Defense Department Oversight Finds More Evidence Of Retaliation Against Whistleblowers

from the government-shutdown dept

More evidence has surfaced showing the US government really doesn’t care for whistleblowers. A Defense Department Inspector General’s report [PDF] obtained by MuckRock contains details of Air Force supervisors turning against a civilian employee who reported time card abuse.

The heavily redacted report, which MuckRock requested following on an announcement in the January newsletter of the Department of Defense Inspector General, found that the supervisor accused the whistleblower of being a mentally unstable drug abuser in addition to revoking his security clearance for the offense of reporting that colleagues were allowed to leave work hours early and lie on their time cards.

After that, things apparently became personal. (Well, they were already personal, what with supervisors accusing the whistleblower of being crazy/on drugs.) The relationship between the employee and his supervisors went from bad to worse to toxic. The report says “several verbal altercations” were noted as the work relationship became “mutually hostile.”

The Air Force then pulled some more crap, resulting in another whistleblowing attempt by the same employee. When told not to perform an asbestos test before drilling into walls to install surveillance equipment, the employee bypassed the proper channels (which had already proven useless and retaliatory) and went straight to the Inspector General.

Having been notified of this, the IG dug deeper, uncovering the Air Force’s vengeful tactics. In response to the employee’s report to the IG, the Air Force supervisor doubled down on his “crazy drug user” claims — the ones he used in support of having the employee suspended and his security clearances revoked.

The supervisor justified that suspension by telling IG investigators that his subordinate “had difficulty getting along with fellow employees, that employees were afraid of Complainant and locked the office door because of that fear and that he suspected Complainant was using drugs.”

Citation please.

[T]he Inspector General concluded that the supervisor “could not provide any evidence to support these allegations,” and that the clearance revocation was reprisal.

The statement given by the retaliatory supervisor to explain away the lack of documented evidence supporting his “crazy drug user” claims is a joy to read, filled with multiple layers of truly-terrible CYA logic.

When queried as to why he did not document these “bizarre” behaviors in either the December 22, 2011, or April 29, 2012, memo to support Complainant’s suspension, [redacted] testified he had been “hamstrung” on documenting anything because Complainant grieved everything that was documented. [Redacted] further testified he believed his chain of command did not want documentation of these things for fear that there would be complaints filed by Complainant. [Redacted] testified he received no support from the Civilian Personnel Office or his chain of command when it came to dealing with Complainant. [Redacted] testified [redacted] told him [redacted] that he had handled the issues regarding Complainant correctly; but he was going to order a CDI [Commander-Directed Investigation] to throw Complainant a bone and so, “maybe Complainant would not file a bunch of IG complaints.”

That seems to have worked out well.

Not every whistleblower ends up without a career or investigated by the agency they work for, but far too many face this sort of response when calling out government wrongdoing. Efforts have been made to shore up protections for whistleblowers, but it’s illustrative of where these efforts fall short to note that this employee — a civilian — would not have been protected by federal whistleblower laws. Perhaps that’s why Air Force supervisors felt so comfortable acting in retaliation. The government routinely uses civilian contractors and is under no statutory obligation to behave any better when dealing with their whistleblowing than the Air Force did here.

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Comments on “Defense Department Oversight Finds More Evidence Of Retaliation Against Whistleblowers”

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8 Comments
AricTheRed says:

Shesh, When will they learn...

After working for years as an interrogator, I learned, especially when dealing with Wifey, not to ask questions you don’t want answers to.

If they did not go looking for Whistleblower Retaliation, they’d have found none. Then the could have indicated, with straight face…

Nope no problem here, move along, move along.

Peter Orlowicz (profile) says:

"Civilian" doesn't mean "contractor"

From what I can tell, this individual was a Federal employee, not a contractor. The military departments have a lot of civilians working on bases who are still Federal civil servants, and therefore are covered by Federal personnel laws including whistleblower protections. “Civilian” in this context is simply to distinguish from uniformed military personnel.

For instance, the IG report makes reference on the first page to an MSPB agreement. The Merit Systems Protection Board has jurisdiction over Federal employees, but not contractors. The statutory authority section of the report also references 5 U.S.C. § 2302, which describes prohibited personnel practices against employees in an agency (or in some cases a Government corporation like the FDIC or Tennessee Valley Authority). That statute doesn’t apply to contractors either.

That being the case, some of the conclusions in the last paragraph of the story are unjustified. The Air Force wasn’t legally justified in taking the actions it did; that’s the whole conclusion of the IG report, and they’re held to the standard in Federal personnel law because the individual involved in whistleblowing here was a Federal employee, not a contractor.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

If only there were like some internal system that was supposed to take care of these things & there were actually punishments for those that violated the rules.

Protecting the image constantly trumps living up to the rules. Nothing bad ever seems to happen to those who violate the rules, but those who dare report violations are burned at the stake. And they wonder why people lose faith in the systems.

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