Towards a Better USCF
“The same universal principles of democracy, transparency, and accountability are under assault. Those who are loyal to the leaders are rewarded while those in opposition are ignored and discarded. Decisions are made by very few people behind closed doors, and democracy is often heard but seldom seen. Personal political deals take precedence over open commerce and the greater good. The image of chess must be repaired. Every chessplayer will benefit under leadership with the confidence and skills to at last transform chess into a modern sport.”
The United States Chess Federation (USCF) is a saga of lost purpose and values without proper accountability or participation. USCF governance is an interesting case study, which spans almost thirty years, of a drifting and out of control organization with an inbred and insular group of chess workers/promoters/vendors who really did not understand their job as board members. The USCF has built its own little unique Ptolemaic world where best practice is only a theory and all chess is thought to revolve around the USCF board. Governance is played out like some conflicted chess game where personal winning is the goal, double standards prevail, patronage abounds, and the participants ignore the rules as no one is responsible. The game is all about control and personal agendas. Controlling or removing others to promote special interests. The behavior exhibited is almost tribal and the lesson that has not been fully learned is that the skills that used to contribute to a successful player/club/tournament have been disastrous for directing a national nonprofit corporation.
Rather than a business system based on fiduciary duty, an unofficial system has evolved based on patronage, the spoils system, "behind-the-scenes" control, and longstanding political ties. Such as system has a long-term corps of dedicated workers who depend on the patronage generated by favors, appointments, contracts and jobs. Because of this system there continues to be ongoing discussion centered on where personal and USCF interests might collide. This is referred to as a conflict of interest. There appears to be few clear guidelines to help our USCF Officials, partners, employees, vendors, or contractors decide what is appropriate or inappropriate when pursuing what may be perceived as their personal or outside organizations agendas. Many USCF officials still maintain that their competing interests are none of the memberships business.
Note, a conflict of interest is defined as "a situation in which a person, such as a public official, an employee, or a professional, has a private or personal interest sufficient to appear to influence the objective exercise of his or her official duties." There are three key elements in this definition. First, there is a private or personal interest. Often this is a financial interest, but it could also be another sort of interest, say, to provide a special advantage to a friend, associate, other organization, spouse, or child. Taken by themselves, there is nothing wrong with pursuing private or personal interests. The problem comes when this private interest comes into conflict with the second feature of the definition, an "official duty" -- quite literally the duty you have because you have an office or act in an official capacity. Third, conflicts of interest interfere with responsibilities in a specific way, namely, by interfering with objective judgment. It is also important to avoid apparent and potential as well as actual conflicts of interests. An apparent conflict of interest is one which a reasonable person would think that the person’s judgment is likely to be compromised. A potential conflict of interest involves a situation that may develop into an actual conflict of interest.
Some in USCF leadership believe they can never have a conflict of interest as long as their personal interests are also, in their opinion, in the best interest of the organization. They will even insist that their interpretation of what are the USCF's interests must come first. However, this is not for an individual to personally decide as these decisions must be derived through deliberative process and comply with the law. No individual board member is empowered to act unilaterally. While serving as a nonprofit board member, ones’ duty is to differentiate and subjugate ones’ personal interest or personal opinion in order to maintain undivided allegiance to the interests of the organization. As a USCF board member ones’ duty of loyalty requires him/her to pursue the interest of the USCF with unswerving fidelity. This means for the good of the organization, one must distance himself from such matters where it appears to others there might be a competing interest that impacts his/her objectivity on behalf of the USCF. Most conflicts of interests are not illegal but still must be managed. Even the appearance of conflicts of interest, if not handled appropriately and sensitively, can do lasting damage to an organization's governance, its reputation, its credibility, and its ability to carry out its mission.
The USCF leadership has acted as if they believe they own the federation and can do as they please. Some people try to get away with things simply because they think they can. Too long the USCF had only been concerned with the legality, not the propriety, of the behavior of its leaders. If there is enough sunshine and enough members who care about what the leaders do or say, then there is hope. "People, often the wrong ones, have been running the Federation for over two decades.” The USCF continues to have a serious problem with accountability and behavior amongst its leadership. The first step in the cure is really the hardest: admit the problem. “The problem has been a people problem, and the people problem probably derived from faulty governance regulations." In essence USCF governance is a saga of a handful of individuals who put their personal interests or beliefs above nonprofit best practice or the interest of the organization. The major issues seem to revolve around organizational purpose and values. As a result a radical notion is presented that improved accountability, diversity, impartiality, fiduciary duty, and ethical principles can be the key that could unlock a more successful future for our organization and our sport. This notion is the foundation of our quest for a better USCF.