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Tropical Storm Isaac, on the verge of becoming a hurricane, is headed toward Louisiana. Officials have pronounced New Orleans ready, while at the same time the governor urged people in low-lying areas and places outside of levee protection to leave for safe ground.
The Army Corps of Enginerrs built a $14.5 billion flood protection system. But they have failed to address an independent evaluation by the US Office of Special Counsel (OSC) in 2009 that there are serious safety and reliability issues with hydraulic pumps that were installed in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. A tenacious whistleblower and former client, Maria Garzino, is US Army Corps of Engineers ("the Corps") mechanical and civil engineer who revealed the inadequate state of New Orleans' floodwater pumps built by the Corps after Hurricane Katrina. The disclosures, which both the Department of Defense Inspector General’s (DoDIG) office and the Corps fought for years, showcase how New Orleans residents are still in great danger if flooding occurs again. (Also captured vividly in the film The Big Uneasy.)
As the OSC told President Obama in 2009:
There appears to be little logical justification for: (1) restricting the emergency pumping capability . . . to only the untested hydraulic pump systems, (2) not requiring the installation of a reliable pumping system which would adequately protect New Orleans, (3) spending hundreds of millions of dollars to install forty MWI hydraulic pumps which are scheduled to be replaced at a cost of $430 million within 3-5 years. . .
(MWI is owned by J. David Eller, once a business partner of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in a venture called Bush-El that marketed MWI pumps.)
In February 2011, Garzino wrote a letter to President Obama detailing how the Corps knowingly installed equipment that cannot adequately protect the city of New Orleans from flooding; duplicated work that cost U.S. taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars; and deliberately deceived Congress as to the nature of and reason for this work.
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GAP praised today's action by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) to curtail illegal government surveillance of whistleblowers. In a memorandum to all Executive branch departments and agencies, Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner urged all federal agency chiefs to assess current employee monitoring practices, and to prevent any actions that would "interfere with or chill" federal employees from exercising their legally-required duty to disclose fraud, waste, abuse and corruption to appropriate authorities. The Special Counsel also warned agency leaders that such surveillance violates employees' legal rights to make confidential disclosures, and could lead to a determination that an agency has retaliated against such employees for engaging in legally-protected conduct.
"The Special Counsel's warning against illegal surveillance and subsequent retaliation against whistleblowers is politely unequivocal," commented GAP Legal Director Tom Devine. "Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner's leadership is essential to protect the merit system from illegal spying on whistleblowers. Big Brother has moved into agencies throughout the government, and illegal surveillance of whistleblowers has become the norm."
Dylan Blaylock is Communications Director for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.
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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.
Dover Air Force Base in Delaware is the main entry point for most of the nation's war dead. Photo courtesy of Flickr user BiggunbenI wrote last week about the Office of Special Counsel's (OSC) investigation into grotesque mishandling of soldiers' remains at Dover Mortuary. Courageous whistleblowers and a revamped OSC led by Carolyn Lerner deserved gratitude, I wrote, "for trying to ensure that our fallen are treated with reverence, dignity and respect, not treated like pieces of garbage." Unfortunately, the simile was literally true, as WaPo later reported:
The Dover Air Force Base mortuary for years disposed of portions of troops’ remains by cremating them and dumping the ashes in a Virginia landfill . . .
The lame response from the Air Force demonstrates the lack of accountability:
Asked if it was appropriate or dignified to incinerate troops’ body parts and dispose of them in a landfill, [Air Force’s deputy chief for personnel Lt. Gen. Darrell G.] Jones declined to answer directly. “We have recognized a much better way of doing things,” he said. “Let me be emphatic: I think the current procedures are better.”
As is too often the case when whistleblowers expose misconduct, WaPo reports
today that the whistleblowers received more punishment than the officials responsible for the disrespectful mistreatment of soldiers' remains.
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Yesterday, the law firm of Katz, Marshall and Banks (KMB) upped its pressure on the government to immediately release the findings from an investigation into alleged misconduct at U.S. Office of Special Counsel – the federal agency charged with upholding the rights of federal whistleblowers – under former Special Counsel Scott Bloch's tenure. The investigation concluded nearly four years ago, but to date no information has been made publicly available.
In 2005 the Office of Personnel Management Inspector General (OPM IG) opened an investigation into alleged misconduct at the OSC. This investigation was prompted in part by an OSC complaint that GAP and other stakeholders filed to address a litany of abuses that allegedly took place at Bloch's directive. KMB, in a letter addressed yesterday to the Chair of the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE), asserts:
This complaint was and is a matter of significant public concern, given its allegations of whistleblower retaliation by the agency charged with safeguarding the federal workforce against whistleblower retaliation; politically and religiously-based hiring for career positions; discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation; refusal to enforce federal merit systems protection laws; dismissal of hundreds of OSC charges without investigation; placing unlawful "gag orders" on federal government staff; and deliberate interference with a federal IG investigation
Last year Bloch pleaded guilty to misdemeanor contempt of Congress, for withholding evidence during a Congressional investigation. After being sentenced to a one-month jail term, he withdrew his guilty plea and the case remains stalled in the courts. Concerned that OPM may use this delay as pretext to continue withholding its findings, KMB is urging CIGIE to compel OPM to release the results of its investigation.
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Today, GAP is applauding the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) decision to grant a stay request from the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) that prevents the Marine Corps from indefinitely suspending without pay "MRAP" whistleblower and GAP client Franz Gayl. The OSC sought, and was granted, a 45-day stay on the Marine Corps' proposed suspension of Gayl, which was slated to begin today. The stay gives the OSC time to investigate the proposed suspension and decide whether to take further steps in the matter.
The MSPB announcement of the stay request can be found here.
Even though the MSPB has stayed this action for now, the public need to let Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta know that this kind of treatment against a whistleblower will not be tolerated. GAP and POGO each started petitions to send this important message. Today is the last day to sign!
“GAP applauds the MSPB for granting OSC’s stay request and preventing the Marine Corps from forcing Mr. Gayl out of the agency by cutting off his pay before OSC has the chance to investigate the Marine Corps’ retaliation,” said GAP attorney Jonathan Cantú in response to the ruling. “As the OSC stated in their stay request, ‘it is difficult to imagine a case that would be more appropriate for an initial stay order than this one [where] a public whistleblower … has put his career at risk out of concern for the safety of service members in combat.’ The actions of OSC and MSPB should also be a signal to the Marine Corps to give up their wrong-headed campaign of retaliation against a dedicated employee who simply wanted to protect his fellow Marines.”
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Today, the Government Accountability Project (GAP) applauds a U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) stay request filed with the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). The stay seeks to prevent the Marine Corps from indefinitely suspending without pay "MRAP" whistleblower and GAP client Franz Gayl.
Specifically, the OSC has sought a 45-day stay on the Marine Corps' proposed suspension of Gayl, which is slated to begin this Thursday, October 13. The 45-day stay will give the OSC time to investigate the proposed suspension and decide whether to take further steps in the matter.
Gayl, a Marine Corps science adviser, exposed the fact that the Corps failed to provide American troops in Iraq with MRAPs – Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles – in a timely manner. These vehicles better protect soldiers against improvised explosive devices and roadside bombs. Had MRAPs been available to troops, Gayl maintains, they could have prevented many troop casualties and deaths. In June of this year, shortly before leaving his position, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates stated that the deployment of MRAPs "saved "thousands of lives." Nonetheless, for his whistleblowing, Gayl has been the target of retaliatory investigations and workplace harassment, including the elimination of meaningful duties and loss of his security clearance. A more complete background on the Franz Gayl case can be read on GAP's web site.
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GAP's Dylan Blaylock delivers the memo (note: OSC seal inserted)Last Thursday, GAP, along with the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) issued a memo to the federal Office of Special Counsel (OSC) on the functionality of its website in regards to whistleblower protection information. The whistleblower community is well familiar with OSC, as it is the independent federal agency charged with protecting federal whistleblowers, investigating their disclosures, and reporting its finding to Congress and the President.
The whistleblower community is also well familiar with the fact that the OSC website is in dreadful shape. GAP and POGO were invited to write this memo by OSC, and (again) it's important to note that our critiques focus on the website's functionality and does not address any issues with content (that discussion will probably happen a little further down the road).
The OSC website should be a key resource for all potential and current federal whistleblowers, and should promote and demonstrate transparency, openness, and accountability. Further, it must be dynamic, easily navigable, straightforward, well-organized and aesthetically helpful in directing people to information quickly. But it falls short in many of these areas.
Recurring themes of functionality issues included out-of-date information, difficult navigation, an absence of document organization and transparency, and a lack of social media presence.
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In a move that illustrates what the whistleblower community can expect from the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) under the newly-appointed Carolyn Lerner administration, the OSC announced earlier today that it has obtained an order from the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) that stays the firing of a federal whistleblower.
This is the first sign that, as expected and hoped for, the OSC has an administration in place that will fight for the rights of those federal employees who expose waste, fraud and abuse. This is quite the contrast from the last administration – that of Scott Bloch, who was heavily criticized by whistleblower and "good government" groups (including GAP) for persecuting whistleblowers in his own office (the OSC), and as the norm, failing to protect those federal whistleblowers who desperately needed his help (Bloch has been sentenced to one month in prison for withholding information from Congress).
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The Government Accountability Project (GAP) today praised Senate action last night to confirm the nomination of Carolyn Lerner as Special Counsel at the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC), the office charged with investigating federal whistleblower disclosures, protecting them from retaliation, and defending the merit system.
“This is an outstanding appointment, and we hope that Ms. Lerner will be worth the wait,” stated GAP Legal Director Tom Devine. “To date, her career has personified excellence -- as a litigator, mediator and manager of government reform programs. Lerner has earned widespread respect among good government activists for a lifelong commitment to employee rights."
Lerner's task is seen as a difficult one, as OSC has been without a leader for over 18 months, following the resignation of Scott Bloch. Last month, Bloch was sentenced to one month of jail time for withholding information from Congress. During his tenure, Bloch issued gag orders and engaged in harsh retaliation against whistleblowers on his own staff, abandoning the agency’s mission to protect whistleblowers.
Devine added that credit should be given to the Oval Office, stating “It is no coincidence that this appointee could be the strongest Special Counsel since the office’s creation in 1978. President Obama now has completed appointments to the strongest, most qualified team in history to protect government and corporate whistleblowers. Now all these leaders need is a credible open government law to enforce. That would be done already, except for a 'secret hold' placed by a senator at the request of House Republican leadership last December on the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA). It is time for congressional Republicans to put their priorities and votes where their rhetoric is. Their war on waste will be false advertising unless they quickly act to pass the WPEA."
Tom Devine is Legal Director of the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.