Award-winning attorney lends talents to DLA as reservist

By Dianne Ryder

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A Justice Department lawyer serving his Army Reserve duty at the Defense Logistics Agency was one of three people awarded Federal Employee of the Year for 2017 for their work in the government’s lawsuit against Volkswagen Group.

Army Reserve Lt. Col. Joshua Van Eaton was awarded the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal — or “Sammie”— as one of the Federal Employees of the Year, for his work leading a team of 14 DOJ attorneys in the government’s suit against Volkswagen for its violations of the Clean Air Act, in the ‘dieselgate’ scandal, which emerged in 2015.

His team proved that Volkswagen had conspired to evade U.S. emission limits by enabling diesel passenger vehicles to produce emissions-compliant readings during testing yet later have those emissions controls turned off, for greater driving performance. Van Eaton’s team reached settlement agreements against Volkswagen totaling more than $17.4 billion. 

Joining Van Eaton in the honor were two employees from the Environmental Protection Agency, who were also integral to the case.

As a reservist, Van Eaton works for the DLA Office of General Counsel, providing legal support on matters including procurement fraud, ethics and human resources.
 
A DOJ press release details his contributions to the case that prompted his nomination:

“The investigation and trial team in the Volkswagen case, from both the Justice Department and EPA, put forth exemplary efforts and achieved results that are worthy of this prestigious award,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “We are particularly proud that ENRD attorney Josh Van Eaton is being recognized at the ceremony with this well-deserved honor.”

Van Eaton said he feels “incredibly fortunate” to have been selected along with his EPA colleagues, but he downplays the individual aspect.

“It’s kind of a crazy title, ‘Federal Employee of the Year,’ because really, the team [comprised] well over 60 folks,” he said. “It took the work of dozens and dozens of folks to bring about the result in the case, and it’s important to recognize the team nature of the contributions and accomplishments.”

The native of Washington state earned his law degree from Baylor University in Texas. He served six years on active duty in the Army’s Judge Advocate General Corps, not including three years teaching law at the JAG School. Van Eaton has worked for DOJ since 2008.

He started his DLA assignment last summer and works the DLA Joint Reserve Force schedule of eight three-day weekends. “I’m still getting the lay of the land and trying to add value wherever I can,” he said. “I provide legal support to the [Joint Reserve Force], but most of my legal work is generated out of the Office Of General Counsel.”

Van Eaton said that despite the recent attention, he tries to keep a low profile he begins a new Reserve assignment, to learn the job and the organization. For his DLA assignment, he had to learn both during a high-intensity time for the agency, during a very active hurricane season.

“I was here for a week during the [Hurricane] Harvey/Irma crossover,” he said.  Van Eaton helped advise the agency on the legal authorities permitting U.S. agencies to support hurricane relief to areas that are not part of U.S. territories yet are home to many American citizens, such as the British Virgin Islands.

“You think of the Defense Logistics Agency, and the strategic vision is ‘Warfighter First,’ providing support to combatant commands around the globe,” he said. “But it was incredibly rewarding to see that this organization’s capabilities can support the whole of government — and it did that in spades during this last hurricane season. That was pretty cool.”