November 01, 2013
Homeland Security workers routinely boost pay with unearned overtime, report says
The Washington Post reports:
Federal employees at the Department of Homeland Security call it the “candy bowl,” a pot of overtime money they have long dipped into to pad their pay even if they haven’t earned it, whistleblowers say.
This practice, which can add up to 25 percent to a paycheck, has become so routine over the last generation that it’s often held out as a perk when government managers try to recruit new employees, according to these accounts.
In a report submitted to the White House and Congress on Thursday, the federal Office of Special Counsel (OSC) details what it calls a “profound and entrenched problem” at DHS and a “gross waste of government funds.” Based on the testimony of seven whistleblowers, the OSC concludes that the pervasive misuse of overtime pay in six DHS offices, including four within Customs and Border Protection (CBP), comes to $8.7 million a year.
At issue is Administratively Uncontrollable Overtime, known as AUO, which is meant only to compensate for urgent and unanticipated work like that often undertaken by law enforcement agents.
But Carolyn Lerner, special counsel at the OSC, an investigative and prosecutorial agency, said in an interview that many employees across DHS now consider the overtime pay their due. She said the whistleblowers’ testimony suggests that the department’s bill for these improper payments is running in the tens of millions of dollars a year.
August 05, 2013
Energy Department investigated for retaliating against whistleblowers
Congress pressed the Energy Department on Thursday for answers over allegations that it retaliated against employees who spoke to a watchdog about discriminatory hiring processes at a federal nonprofit agency within the department’s jurisdiction.
Admonishing officials during an oversight hearing, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said Bonneville Power Administration employees were ordered by top-level Energy Department leaders “not to speak with anyone outside of BPA” about the division’s reportedly discriminatory hiring process.
“Let me be perfectly clear, retaliation against whistleblowers is illegal, and I will not stand for it,” Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, declared in his opening statement.
July 08, 2013
House Approves Whistleblower Bill for Military Sexual Assault Victims
The House on Thursday unanimously approved a bipartisan bill that strengthens whistleblower protections for sexual assault victims in the military.
The legislation would ensure that victims of sexual violence in the armed services have the same rights as other military whistleblowers by requiring inspectors general to investigate allegations of retaliation against personnel who report sexual assault. It would expand the current language of the statute related to protected communications and prohibition of retaliation against service members (Title 10, Section 1034 of the U.S. Code) from “sexual harassment” to also include “rape, sexual assault or other sexual misconduct.”
June 21, 2013
Whistle-blower says he was targeted by IRS
CNN reports: The same day a documentary that featured government whistle-blower P. Jeffrey Black premiered, an Internal Revenue Service agent came to Black's door for an audit. Coincidence? Black doesn't think so.
Now he's taken his story to two congressional committees and a Treasury Department watchdog, a sign that the IRS will face new scrutiny after its admission that employees improperly singled out applications for tax-exempt status by tea party groups for extra review.
Black retired from the Federal Air Marshal Service in 2010 after taking complaints about his agency to Congress. Six years earlier, he testified to a closed-door hearing into his complaints of ineptitude, favoritism and problems keeping marshals on flights. The same year he retired, he appeared in "Please Remove Your Shoes," a documentary critical of the airline security measures travelers endure on every trip. An IRS agent showed up at his door "almost to the hour" that the movie bowed, he said.
Black said his supervisors wrongly suspected he had been leaking reports of cutbacks by the service -- something for which another air marshal was later fired. He said his home was placed under surveillance, his cable lines were cut and he was taken off of flight duty to perform menial tasks around his office.The audit led to a yearlong investigation that included the placement of a $24,000 lien against his home. In the end, the IRS found out Black owed them $480 -- while the government owed him $8,300. Black paid his $480; the government never paid him, saying the statute of limitations had run out.
June 13, 2013
SEC Drops Retaliation Suit with $580K Payment to Whistleblower
The Securities and Exchange Commission on Monday acknowledged that it has settled a whistleblower retaliation case brought by former SEC Assistant Inspector General David Weber. The agency paid Weber $580,000 and dropped accusations against him.
Weber had been terminated in October 2012 after having accused other SEC employees of misconduct. Under the settlement reached May 23, his termination has been rescinded, and he was reinstated, said his attorney, Cary Hansel, in a press release. The SEC has agreed to fully clear Weber’s record. All “negative references” in his file will be deleted.
“The SEC’s job is to protect Wall Street whistleblowers and investigate the misconduct they report,” Hansel said. “When Mr. Weber blew the whistle on wrongdoing in the SEC’s own ranks, the SEC engaged in a retaliatory coverup. This case is a reminder that there are grave consequences for retaliation against whistleblowers. American law favors the free disclosure of government waste, fraud and abuse. Nothing cures these problems like the light of day.”
May 02, 2013
Ruling in TSA Air Marshal Case Hailed by Whistleblower Advocates
An appeals court decision in favor of a Transportation Security Administration whistleblower was welcomed by legal advocacy groups as a development that strengthens the federal Whistleblower Protection Act, which was amended last year.
In one of the government’s longest-running whistleblower controversies, the U.S. Appeals Court for the Federal Circuit on Friday ruled in favor of Robert MacLean, a civil aviation security specialist who was fired by TSA for providing “sensitive security information” to a television news reporter in 2004 after TSA reduced the number of air marshals on flights.
The court held that MacLean’s disclosure was “not specifically prohibited by law,” thus vacating a decision by the Merit Systems Protection Board and remanding the case back to MSPB for a ruling on whether his actions qualify for protection under the Whistleblower Protection Act.
October 12, 2012
Whistleblower Protections Expanded to Cover Intelligence Agencies
President Obama has extended whistleblower protections to cover employees working in the intelligence and national security fields.
According to presidential policy directive, PPD-19, signed Wednesday, employees who have access to confidential information can report waste, fraud and abuse without fear of retribution. Specifically, the directive prohibits agencies considered part of the intelligence community from retaliating against employees who make such reports to the appropriate authorities or curtailing their access to classified information.
The directive gives agency heads 270 days to modify their personnel policies to create a process for employees to report violations. It also orders them to develop an appeals process for employees who feel they have had their security clearance privileges wrongly removed.
April 30, 2012
Attitudes Toward Whistleblowers
The Federal Eye and GovLoop conducted an informal survey on whether whistleblowers are welcome in government. They came up with an interesting collection of quotes, including:
“The GSA scandal will not lead to more whistleblowers.Yes, it’s true, there are many conscientious federal employees. These same employees have seen numerous cases of fraud, waste or abuse throughout their agencies and careers. But when a federal employee blows the whistle on fraud, waste, or abuse, a large target is placed on the employee’s back. By blowing the whistle, the employee enters the cross-hairs of the agency. And most agencies will dedicate large sums of taxpayer’s money and conduct investigations that may last for years to get the whistleblower and more importantly, to ‘set the tone for anyone thinking of becoming a whistleblower in the future.’...
“The bottom line: Be cautious, whistleblowing offers no protection for the employee and remains second to politics of the agency. A whistleblower will be harassed and isolated from information necessary for them to perform their duties, and therein begins the cycle of a poor performer and the first step towards removal from service.” — TSA employee
April 06, 2012
Emphasizing Public Benefit of Whistleblowers
The Government Accountability Project argues that better whistleblower policies might have prevented the 9/11 attacks:
One month before 9/11, instructors at a Minnesota flight school call the FBI. Among other suspicious happenings, the most unusual "student" they have ever encountered just plopped down thousands in cash to learn to fly a 747, claiming his only purpose was "ego-boosting." Agents in the Minneapolis FBI Office immediately confirm the information and seek permission to search by warning FBI Headquarters in over 60 emails and frantic telephone calls that "this is a guy who could fly into the World Trade Center." Although the 'Director of Central Intelligence' is briefed within days with a presentation titled "Islamic Extremist Learns to Fly", neither the FBI or CIA staff does anything until after 9/11. Right after the attacks, however, the officials quickly cover-up these pre 9/11 lapses -- actions hastened by internal repression.
This wasn't the first lapse. In the years before 9/11, an FAA "Red Team" warns that it breaches airport security 90 percent of the time, but is censored from writing its findings and banned from retesting. The same Logan Airport gate exploited by the 9/11 hijackers had flunked just months before. After the attacks, the government grounds and reassigns the Red Team leader (a whistleblower) to remedial duties.
April 02, 2012
More on Dover Whistleblower
A CBS report provides a new perspective on the case of the Dover military mortician case referenced here earlier. Here's an excerpt from the transcript:
Zwicharowski hit another nerve when he called for an outside investigation of the way the mortuary was run. From then on, he was branded a troublemaker.
A report by the Office of Special Counsel, a federal agency created to protect whistleblowers, detailed an escalating campaign of retaliation against Zwicharowski.
Caroline Lerner heads the office. "He was the target of a series of personnel actions all the way up to termination," she said.
After a gunman at Fort Hood killed 13 people in November 2009, Zwicharowski volunteered to come in on his day-off and help with the remains as they arrived at Dover.
"I was confronted and told to go home," he recalled.
Lerner said it was a public humiliation. "It was clear they were trying to send a message to the other employees at the mortuary that this is what happens to people who come forward." ...
March 27, 2012
Legislators File Pro-Whistleblower Brief
The Government Accountabililty Project reports that three Members of Congress who long have been champions of the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA). Representatives Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), have filed a "friend of the court" or amicus curiae brief filed in the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals in support of Federal Air Marshals (FAM) whistleblower Robert MacLean.
March 22, 2012
OSC Caseload Increasing
OSC head Carolyn Lerner told the Senate her budget is flat but her caseload is rising:
- OSC expects its overall caseload in fiscal 2012 will be 10 percent higher than last year.
- Waste, fraud and abuse whistleblower disclosures will likely be 32 percent higher this year than in fiscal 2011.
- OSC expects to see a 6 percent increase in prohibited personnel practice cases this year. In fiscal 2011, OSC received 2,583 cases, which itself was a record.
- Overall filings have jumped 30 percent over the last three years.
Via Federal Times.
March 18, 2012
Air Force Acts on OSC Mortuary Report
The Washington Post reports on the Air Force response to the recent OSC mortuary investigation:
The Air Force said Friday [March 16] it will impose harsher penalties on the former commander and chief deputy of the Dover Air Force Base mortuary after a federal probe found they retaliated against subordinates for reporting systematic problems there, including cases in which body parts were lost.
The Air Force declined to specify what action it will take against Col. Robert Edmondson, the former commander, and his civilian deputy, Trevor Dean, saying only that it had begun disciplinary proceedings that will last into next month. Previously, Edmondson had been issued a letter of reprimand; Dean had been placed in a lesser, non-supervisory position.
The announcement was made in response to an investigation by the Office of Special Counsel, an independent federal agency that protects whistleblowers. The probe found that Edmondson, Dean and another supervisor had provided phony reasons to fire or punish four mortuary workers who had exposed problems there.
March 17, 2012
OSC Reports on Military Mortuary Whistleblowers
An Office of Special Counsel press release describes retaliation against military mortuary whistleblowers. Here's an excerpt:
Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner also said the Air Force has committed to improving its internal investigation procedures and the way it remedies whistleblower retaliation claims. OSC applauds this effort.
“I am pleased the Air Force has agreed to take further disciplinary action and institute training to prevent whistleblower retaliation in the future,” Lerner said. “The Port Mortuary whistleblowers provided an important service to our country. They courageously stepped forward to report malfeasance and misconduct in the care of our fallen service members. Their actions have resulted in significant improvements at the Mortuary. The Office of Special Counsel will continue to work with government agencies to ensure that whistleblowers are protected from retaliation.”
March 09, 2012
GAO: Pentagon Delays in Whistleblower Investigations Harm Government
U.S.A. Today has a report on harmful delays in conducting Pentagon whistleblower investigation.
March 08, 2012
OSC on Dover Military Mortuary Allegations
An Office of Special Counsel press release discusses a resignation in the U.S. Dover military mortuary case:
As reported in The Washington Post, one of the three officials found to have engaged in misconduct and retaliation at the U.S. military mortuary in Dover, Del., Quinton "Randy" Keel, has resigned. Mr. Keel’s actions at the mortuary first came to public light in the US Office of Special Counsel’s November 2011 report to the President and Congress. As three employees at the mortuary disclosed mismanagement and mishandling of human remains, Mr. Keel and two other supervisors illegally tried to suppress their disclosures and punish them for their whistleblowing.
It is not surprising that Mr. Keel chose to resign. The Office of Special Counsel’s report of investigation, which will be made public in mid-March and which the Air Force received in late January, found that Mr. Keel retaliated against the whistleblowers. We remain in communication with senior officials at the Air Force and await their final decisions on disciplinary action for the two supervisors who remain on staff.
"The government needs to listen to employees who come forward with serious allegations of wrongdoing," said Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner. " And it needs to take disciplinary action when supervisors suppress or punish whistleblowers. Failure to do so sends a chilling message."
March 02, 2012
POGO: Don't Cut Watchdog Budgets
Budget Cutting is in the air, no doubt, but POGO argues that where you cut matters a great deal:
As Congress reviews the Administration’s request, it should keep in mind that OSC—like the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and Offices of Inspectors General (OIGs)—provides a substantial return on taxpayers’ investment :
Four cases alone in just the past few years restored well over $11 million to the government. This amount, while substantial, grossly understates the financial benefit OSC brings to the government.
The real measure of OSC’s financial contribution is prophylactic: By providing a safe channel for whistleblower disclosures, OSC regularly reins in waste, fraud, abuse, illegality, and threats to public health and safety that pose the very real risk of catastrophic harm to the public, and huge remedial and liability costs for the government.
February 25, 2012
IG Documents Whistleblower Retaliation Fears at DHS
POGO has a summary of a Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General (OIG) report documenting that a high percentage of Federal Air Marshals are reluctant to report on problems in that organization due to fear of retaliation.
February 22, 2012
NPR Interview with OSC Head Lerner
NPR has a transcript of its January interview with Carolyn Lerner, head of the U.S. Office of Special Counselt.
February 21, 2012
OSC Probes FDA E-mail Monitoring
Federal Times reports:
The Office of Special is investigating whether the Food and Drug Administration broke personnel rules by monitoring the personal emails of past and current employees who were whistle-blowers.
FDA has acknowledged it monitored emails between employees and congressional investigators and OSC "after the employees reported coercion to approve unsafe or harmful medical devices," OSC said in a statement Wednesday.
OSC said it received "new and troubling" allegations from current and former FDA employees that their managers retaliated against them and attempted to launch a criminal investigation.
OSC first opened an investigation into FDA's monitoring of employee emails several months ago, but two weeks ago it broadened that probe to examine whether the monitoring constituted improper retaliation against whistle-blowers, OSC spokeswoman Ann O'Hanlon said in an interview. "If we find that an agency committed a prohibited personnel practice we work to resolve that."
Edited Feb. 22 to correct typo.
February 07, 2012
OSC finds retailiation of whistleblowers in Air Force Mortuary case
See OSC's press release at: http://www.osc.gov/documents/press/2012/pr12_01ppp.pdf.
Related news articles include:
- Washington Post http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/dover-mortuary-whistleblowers-suffered-retaliation-say-investigators/2012/01/31/gIQA0VTNfQ_story.html
- POGO http://pogoblog.typepad.com/pogo/2012/02/top-whistleblower-cop-carolyn-lerner-recommends-punishment-for-retaliation-at-port-mortuary.html#tp
January 10, 2012
Whistleblower Bill Draws Criticism
An article in Government Executive reports that The Whistleblower Improvement Act of 2011 has passed through a House subcommittee, but is drawing criticism from watchdog groups like POGO, which states that the bill is an extreme approach that would silence would-be whistleblowers and undermine investigations. The proposed act would require whistleblowers, with some exceptions, to report criminal activity internally in addition to filing a complaint with the SEC. Supporters of the bill state this additional step will allow companies to stop criminal activity early, lessening the burden on an over-taxed SEC.
January 04, 2012
Controversy Over Ouside Organization's Cash Payment to Whistleblower
Thanks to an IEC member for alerting us to a Fedsmith.com story about legal wrangling over a $383,600 cash payment from POGO to a Department of Interior economist who helped POGO win a false claim action. After the Department of Justice intervened, the defendan oil companies settled the case for about $440 million.
The Department of Interior attempted to fire the economist, citing 18 U.S.C. 209(a) (prohibiting supplementation of salary).
P.S. We were a little late following up on this tip due to the holidays and medical issues of one IEC reporter. If you submitted a tip, but did not see it published, please send us a reminder. We get a lot of excellent tips from readers, and don't want to inadvertently fail to follow up.
December 30, 2011
Praise for Active New OSC Chief
The Washington Post had a profile of new Office of Special Counsel head Carolyn Lerner. Here's an excerpt:
Since she took over the obscure investigative unit that reviews disclosures of government wrongdoing — and advocates for employees who are punished for reporting it — the employment and civil rights lawyer, 46, has shown a willingness to shake things up.
In several high-profile cases, Lerner has gone to the mat and tried to expand the boundaries of the law’s protections for whistleblowers. She has lifted long-sagging morale at an agency that, instead of behaving as an independent watchdog, has treaded water for much of its existence.
Lerner’s staff is tackling neglected cases, in contrast to her predecessor, whose office had thrown many out, and claims have shot up since she arrived, Lerner says. She has challenged judgments by the panel that decides civil service disputes. And she has called for wholesale changes to the law prohibiting politicking by public employees so local and state workers can run for office, even if their jobs are tied to federal funding.
December 07, 2011
Senator McCaskill Seeks to Extend Whistleblower Protections to Employees Working under Federal Contracts
An article on GovExec.com states that Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO), is seeking to push a bill that would expand whistleblower protection to employees working under federal contracts. The Non-Federal Employee Whisteblower Protection Act would expand the scope of covered disclosures, allow for protected disclosures to be made to employers and provide a shield against retaliation.
December 03, 2011
Financial Institution Whistleblowers Ignored, Punished by Lenders
November 30, 2011
NPR Story on Office of Special Counsel
National Public Radio has a positive story available about the turnaround at the Office of Special Counsel. Here's an excerpt:
If [new Special Counsel Carolyn] Lerner keeps up her recent pace, the office may not remain secret for much longer. She went public earlier this month with a report critical of personnel decisions by the Air Force. Lerner raised questions about whether the Air Force had inadequately disciplined managers at the mortuary at Dover Air Force Base, where three whistle-blowers reported that remains of dead American service members had been mishandled.
"Because we're independent, we really can be an objective source for reviewing what the agency's internal investigations uncover and pointing out problems with those investigations," Lerner says. "If there are still questions that remain, we can raise them."
Debra Katz, a Washington employment lawyer who's followed the office for decades, took note.
"By taking the position that she did, and making it clear she was not going to be a wallflower or someone who could just be walked over, but she would go toe-to-toe with the Air Force, she sent a very strong message that whistle-blowers would be protected," Katz says.
November 29, 2011
Why Doing the Ethical Thing Isn’t Automatic
A recent New York Times article contains a fascinating survey of academic studies on whistleblower psychology. One section describes a phenomenon that is highly relevant to federal sector training:
Research also shows that it is much easier to step over the boundary from ethical to unethical when there is a gradual erosion of moral values and principles rather than one big leap.
A 2009 article in The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, also co-written by Professor Gino, used as an example an accounting firm that has an excellent relationship with a client company. The accounting firm, which receives tens of millions of dollars in fees from the client, approves the company’s high-quality and ethical financial statements.
For three years, everything is fine. But suddenly, in the fourth year, the company stretches and even breaks the limits of the law.
Another case? Same accounting firm, same client. This time, after the first good year, the client bit by bit pushes the ethical envelope over the next three years.
The accounting firm would be more likely to approve the financial statements in the second case than in the first, the article says.
One of the reasons, Professor Gino and her colleague write, is that “unethical acts can become an integral part of the day-to-day activities to such an extent that individuals may be unable to see the inappropriateness of their behaviors.”
We have prepared a couple of Microsoft PowerPoint slides based on the Journal of Experimental Psychology article referenced that may be useful to trainers who would like to include a short component on the dangers of gradual erosion of ethical standards:
These slides have a stark appearance because they don't include any graphics templates. This is to make it less likely they will conflict with any graphics templates that you have already chosen for your presentation
November 28, 2011
MSPB Report on Barriers to Federal Employees Making Disclosures
GovLoop has an article about a new report issued by the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), titled Blowing the Whistle: Barriers to Federal Employees Making Disclosures.
An Office of Special Counsel press release noted:
According to the report, approximately one‐third of the individuals who believed they had been identified as a source of a report of wrongdoing perceived either threats or acts of reprisal, or both. In addition, the report found an increase in the percentage of employees aware of waste caused by a badly managed program and a significant increase in the number of employees who observed acts of wrongdoing that would cost more than $100,000. Lerner said, “With the government facing a fiscal crisis, OSC’s role to protect whistleblowers has never been more important.”
November 08, 2011
State Department Takes Hard Line Against Book Author
The Washington Post's Federal Diary column reports on the plight of Department of State whistleblower Peter Van Buren:
The memo said that by publishing articles and blog posts “on matters of official concern . . . without submitting them to the Department for review . . . your judgement in the handling of protected information is questionable.”
State’s memo did not identify the objectionable blog item, but Van Buren said it was “a link, not a leak, a link from my blog to a WikiLeaks document that was already on the Internet.”
The fact that the document was available to everyone in the world did not matter.
“I did write blog postings and online articles without permission,” Van Buren admits. But he understandably questions whether his punishment is in line with the little or no harm done by linking to a document that was readily available anyway.
November 07, 2011
DoD Accepts Office of Special Counsel Whistleblower Recommendation
A press release at the OSC website described a positive solution to a case of whistleblower retaliation:
In an April 2010 report to then‐Defense Secretary Robert Gates, OSC recommended full corrective action for Ms. Le and disciplinary action against officials responsible for the whistleblower retaliation and other prohibited personnel practices. DCAA Director Patrick Fitzgerald concurred and took action:
- Ms. Le’s appraisals were changed to reflect the highest levels of achievement;
- Ms. Le received retroactive performance awards and her gag order was lifted;
- Subsequently, Ms. Le received a promotion;
- The officials responsible for the retaliatory actions against Ms. Le left government service, were reassigned or were disciplined.
Special Counsel Lerner said, “I’m grateful to Diem‐Thi Le for her courage to speak out. Whistleblowers like Diem‐Thi Le put their careers on the line when they expose this kind of fraud and abuse. They make our government stronger and they save taxpayer money.”
November 05, 2011
Whistleblower Bill Advances in House
A key House panel on Thursday approved recently revived whistleblower protection legislation, building bipartisan momentum for expanding protections against retaliation to airport baggage handlers, national security employees and some federal contractors.
The unanimous vote by 35 members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee moves the bill (H.R. 3289) to other committees in an effort to close what some call "judicially created loopholes" that have limited the number of whistleblowers who win legal cases.
October 24, 2011
Time Article Discusses Military Whistleblowers' Fear of Reprisal
A recent Time article addresses the fact that hundreds of whistleblower reprisal complaints filed by military members each year go unsubstantiated and highlights a particular case where the military member feels he was denied re-enlistment because he reported unsafe aircraft maintenance concerns and participated in an investigation of senior command corruption.
October 13, 2011
OSC Seeks Quick Relief for Two Whistleblowers
An Office of Special Counsel press release reports on OSC's efforts to seek stays of adverse actions proposed against whistleblowers. The press release notes:
Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner stated that “these cases concern serious threats to public health and safety, and raise important issues of law. OSC’s actions make clear that this agency will vigorously protect federal employees against retaliation when they blow the whistle.” Ms. Lerner recently completed her first 100 days at the helm of the Office of Special Counsel.
POGO has additional comments.
September 05, 2011
Issues Concerning Document Destruction At SEC
A Washington Post story suggests that the SEC's recent destruction of preliminary investigation records is contrary to the prevailing practice at other federal agencies.
POGO commented on a disturbing aspect of the SEC situation, the apparent attempts to demonize and discredit the whistleblowers who brought the problem to light. POGO concludes: "This time around, we hope the SEC will focus all of its attention on assisting the OIG with its investigation and taking whatever corrective action is needed, rather than trying to discredit the whistleblower who brought these allegations to light."
August 22, 2011
SEC Officials Alleged to Have Retaliated Against Whistleblowers to Depart
The Project on Government Oversight reports on the departures of SEC officials claimed to have retaliated against whistleblowers.
August 18, 2011
OSC: Dept. of Energy Mistreated Whistleblower
An Office of Special Counsel press release alleges that the Department of Energy violated a whistleblower's rights by suspending him for 13 months. Here's an excerpt:
U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Steven Chu has agreed to change his agency’s internal policies and regulations in response to an Office of Special Counsel investigative report finding DOE committed prohibited personnel practices against Stephen Patrick, a nuclear materials courier and a federal agent at DOE’s Oak Ridge, Tennessee, facility. Mr. Patrick was twice suspended when his managers revoked his certification to work with nuclear materials under the Department’s Human Reliability Program (HRP). ...
On August 2, 2011, DOE informed OSC that while it disagreed with OSC’s conclusion that it had violated Mr. Patrick’s due process rights, it was rescinding its policy of mandatory indefinite suspensions when an HRP certification is revoked. Instead, DOE agents like Mr. Patrick will be placed on administrative leave pending the completion of their internal appeals. Furthermore, a DOE working group is drafting regulatory changes to expedite the internal appeals process to avoid lengthy delays, like the 13 months that passed between the revocation decision in Mr. Patrick’s case and the resolution of his appeal.
August 16, 2011
Crowd Sourcing as Whistleblower Supplement
As public portals for information sharing improve, fraud and waste scandals that were traditionally broken by whistleblowers inside government will increasingly be sussed out of aggregated data from frustrated citizens on the receiving end of federal work, a transparency advocate predicted Friday.
The website Seeclickfix.com, for instance, which has been adopted by about 500 cities, allows local governments to aggregate citizen complaints about, say, unfixed potholes to spot a problem in the streets department without an insider ever stepping up, said Micah Sifry, an open government blogger and author of WikiLeaks and the Age of Transparency, which was published in March by Counterpoint.
August 14, 2011
GAO Greenlights CFTC Whistleblower Incentive Fund
GAO has ruled in favor of a Commodity Futures Trading Commission plan to use its Customer Protection Fund to pay incentives to whistleblowers:
B-321788, U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission--Availability of the Customer Protection Fund, August 8, 2011.
August 04, 2011
Scott Bloch Sentence Reversed
Talking Points Memo reports that the District Court rescinded Scott Bloch's one month prison term. According to District Court Judge Lamberth:
That said, the Court finds it surprising that none of the attorneys in this case--neither those for the government, nor those for defendant--questioned such precedent upon reading the statute. This is, at bottom, a situation in which lawyering has fallen short. Again, however, the relevant question is what defendant believed when he pled guilty, however inexplicable that belief.
July 22, 2011
Special Counsel Announces Settlement of U.S. Customs Case
The OSC press release concerning this whistleblower reprisal case is available. Here is an excerpt:
In a series of whistleblower disclosures to OSC from 2005 to 2007, Mr. Downey revealed compelling evidence of misconduct, management neglect, and abuses of overtime pay at Blaine Sector. Investigations initiated by OSC of Mr. Downey’s disclosures substantiated many of his allegations.
Mr. Downey also alleged that he was retaliated against after he disclosed the wrongdoing, and OSC’s investigation substantiated his claim. Specifically, OSC found a pattern of illegal retaliation including: retaliatory investigations that led to a proposed decision to fire Mr. Downey; a suspension; an indefinite transfer to another border patrol station; a reprimand; the removal of his supervisory duties; and a failure to promote him despite a favorable recommendation from his supervisor.
May 28, 2011
NSA Whistleblower Complains of Harsh Treatment
TPM Muckraker reports on the claim of an NSA whistleblower that the harsh treatment he received is intended to intimidate other whistleblowers. Here's an excerpt:
The government is telling whistleblowers "do not tell truth to power, we'll hammer you," Drake told CBS. His on-camera interview followed an article in the New Yorker on his prosecution by the Obama administration's Justice Department. The trial is set to begin next month.
Drake is being prosecuted not for talking with a reporter but for taking home classified documents. But thanks to a mistake by the prosecutor handling the case (he sent the defense team an earlier draft of the indictment against Drake), the former NSA official's lawyers can see how greatly the scope of the indictment was reduced.
He was no longer charged with leaking classified documents or being part of a conspiracy -- rather he was charged with the "willful retention" of five documents. Even with those reduced charges, Drake still faces up to thirty-five years in prison.
May 06, 2011
OSC Report on Problems At Detroit Airport
Do whistleblowers make us safer? An OSC press release describes flight safety problems at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport.
April 19, 2011
NRC Inspector General Reports Whistleblower Reluctance
A recent report by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Office of Inspector General brought to light, among other thing, a general reticence among nuclear power plant operators to blow the whistle on substandard safety practices. Specifically, the NRC Audit Report indicated that nuclear plant operators fail, in the majority of instances, to self-report to the NRC instances of safety-related component failure that could have serious implications of the integrity of a nuclear power plant. Such self-reports are required by federal law. It appears that the reluctance of employees to blow the whistle stems in part from their fear of retaliation, as employees remain convinced that speaking out would endanger their livelihoods and professional standing.
April 15, 2011
Whistleblower Enhancement Bill Reintroduced
Washington Post columnist Joe Davidson waxed poetic in his comments on a perennial occcurrence: "Like a spring flower that pops open every year, the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act has been reintroduced in the Senate." He observes it "came within a whisker of becoming law in December." Davidson's complete column is available.
March 03, 2011
Whistleblowers in Intelligence Community
"Intelligent Whistleblowing" is an article in the most recent issue of the Journal of Public Inquiry. For your convenience, we have excerpted the article from that issue of the magazine and are making it available here:
February 15, 2011
Backing Up Whistleblowers
Government Executive's Management Matters column has some thoughts on dealing with whistleblowers:
Even without an executive order, managers can play a crucial cultural role in protecting and even encouraging whistleblowers. "If a person comes forward and the manager embraces that and fixes it, they should make a big deal of it - recognize and reward them, so there's not a culture of fear," Brian says.
But many managers are reluctant to encourage disclosures about agency abuses or inefficiencies. "Institutionally we find managers thinking they're going to advance by protecting the status quo at all costs," she says. ...
Much of the rhetoric around whistleblower protection is framed in a good-versus-evil narrative, with advocates touting the need to protect noble employees who have done the right thing. But perhaps it's the more practical reality that will motivate managers and senior leaders. If supervisors are willing to accept constructive notification of internal failures, then they can protect themselves and their agencies from the public relations disasters that follow disclosures to oversight agencies, Congress, the media or websites willing to publish the information.
February 04, 2011
GAP: Chambers Case Highlights Limitations of Whistleblower Laws
The Government Accountability Project suggests that the reinstatement of Park Police Chief Teresa Chambers, far from being a "good guys won" story, demonstrates the need for serious statutory reform:
Chambers, who was:
a.) clearly on the right side of the law
b.) engaged in this legal battle full time
c.) enjoyed widespread national, relatively favorable media coverage
d.) enjoyed nationwide support from concerned citizens, and
e.) had another full time person working with her on her battle (her husband)
is finally receiving justice after seven years.
That's 84 months, or over 2,500 days. Knowing this, do we really expect lesser-known federal whistleblowers, with limited time and resources to devote to mounting a legal campaign, to stand a shred of a chance to receive justice?
February 03, 2011
Former OSC Head Facing Jail Time?
BLT (Blog of Legal Times) reports:
Scott Bloch, the former head of the Office of Special Counsel, must serve at least one month in prison on the charge of lying to Congress, a federal magistrate judge in Washington said in a ruling published Wednesday evening.
Davidson on Contemporary Whistleblower Status
Joe Davidson's Washington Post Federal Diary Column recently observed:
Under [current MSPB Chair Susan Tsui] Grundmann, the board "made more progress toward protecting the merit system than in any other year since it was created by the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978," said Tom Devine, legal director of the Government Accountability Project, a whistleblower advocacy organization. "It issued landmark precedents that restored its authority to enforce the merit system. It reversed a decade-long trend of ruling against whistleblowers."
Four whistleblower victories in 2010 were one more than the total for the previous decade, Devine said. ...
Although things have improved for employees with the current MSPB, the Office of Special Counsel and administrative judges, who also consider whistleblower cases, continue to steam worker advocates. Administrative judges, Devine said, "continue routinely to rubber-stamp agency reprisals [against whistleblowers] through expansive readings of federal circuit loopholes that have gutted the Whistleblower Protection Act."