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Today, Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner, head of the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), is calling on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to conduct better internal safety oversight, and act upon many whistleblower safety disclosures coming from the agency. The OSC cites several "troubling safety disclosures" by a litany of FAA employees, including air traffic controllers. Additionally, the OSC's press release cites "sharply critical findings by FAA's own internal watchdog unit," and that Department of Transportation (DOT) has "failed to take timely corrective action" in addressing these whistleblower concerns.
The press release was sent out in conjunction with a letter to President Barack Obama, detailing a number of the recent safety disclosures, including improperly fitted night vision goggles, incompetent air traffic controllers in New York, insufficient oversight of Delta's maintenance program, and faulty wind instruments, among others. The FAA has one of the highest whistleblower filings per employee of any executive branch agency, and about half of the whistleblower complaints from the agency since 2007 involve aviation safety.
This is only the most recent example of Lerner's crusade for whistleblower rights since taking office last summer. Her office played a big role in publicly outing the Dover mortuary scandal – which was uncovered by whistleblower complaints to her office – and leaned on the military to reinstate the security clearance of MRAP whistleblower Franz Gayl.
GAP agrees with the OSC's concern regarding the FAA. We have had a number of FAA whistleblower clients in the past few years, alleging various safety and security concerns.
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Inspectors General may sometimes be the fox guarding the hen house, but they're all that there is, and once and a while they work. An Inspector General can save taxpayers billions by investigating whistleblower claims of fraud, waste, abuse, mismanagement or illegality.
The recent the General Services Administration (GSA) scandal demonstrates the need for IGs.WaPo reports that while testifying before congress yesterday,
Inspector General Brian Miller told a congressional committee scrutinizing an $823,000 Las Vegas conference that his office has asked the Justice Department to investigate “all sorts of improprieties” surrounding the 2010 event, “including bribes, including possible kickbacks.”
WaPo reports that the Las Vegas conference for GSA employees was an extravagant affair put on by expensive contractors - most of who were awarded no-bid contracts:
Taxpayers picked up the tab for a mind reader, bicycles for a team-building exercise and a slew of private parties at the conference. . . . the freewheeling spending, which included poolside entertainment by a clown and a “Red Carpet” talent show. . .
Yet despite that the GSA IG is investigating waste and fraud like taxpayer-funded clowns (no, I don't think that's referring to Congress), there are currently 10 Inspector General positions vacant at other federal agencies.
The ten vacancies are down from 12 in February 2012, so many that the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) launched a web page to track Inspector General vacancies. The current vacancies include critical agencies such as the Department of State, Department of Labor, and the Department of Defense.
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This week the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals accepted a "friend of the court" or amicus curiae brief in support of Federal Air Marshals (FAM) whistleblower Robert MacLean from three Members of Congress who long have been champions of the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA). Representatives Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) urged the court:
...to restore a basic premise for merit systems principles, and to restore the statutory infrastructure necessary for the WPA to be viable – that only Congress through exercising its statutory authority, or the President through appropriate Executive Order, can restrict the public free speech rights of government employees to disclose information protected under the WPA, and Congress must act with specificity. An agency's rules and regulations cannot cancel or otherwise modify the right to public freedom of expression codified in the WPA, whether issued at its own initiative, or through derivative authority from a broad congressional directive to manage its information. This principle was a carefully considered, repeatedly reaffirmed cornerstone premise when whistleblower rights were created in the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978.
This congressional advocacy is particularly significant, because Cummings and Maloney are the two most senior, ranking members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee
MacLean's appeal has stakes unsurpassed by any whistleblower dispute of recent years – not just for whistleblower decisions, but for public safety as well. The roots of retaliation occurred in 2003, after intelligence agencies confirmed a planned, more ambitious rerun of 9/11 by al-Qaeda. In the midst of unprecedented emergency measures, the Federal Air Marshall Service (FAMS) inexplicably reversed course and canceled all FAM protection for targeted flights.
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MacLean with NYPD whistleblower Frank SerpicoIt’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s… Robert MacLean?
That’s right. GAP client and TSA whistleblower Robert MacLean was being celebrated as a hero yesterday in local Nashville news. While it would, at first glance, make sense for MacLean to be celebrated for his important disclosures, this story actually involves a feat of more physical derring-do.
A roofing contractor, MacLean was analyzing houses for hail damage when he noticed a suspicious character lurking in the neighborhood this past Tuesday. He had another contractor call the police, who arrived shortly thereafter. After the police asked the suspect to produce an ID, the suspect shoved an officer and attempted to run away.
Except that MacLean got in his way.
MacLean tackled the suspect from behind and held him down until the police arrested him. The suspect has since been charged with disorderly conduct.
MacLean is not new to taking down bad guys. He is a former Federal Air Marshal who revealed that the TSA was planning to cut down costs by removing Air Marshals from flights. After this disclosure, a number of Senators called on the agency to rectify the situation (and they did).
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A new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) Report, "Allegations of Misconduct and Illegal Discrimination and Retaliation in the Federal Air Marshal Service," released in embargoed form to select news agencies, appears to be a significant vindication for Federal Air Marshal whistleblowers.
Prompted by a 2010 CNN exposé that there was rampant discrimination and whistleblower retaliation at the Orlando Federal Air Marshals Service (FAMS) office, the DHS OIG investigated agency-wide abuses. The report confirms a pattern of retaliation against Air Marshals who challenged security breaches by FAMS management. It singled out the termination of a whistleblower to illustrate a culture of retaliation and resulting mistrust that it warned will be TSA's largest challenge to overcome, and recommended corrective action.
The best corrective action would be to reinstate the whistleblower who was fired, Robert MacLean. Currently TSA is fighting his legal appeal in court.
MacLean blew the whistle successfully to challenge a 2003 FAMS order canceling Air Marshal coverage during a confirmed terrorist plan for a hijacking reminiscent of the 9/11 attacks. The reason for cancelled coverage? TSA wanted to save money on overnight hotel costs after blowing its budget on failed buddy system contracts.
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Dear GAP Supporter:
When former federal air marshal Robert MacLean discovered that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was planning to cut costs by removing air marshals from flights – at a time during heightened intelligence warning of hijackings – he did the right thing and blew the whistle. Many senators, at the time, praised the warning and fixed the situation by calling for the TSA to correct it (which the agency did). But MacLean was fired for his disclosure, and the government board that was supposed to protect him from retaliation sided with TSA.
Now, MacLean has one last chance to appeal the ruling made by the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board. Representatives Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), plan to submit a friend of the court brief in defense of MacLean.
The retaliation against MacLean sets a dangerous precedent for whistleblowers who want to speak out. In his case, TSA retroactively marked his disclosure as "Sensitive Security Information" (SSI) three years after the fact, and then used that marking to retaliate against MacLean.These types of secret classifications are a concept so broad that they can be applied to any disclosure, if certain Department of Homeland Security officials decide that such an action would "be detrimental to the security of transportation."
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Giraffe Heroes ProjectTo start the new year, Marine Corps whistleblower Franz Gayl – who recently was allowed to return to work in a remarkable victory for a Defense Department employee – received a Giraffe Commendation, an honor awarded by the nonprofit Giraffe Heroes Project to people who "stick their necks out for the common good." From the organization's website:
Franz Gayl is a committed Marine vet, loyal as all good Marines are, to the Corps. Working as a civilian advisor in the Pentagon, he saw reports from combat officers that Humvees were death traps for Marines and soldiers in Iraq. Field commanders were asking for the better-armed MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicle. It wasn't happening. Gayl pushed Pentagon channels. Nothing happened. So he went to the press and to Congress. The Pentagon took away his security clearance, making it impossible for him to work. He's widely credited with the Defense Department finally ordering the MRAPs and with the Secretary of Defense proudly saying they were saving thousands of lives. An official inspection of Gayl's case ordered the Pentagon to re-instate him. Do you wonder how many soldiers and Marines died or lost limbs during the years it took to answer the field commanders' urgent request?
GAP commends the Giraffe Heroes Project wholeheartedly, both for recognizing Franz' role in protecting our troops, and for being so supportive of whistleblowers in general. At GAP, we strongly believe that the tribulations of whistleblowers should be known, and that all citizens should be made aware of how important whistleblowers are to democracy. Whistleblowers should be honored for their courage and standing up for the truth. The Giraffe Heroes Project helps make this happen.
Ironically, the first day he was back on the job, Gayl's new supervisor announced he would be demoted and stripped of all science and technology" duties. Apparently the Marines' response to lifesaving whistleblowing is "Never Again." So much for the rule of law.