the unsuccessful Leesburg conference.

"When he took over, there was $250,000. He mismanaged the funds," Feldman said.

Stillman also had charged that IAC had wrongfully opened a bank account using FGIPC's tax-exempt identification number. He said FGIPC's attorney believes IAC cannot qualify for the same tax exemption as FGIPC because it is composed entirely of commercial entities.

IAC attorney Jeffrey Altman, a partner at McKenna & Cuneo, Washington, D.C., said the account had been open for a year with FGIPC's knowledge. He said IAC does not engage in lobbying and could qualify for its own tax exemption but under a category different from FGIPC's exemption.

"I think [Stillman's charges] are there mostly to mask the underlying reasons for the dispute over who will manage and control the activities of IAC," Altman said.

But Matthew Watson, FGIPC's attorney, said IAC's account could endanger FGIPC's tax-exempt status if, for example, IAC members were accused of lobbying activities. "It's as though someone else opened a bank account using your Social Security number," Watson said.

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-- Anne Armstrong contributed to this story.

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