Contractor Paid $32 Million over Last Several Years;
Issue Revolves Around Forcing Whistleblowers to Check “Voluntary Consent” for Retaliatory Psych Tests
(Washington, D.C.) – The Government Accountability Project (GAP) is applauding District of Columbia Councilmember Phil Mendelson for raising questions and seeking an explanation for specific actions by a contractor of the Washington, D.C. police and fire departments.
Earlier this month, Councilmember Mendelson sent a letter to D.C. City Administrator Neil Albert regarding concerns raised about the performance of PFC Associates, LLC (PFC). PFC is a contractor to the D.C. government that is responsible for providing Occupational Medical Services for Eligible Law Enforcement Personnel. According to the D.C. Office of contracting and procurement (OCP), during the period 2004 – 2008, over $32 million in City contracts were awarded to PFC.
Unfortunately for City employees and taxpayers, PFC has been under a cloud of controversy regarding its treatment of whistleblowers from the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department (FEMS).
The Mendelson letter, available on GAP’s website here, has been sent because PFC has a contract that is being considered for renewal. Specifically, in addition to other questions concerning PFC actions, Mendelson states in the letter:
I have a number of substantive concerns with the PFC contract based on current practices. These were discussed, but unresolved, at the public hearing.
- It is improper for the PFC to require individuals to “voluntarily consent” to a psychological exam when the FEMS command staff has ordered it. Failure to sign the consent can result in being fired.
- It is inappropriate for the PFC to require individuals to waive their rights to see the results of their psychological exam. Witnesses testified that employees have been fired on the basis of the exam.
These two points raise serious concerns about the PFC’s procedures for administering psychological evaluations, which are often ordered as part of so-called “fitness-for-duty” assessments. FEMS officials have used this tool to force employees to choose between their jobs and constitutional and civil rights.
“The use of psychological testing by FEMS officials to retaliate against employees and weed-out whistleblowers is a repugnant abuse of power,” stated Richard Condit, GAP Senior Counsel. “As licensed medical and mental health practitioners, the professionals employed by the PFC should raise ethical concerns and use their professional judgment to prevent abuses by D.C. government managers. Instead, too often, the PFC has served as a lapdog often facilitating these abuses. Councilmember Mendelson is doing the right thing by seeking correction of these problems.”
This issue directly relates to the case of GAP client and former firefighter Vanessa Coleman, previously a Captain with the Fire Department and a 19-year veteran of the force, who was eventually fired from her position as a result of blowing the whistle on a variety of important issues. During the height of FEMS retaliation against her, Coleman was improperly ordered to submit to psychological evaluations. Background information on Coleman’s case can be found on GAP’s website here.
Mendelson chairs the D.C. Council Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, which has oversight of the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department. The committee held a hearing regarding PFC's contract earlier this year, on January 25. At the hearing, several witnesses testified, including Richard Condit, detailing serious problems with PFC.
The contract is expected to be taken up, at the earliest, by the Council on April 20th. Coleman has a case pending in federal court.
To view a document showing how PFC has been paid over $32 million for its services, click here.
Government Accountability Project
The Government Accountability Project is the nation’s leading whistleblower protection organization. Through litigating whistleblower cases, publicizing concerns and developing legal reforms, GAP’s mission is to protect the public interest by promoting government and corporate accountability. Founded in 1977, GAP is a non-profit, non-partisan advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.