House Hearing: OSC/MSPB/OGE Reauthorization

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Subcommittee on Government Operations Hearing: “Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), Office of Government Ethics (OGE), and Office of Special Counsel (OSC) Reauthorization” 

Date: Wednesday, December 16, 2015 – 10:00am
Location: 2154 Rayburn HOB

Witnesses

The Honorable Walter M. Shaub, Jr.
Director
United States Office of Government Ethics

The Honorable Carolyn N. Lerner
Special Counsel
United States Office of Special Counsel

The Honorable Susan Tsui Grundmann
Chair
United States Merit Systems Protection Board

114th Congress
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Story of U.S. Forest Service Whistleblower Alicia Dabney

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Sharyl Attkisson aired the story of U.S. Forest Service whistleblower Alicia Dabney on Full Measure

Alicia Dabney fought to get one of the toughest jobs around as a firefighter for the U.S. Forest Service. When she felt threatened at work, another battle began inside a federal agency that should be setting the standard for fair treatment …

The full story can be viewed here. A related article can be found in OpED News and on WPFW 89.3 FM with Gloria Minot.

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Senator Begins Inquiry into Navy Admiral’s Whistleblower Retaliation

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*This article was first published at www.pogo.org

Senator Begins Inquiry into Navy Admiral’s Whistleblower Retaliation

Photograph of Senator McCaskill during hearing.
(Photo by Flickr user Senator Claire McCaskill used with permission via Creative Commons.)

One of the most significant failures of current military whistleblower protections is how infrequently those who retaliate against whistleblowers are held accountable. Last week The Washington Post reported on the latest example, Navy Rear Admiral Brian L. Losey. The Department of Defense Inspector General (DoD IG) found he had retaliated against staff members he suspected were whistleblowers. Now Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) is asking the Navy to explain why it has failed to hold Rear Admiral Losey accountable.

As the Post recounts, the reprisals came after an anonymous complaint alleging Rear Admiral Losey had improperly used taxpayer funds to pay for a plane ticket for one of his family members. The allegation was dismissed—he had paid for the ticket himself. But “enraged by what he saw as an act of disloyalty, the admiral became determined to find out who had reported him,” and drew up an “enemies list.” One witness told the DoD IG that Losey vowed to “cut the head off this snake and we’ll end this.”

It appeared Losey also wanted to discourage other whistleblowers from coming forward. “If you continue to undermine my authority as a commander, I’m going to bury each one of them,” one witness alleged Losey told his staff. “I’m going to come after them, and I’m going to [make] it very unpleasant.”

Altogether, the IG concluded that Losey had illegally retaliated against whistleblowers in three of the five cases it investigated. The Navy disagreed with the IG’s findings, and no disciplinary actions were taken.

“Failure to hold individuals accountable for taking actions against whistleblowers discourages others from coming forward, which is unacceptable,” Senator McCaskill wrote in her letter to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus.

As the Post pointed out, it is extremely rare for DoD IG to substantiate whistleblower reprisal complaints. In one year DoD IG closed 1,196 whistleblower cases, only substantiating 3 percent. A 2012 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that in the rare circumstance a military whistleblower case was substantiated, only 19 percent applied to have their records corrected.

Graph of Whistleblower Reprisal Numbers ending March 31, 2015

Source: The Washington Post analysis of DoD IG Semiannual Reports (Available here and here)

One reason senior officials are infrequently held accountable for whistleblower retaliation is the DoD IG’s refusal to make most substantiated reports of misconduct by senior officials and officers public. Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA) added an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2015 to require the DoD IG to release these reports, but it was removed in conference.

In the case of Rear Admiral Losey, DoD IG had not responded to The Washington Post’s Freedom of Information Act request for the report. Instead, the paper received copies of the report “from sources upset with the Navy’s decision not to take action against Losey.”

As we’ve written before, current protections for military whistleblowers are woefully insufficient. Whistleblowers are pivotal to Congress’s ability to conduct its constitutional oversight duties and to the effective operations of our government. For credible protections for military whistleblowers, Congress should pass the Legal Justice for Servicemembers Act, and both the Defense Department and Congress must step up to hold officials accountable for illegally retaliating against whistleblowers.

Photograph of Mandy Smithberger

By: Mandy Smithberger
Director, CDI Straus Military Reform Project, POGOMandy Smithberger is the Director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information at the Project On Government Oversight.

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UN Whistleblower Report

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On October 22nd the UN Special Rapporteur David Kaye released a whistleblower-friendly report, “Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression.”

Human Rights Watch compiled the following report materials, including a video with  responses from whistleblowers Edward Snowden and Kathryn Bolkovac –

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9cPeQDyhICk

Press release: https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/10/22/un-report-protect-public-disclosures-wrongdoing

David Kaye report: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/FreedomOpinion/Pages/ProtectionOfSources.aspx

 

 

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FEW-LEF Requests USDA Review

Posted by: Michael McCray

On September 15th, Federally Employed Women Legal Education Fund (FEW-LEF), a member of the Make It Safe Coalition (MISC), requested an EEOC Program Review of USDA following findings by U.S. Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner about deficiencies in the Civil Rights Office at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The Special Counsel’s letter to President Barack Obama states that, despite recent improvements in processing EEO complaints, there remain EEO complainants at USDA who have never received due process for their grievances.

Michael McCray alleges that there are over 3,000 unprocessed EEO claims at USDA in a Class Action complaint. Ron Cotten, President of the USDA Coalition of Minority Employees, states the true number may be 7,000 unprocessed / mishandled EEO complaints at the agency. USDA has a long history of severe Civil Rights violations dating back to the Reagan Administration.

FEW-LEFs full request can be found here – USDA Program Review

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Justice Department IG Sets Significant Transparency Precedent

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GAP and other leading members of the Make It Safe Coalition are applauding a recent policy by the Department of Justice Office of Inspector General (OIG) to post investigative summaries publically onto its website, an action that the coalition has advocated for over the years.

Today, GAP, Project On Government Oversight, Public Citizen and Union of Concerned Scientists sent a letter thanking Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, who also chairs the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, for setting this significant precedent for other OIGs –

In our experience, the primary motivation for whistleblowers to speak out is the hope that their disclosures will make a difference. Too often due to lack of communication by the OIG, federal employees feel that their whistleblowing may be irrelevant, even if they have had an impact. Worse, whistleblowers often feel that their disclosures have been ignored, even if the OIG has conducted an investigation and review.

Your leadership to publicly post investigative summaries by and large addresses these frustrations. It allows whistleblowers to know both how their disclosures were handled and what was accomplished through their courage to report government illegality, waste, fraud, abuse or public health or safety threats.

The groups also called on Mr. Horowitz to go a step further and use his office’s discretionary authority to post full versions of reports whenever possible, making redactions only if they are legitimate and legally required.

The full letter can be viewed here: DOJ OIG MISC Letter 6.26.15

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Shanna Devine
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