(Washington, DC) – The Government Accountability Project (GAP) today praised the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) for successfully mediating the Whistleblower Protection Act complaint of a U.S. Border Patrol agent harassed for refusing overtime pay when there was no extra work to be performed.
The whistleblower, Christian Sanchez, was stationed at a Port Angeles, Washington office staffed by over 40 employees – an office where there was insufficient work for the prior crew of four. Agents routinely passed the time taking daylong coastal drives and allegedly harassing local minorities. Sanchez took a stand when the entire crew began receiving overtime pay. He refused taxpayers' dollars that he had not earned.
In July 2011, Sanchez briefed Congress in a forum sponsored by Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) and the Sunlight Foundation, where he disclosed his concerns. The Border Patrol responded by refusing to assign him any meaningful work at all, ordering him to move rocks from one location to another and back, following his car when he and his family traveled, placing his wife and children under constant surveillance while he was at work, opening investigations of him, ordering repeated "random" drug tests, and regularly subjecting him to public ridicule. The Border Patrol even stripped Sanchez of his duties as an agency chaplain.
In January 2012, Sanchez filed a Whistleblower Protection Act complaint, and as the first option, chose to seek a mediated consensus resolution. Claes Elfving of OSC's San Francisco office handled the case. As a result of mediation, the Border Patrol has reassigned Sanchez to a new post of his choosing, cleared his record, and restored his eligibility for chaplain duties.
A deeply religious man, Sanchez cited the Bible to thank God, and express his feelings about the resolution:
We live in a world where telling lies are the normal and truth-telling is rare, if not condemned or shamed. Whistleblowers should be embraced not shunned. When I arrived in Port Angeles in September 2009, my intention was never to become a whistleblower. But by October 2010, I started not to claim overtime pay, because there is rarely if ever any casework to do at my Port Angeles station. When I had completely rejected overtime pay, retaliation from management became the new daily normal and only escalated. Besides the retaliatory investigations I endured, some supervisors would not back me up when I would radio them and request their help, setting precedence for other agents to do the same.
This trial has produced in me perseverance, character and hope.
His attorney, GAP Legal Director Tom Devine, commented:
Mr. Sanchez insisted on being a public servant who protected taxpayer funds. He has survived thanks to the Office of Special Counsel's mediation program, and also actions of good faith by Border Patrol leadership that overruled ugly local harassment. OSC mediators are getting unprecedented results for whistleblowers. Whistleblowers should seriously consider the benefits of seeking consensus over conflict.
This is the fourth successful OSC mediation to conclude over the last month: the OSC mediated three additional cases for Operation Fast and Furious whistleblowers at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Dylan Blaylock is Communications Director for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.