The Washington Post reports:
The Air Force said Monday that it had fined the former commander of the Dover Air Force Base mortuary $7,000 and suspended his top deputy for 20 days without pay for retaliating against whistleblowers, but it allowed both men to keep their jobs.
The punishment came in response to an independent federal investigation that concluded the mortuary’s leadership had wrongfully tried to fire two subordinates after they reported missing body parts, lax management and other problems at the base that handles America’s war dead.
This is an encouraging result, but unfortunately it is far from typical. These officials did not receive discipline until after the revitalized Office of Special Counsel launched an investigation and found "gross mismanagement" at Dover
after whistleblowers reported horror stories of lost body parts, shoddy inventory controls and lax supervision.
The OSC also found that the supervisors had retaliated against the whistleblowers and
tried to fire two of the whistleblowers and placed others on suspension and indefinite leave.
Beyond OSC's hard-hitting investigation, aggressive main-stream-media coverage (largely from WaPo) spotlighted the wrongdoers even more, and members of Congress and the Secretary of Defense himself got involved in urging for accountability for the retaliating officials:
The disciplinary measures were imposed after members of Congress and Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta urged the Air Force to take stronger personnel action late last year at Dover.
The Office of Special Counsel – an agency corrupted and bastardized during the Bush administration – has been revamped under the leadership of new Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner, and in the Dover case functioned exactly how the investigative body should. However, it should not take such a vast amount of pressure from OSC, the media, and Congress to obtain discipline for whistleblower retaliation, something clearly outlawed by the Whistleblower Protection Act.
Too many whistleblowers to not have the advantage of an aggressive OSC investigation, and intelligence community whistleblowers are specifically exempted from the OSC process and protection from retaliation.
Even whistleblowers who "win" their cases suffer financially and professionally in the the process. While the Justice Department's case against National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Thomas Drake collapsed in spectacular fashion days before trial, Drake's career in intelligence is over (he now works at an Apple Store), he spent upwards of a hundred thousand dollars in attorneys' fees, and has been forced to sue NSA for the return of property seized over four years ago. This is what "winning" looks like for too many whistleblowers.
NSA whistleblowers Bill Binney and Kirk Wiebe managed to avoid the criminal prosecution they were threatened with, but they have been sandbagged out of any intelligence contracting opportunities. State Department whistleblower Peter Van Buren is in the process of being fired from the State Department despite the fact that the ACLU wrote that it believes taking such action against Van Buren is unconstitutional. Moreover, Drake, Binney, Wiebe, and Van Buren have all benefited from favorable media coverage, while many whistleblowers are retaliated against far from any public scrutiny.
OSC deserves credit for the Dover investigation, and it is encouraging to see retaliating officials held accountable. Hopefully, the Dover case will serve as an example to turn the tide toward punishing those who commit wrongdoing and retaliation and away from punishing whistleblowers.