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Operation: DCPS

Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee has reached into the senior ranks of the U.S. Army for a veteran of the war in Afghanistan to fill her newly created chief operating officer's position. Former Brigadier Gen. Anthony J. Tata, who retired May 31 after 28 years in uniform, will be paid $170,000 a year to focus initially on procurement matters and then expand to other key aspects of the system, according to Rhee spokeswoman Jennifer Calloway.

Tata, 49, who started work June 1, previously served as deputy director of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Organization, the agency responsible for coordinating military and industrial efforts to blunt the threat posed by IEDs. He was also deputy commanding general of the 10th Mountain Division and Combined Joint Task Force-76, where he led operations and logistics for nearly 20,000 troops.

He somehow found time to write a couple of novels. According to an Amazon plot summary, "Sudden Threat" chronicles the exploits of CIA paramilitary operative Matt Garrett, mysteriously pulled from Pakistan as he closes in on Al Qaeda leaders. Reassigned to the Phillipines, he unexpectedly finds a dead U.S. Special Forces paratrooper in a downed C-130 and "is thrown into a contest of wits and resiliency in the uncharted rainforests of Mindanao." Tata donates royalties from the book, published last November, to the USO Metro DC Hospital Services Fund for Wounded Warriors.

He is currently enrolled in the Broad Superintendents Academy, started by Los Angeles philanthropist Eli Broad to train leaders with executive experience and place them and urban school districts.

The new job was created as part of a reshuffling that saw the departures of Chief of Schools Tracy Martin and Chief of Teaching and Learning Sherry Ulery. A source with knowledge of Tata's selection said Terence Golden, chairman of the Federal City Council, the influential group of downtown business executives active in education matters, helped recruit Tata to strengthen a senior management team dominated by young, energetic but relatively inexperienced administrators.

DCPS has called in the Army before, and it didn't end all that well. In 1996 the D.C. financial control board, eager to give the school system a clean break from its troubled past, fired Superintendent Franklin L. Smith and replaced him with a tough-talking war hero, retired Army Lt. Gen. Julius W. Becton Jr. As recounted in a 2007 story by The Post's April Witt, Becton said he was encouraged by board members not to debrief Smith. But he finally decided to arrange a quiet meeting with his predecessor. The advice Smith offered was ominous.

"I know you are accustomed to giving orders, turning around and saying, 'Forward march!' " Smith recalled telling Becton. "My only advice is that in this job, you turn around and look to see who is following you. Because every time you think people are following you, they are not. And that includes the inside staff."

Becton quit in frustration 17 months later.

Bill Turque

By Bill Turque  |  June 8, 2009; 5:14 PM ET
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You couldn't make this stuff up. A former general? I knew DCPS had done this before.

Posted by: chelita | June 8, 2009 6:18 PM | Report abuse

Michelle Rhee takes on Brigadier General - and vice versa - This should be interesting. Let's see who is better armed.

Mr. Turque - how about a little investigative reporting on how common it is for generals to quit at age 48 after earning just one star and what the likely reasons would be?

And what is the likelihood of a former commanding officer making a good underling of a younger female despot?

Posted by: efavorite | June 8, 2009 10:44 PM | Report abuse

Here we go again! We're back in the 90's with the military. The more things change, the more they stay the same. General Becton our superintendent of 13 months before quitting, stated that he had been in 3 wars and had never seen anything like DCPS. His chief operating officer, General Williams, departed DCPS abruptly after failing to deliver the needed changes regarding procurement,facilites and other aspects of day to day operations. However, it was discovered after their departure that the army corps of engineers was paid "big" money for a service delivery model that yielded slim and none. This will be interesting.

Posted by: candycane1 | June 9, 2009 12:58 AM | Report abuse

Question: Is the General "at will"?

Posted by: shank2sb | June 9, 2009 1:15 AM | Report abuse

typo in previous post "facilities"

This article says a lot. The General is to "strenghten" a senior management team dominated by young, energetic but relatively inexperienced administrators.

So experience does matter after all. They seem to be admitting what we have known all along. 825 is clueless!

Posted by: candycane1 | June 9, 2009 1:17 AM | Report abuse

Other questions to ponder: Is this going to be a "Becton/Ackerman thing" - in reverse?

Remember, he left and she stepped up to replace him.

Could Ms Rhee be preparing to exit the DCPS theater, her controversial battleground, leaving the General in position to be next in command?

Posted by: shank2sb | June 9, 2009 2:04 AM | Report abuse

"I know you are accustomed to giving orders, turning around and saying, 'Forward march!' " Smith recalled telling Becton. "My only advice is that in this job, you turn around and look to see who is following you. Because every time you think people are following you, they are not. And that includes the inside staff."

Gee, maybe that's something the Post could investigate. Why is it that the leadership can't trust their employees? Is this just DCPS or all DC government or all government? It is amazing how the Post can report extraordinary stuff like this and not realize how incredible it is to outside the beltway people.

Posted by: jy151310 | June 9, 2009 7:51 AM | Report abuse

Is she planning on declaring a military type war against the Council, School Union and Parents?


Posted by: concernedaboutdc | June 9, 2009 10:14 AM | Report abuse

shank2sb: He probably is "at will". He's 49 yrs old. By Rhee's standards, he's already too old. He's a minute under 50.
Out of frustration, like those before him, he may make himself "at will" because it's going to be difficult to create a thinking "boot camp" for "know it alls".

Posted by: candycane1 | June 9, 2009 10:39 AM | Report abuse

So is he going to be called General Tata? This is infrigging-credible.

Posted by: chelita | June 9, 2009 10:45 AM | Report abuse

Of course he's at will, Rhee wouldn't hire anyone who wasn't.

Besides, he's got a fat military pension and nothing to lose.

He's also a fiction writer, which could come in handy.

Posted by: efavorite | June 9, 2009 11:12 AM | Report abuse

can someone clue me in to this "at will" stuff/joke? does it simply mean that you can be fired at will like...i dont know... almost every job in this country?

Posted by: makplan20002 | June 9, 2009 9:06 PM | Report abuse


i think you are reaching for conspiracies regarding the quitting-after-achieving-one-star thing. i dont know much about the military, but i dont think they give out stars like candy... or automatic teacher raises. you dont get a star every year or something. my general impression is that they are hard to get and require a promotion to a higher job

Posted by: makplan20002 | June 9, 2009 9:14 PM | Report abuse

This "at will stuff" wouldn't be such a "joke" if DCPS didn't have such a clueless control freak in charge who has publicly expressed her intention to terminate a signficant share of the workforce--without cause!

Posted by: schooletal | June 9, 2009 9:57 PM | Report abuse

I don't know much about retirement patterns among high-ranking military officers and am curious to know more. I think 48 is young to be a one-star general, but maybe not, if you're also a West point grad who's had battle command experience.

The only thing I'm sure of is that he is currently receiving a good pension and the finest life-long health benefits, which makes him different from the other high-level employees of Ms. Rhee. He doesn’t need her to pay the rent or make his career. That’s already done.

Posted by: efavorite | June 10, 2009 8:56 AM | Report abuse

maybe he was just tired of being in the army. it's good he doesn't need rhee's money. then he will be more likely to stand up to her. isn't that what everyone wants. but go ahead and spin this how you want. try this: dude is probably going to make the teachers take a physical fitness test and fire all the old fat ones who won't pass

Posted by: makplan20002 | June 10, 2009 11:36 PM | Report abuse

Makplan20002: LOL But keep this in mind. We have a mayor who's physically fit but his brain waves are all screwed up.

Posted by: candycane1 | June 12, 2009 9:42 AM | Report abuse

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