Apr 17, 2007

Commentary: Lack of protection for whistleblowers imperils us all

By JOE CARSON
Federal Times-April 16, 2007
Many civilian federal employees, in a variety of agencies, are on the front lines of the war on terrorism. But who protects them from workplace retribution when they put their sworn duty to defend and protect the public’s health and safety ahead of their self-interest or the interests of their supervisors and agencies?

The primary mission of the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) is to protect employees in nearly every agency — except FBI and intelligence agencies — from 11 types of prohibited personnel practices, particularly whistleblower reprisal. OSC has about 110 employees, about 40 percent of whom are licensed attorneys. Like public defenders, OSC’s attorneys are paid by the government to act in the interests of federal employees who seek their protection.

OSC annually receives about 1,700 complaints of prohibited personnel practices, alleging about 3,500 specific practices. We contend the law — 5 USC 1214(b)(2)(A) — is absolutely clear that OSC is required to investigate complaints and report its determination “whether there are reasonable grounds to believe a [prohibited practice] has occurred, exists, or is to be taken.”
If OSC makes a positive determination, according to the law and a 2000 federal court decision, then it must report that determination to the involved agency, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). This is to enable the agency heads to comply with their lawful duty to prevent prohibited personnel practices in their agencies.

However, according to OSC’s annual report for 2004, public records maintained by OSC, and a Freedom of Information Act response from MSPB, OSC did not report a single positive determination of prohibited personnel practices to MSPB during 2002-2004, not in 5,529 separate complaints it investigated and closed in that time. It made three such reports to MSPB in fiscal 2005-2006.

While OSC claims to have obtained about 320 “favorable actions” when agencies took actions as a result of OSC investigations of complaints from fiscal 2002 through 2004, there is little, if any, publicly available documentation to substantiate OSC’s claims.

We contend that MSPB is statutorily required to conduct the necessary inquiries of OSC and other federal agencies to determine and publicly report “whether the public interest in a civil service free of [prohibited personnel practices] is being adequately protected.” In response to a Freedom Of Information Act request, MSPB acknowledged that it has not conducted the necessary inquiries of OSC and other agencies to make that report but claims that its special studies and reports, particularly in the aggregate, contain the relevant information.
Our position is that MSPB has failed to conduct required reviews of OSC, enabling OSC noncompliance with its specific statutory obligations to protect federal employees from prohibited personnel practices.

Bottom line: No one in any agency or Congress can reasonably assure federal employees, based on any independent oversight of OSC, that if they stick their necks out to do their duty to protect public safety — including in the war on terrorism — OSC will comply with its lawful duty to protect them from government retaliation. That is a formula for failed levees, doomed space shuttles, catastrophic terrorist attacks, neglected veterans, etc.

What to do? The new Congress must perform its constitutional duty of oversight of OSC and MSPB to ensure their scrupulous compliance with relevant law in protecting federal employees from prohibited personnel practices. Both OSC and MSPB are due to be reauthorized by the end of fiscal 2007, so thorough congressional oversight of these agencies is now timely.
If congressional or judicial oversight substantiates our concerns, there are potentially thousands of victims who may well merit official restoration and rehabilitation via congressional action.

If we are correct, OSC attorneys can be seen as failing to comply with their legal and professional duty to “blow whistles” on OSC’s failure to comply with the law in protecting federal employees.

Joe Carson is a whistleblower and Energy Department nuclear safety engineer. His co-authors are Jeffrey Black, a federal air marshal and whistleblower; Carol Czarkowski, former Navy contracting officer and whistleblower; Jeffrey Fudin, founder and director of the Veterans Affairs Whistleblower Coalition; David Nolan, former White House attorney under President Reagan; and Michael Springman, former Foreign Service officer and whistleblower. The opinions are those of the authors and not of their current or previous employers.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Just don't go to Cheeks to meet up with your "contact"

Anonymous said...

My experience at LANL is that whistleblowers are not at all protected. I once made a safety complaint on a project. Shortly thereafter the Deputy Project Manager had me removed from the project. I complained to the Project Manager and to my Group Leader, both of whom did nothing.

Anonymous said...

If you follow the "Hook Principle" and blow the whistle on everything.... yeah I can see that. I have to say, from experience, that true whistleblowers are protected.

Anonymous said...

The idiot postings above regarding Hook and Cheeks say volumes regarding the nature of Los Alamos and the whistleblower abuses that are allowed to thrive in a spoiled one-horse town too self-absorbed to ever be accepting of criticism, and definately too selfish to react any other way except to kill the messenger at all cost. Indeed it's blind arrogance, coupled with unbridled stupidity among the masses that emboldens the abusers of society to keep doing what they do best. Maybe it IS time to shut down the place!

Anonymous said...

11:23 post

You are full of it and you are the idiot. I take it you got fired for being incompetent and now are just bitter.

Tommy Hook should be in jail right now.

Anonymous said...

Nope...never been fired, but after three decades in the Los Alamos swamp (as characterized by Nanos), I guess you can say I pretty much know where all the snakes and allegators remained holed up around these parts. The place is a jungle-mess to say the least, becoming that way under UC's lack of ethical leadership, and becoming more trecherous and slimy with each passing day. Whistleblowers (Lab critics) are always going to be the prime targets in such an environment. But over the long run rest assured we'll ALL pay the price ...together. The harsh reality of what this once-great Lab has become is hard to accept by the self-proclaimed "best and brightest" living among the more average Lab citizenry, but his IS today's reality nonetheless as viewed by a very long-term, quite highly educated (which at the Lab used to mean you qualified to at least have an opinion)...still currently employeed person at the Lab. Yes I do miss what was once a great and honorable place to work. But I can no longer lie to myself about what the Lab has become, nor about the harsh treatment folks endure once they dare criticize the incompetent and often unethical behavior of so many in leadership at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. It's truly disheartening to see how far the Lab has fallen.

Anonymous said...

Nope...never been fired, but after three decades in the Los Alamos swamp (as characterized by Nanos), I guess you can say I pretty much know where all the snakes and allegators remain holed up around these parts. The place is a jungle-mess to say the least, becoming that way under UC's lack of ethical leadership, and becoming more trecherous and slimy with each passing day. Whistleblowers (Lab critics) are always going to be the prime targets in such an environment. But over the long run rest assured we'll ALL pay the price ...together. The harsh reality of what this once-great Lab has become is hard to accept by the self-proclaimed "best and brightest" living among the more average Lab citizenry, but this IS today's reality nonetheless as viewed by a very long-term, quite highly educated (which at the Lab used to mean you qualified to at least have an opinion)...still currently employeed person at the Lab. Yes I do miss what was once a great and honorable place to work. But I can no longer lie to myself about what the Lab has become, nor about the harsh treatment folks endure once they dare criticize the incompetent and often unethical behavior of so many in leadership at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. It's truly disheartening to see how far the Lab has fallen.

Anonymous said...

4/18/07 1:24 PM

Your post speaks volumes. Why did you feel the need to post it twice? My bet is on the fact that it was not intentional.

Anonymous said...

Someone should blow the whistle on Tommy Hook

Anonymous said...

The double posting WAS intentional. Because it's widely known that the best and brightest at Los Alamos don't get the message the first time, nor the second time, nor the third time, nor...well I think you get the message...NOT!

Anonymous said...

4/18/07 9:03 PM

Ok moron, you are the problem.....are you tommy hook?