In today's Washington Post, columnist Joe Davidson says, "If the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Civil Rights were a chunk of ground, it would be declared a disaster area." Mr. Davidson recounts the findings made by Deloitte Consulting in a report released last month. He also noted the call made by the National Whistleblowers Center to oust OCR's director, Rafael DeLeon. EPA spokesperson Adora Andy told Mr. Davidson that EPA would look into our allegations about Mr. DeLeon's off-color remarks. EPA said the same thing to POLITICO on Monday. How long does it take to ask Mr. DeLeon if he called Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo and Ms. Susan Morris "pink elephants?" How long does it take to ask him if he chided Dr. Coleman-Adebayo for being a "Rosa Parks of the EPA" or if he referred to a lapdance at a staff party? Or, is EPA unsure if a director of the "Office of Civil Rights" should do any of these things? Joe Davidson's article could give these questions the prominence we need to get some answers soon. Thank you, Mr. Davidson.
In 2005, Thomas Tamm worked for the Justice Department's Office of Intelligence Policy and Review. He leaked information to the New York Times that exposed how the National Security Agency (NSA) was conducting illegal wiretaps. In 2008, Sam Dratch urged here against prosecution of Tamm. Numerous news sources are reporting this week that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has decided to close its investigation of Tamm without filing any charges. The Daily Beast is also reporting that DOJ has apparently dropped its investigation of NSA whistleblower Russell Tice. In both cases, this is good news for the whistleblowers, and good news for American citizens who believe in the public's right to know when their government officials violate the law.
Our call to Lisa Jackson, Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to oust her newly appointed director of the EPA's Office of Civil Rights (OCR) is gaining new media attention.
Marsha Coleman Adebayo has protested racism within the Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Civil Rights -- can you believe it? -- and finally the agency says it's investigating. Have you ever tried to draw attention to a big, bad situation in your workplace? Whistleblowers--how they impact your life and what they risk in coming forward. My guest this morning on Kboo 90.7 FM is Richard Renner, legal director of the National Whistleblowers Center. That's Wednesday morning at 8 am on kboo.fm, Portland.
This episode is now available as an mp3 file through KBOO's podcast. The talk show format gave me an opportunity to talk about many of NWC's activities, and our new book, The Whistleblower's Handbook. Notice in the final quarter of the call-in show how I confused Bradley Manning with Bradley Birkenfeld.
Hopefully, this growing public attention to an OCR director who does the opposite of civil rights will prompt EPA leadership to respond positively to our call, and soon.
POLITICO reporter Robin Bravender released a story on Friday saying that EPA spokesperson Brendan Gilfillan promised that EPA would "look into" the allegations of the open letter the National Whistleblowers Center released last week. Gilfillan told Bravender that Jackson is “deeply committed to issues of environmental justice, civil rights and a healthy workplace for all.” NWC's open letter alleges that Rafael DeLeon, director of EPA's Office of Civil Rights, made a series of offensive remarks. These remarks called Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo and Susan Morris "pink elephants." Bravender reports that this term "was popularized by Sarah Palin, who used it to refer to a stampede of women outraged about policies in Washington." NWC also alleges that DeLeon said Dr. Coleman-Adebayo held herself out like the "Rosa Parks of EPA," and that he referred to a lapdance at an office party.
Dr. Coleman-Adebayo is an environmental whistleblower who raised concerns about the dangers of vanadium mining in South Africa. When her concerns focused on the role of U.S. companies in apartheid South Africa she became the victim of a hostile work environment. Ms. Morris raised concerns about EPA’s compliance with the Civil Rights Act and then suffered a removal from her supervisory position.
Bravender interviewed Dr. Coleman-Adebayo about her experience working for DeLeon. Dr. Coleman-Adebayo reported that her transfer to DeLeon's office was essential a set up to be discharged. Dr. Coleman-Adebayo is writing a book about her experiences at the EPA. Called, “No Fear: A Whistleblower's Triumph Over Corruption and Retaliation at the EPA,” it is due in September.
Bravender reports that when Lisa Jackson, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), released the Deloitte Consulting report which finds problems with OCR, she praised DeLeon for his "energy and experience." Jackson appointed DeLeon to direct OCR last December.Continue Reading...
Today I am writing to Lisa Jackson, Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and asking her to remove Mr. Rafael DeLeon, the Director of the EPA's Office of Civil Rights (OCR). Last month, Deloitte Consulting issued a report on OCR finding that it is essentially dysfunctional. It fails in its core responsibility of protecting civil rights. Moreover, since Deloitte issued its report I have learned that OCR's director, Mr. DeLeon, recently made disparaging remarks about two courageous women whistleblowers "pink elephants." One of these women is, Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, a board member of the National Whistleblowers Center and founder of the No-FEAR Coalition. Mr. DeLeon singled her out for purporting to be "the Rosa Parks of the EPA" in an EPA conference call last week. It was not enough that Mr. DeLeon fired Dr. Coleman-Adebayo from the EPA. Finally, we received a report of Mr. DeLeon referring to a "lap dance" at a party with EPA employees. This behavior is incompatible with EPA's civil rights obligations. Accordingly, I have issued an open letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson calling on her to remove Mr. DeLeon. In the continuation of this blog, you can read NWC's press release, and the full text of my open letter.Continue Reading...
Last Thursday, April 14, 2011, the Senate confirmed Carolyn Lerner as Special Counsel. This post, which investigates and takes positions on federal employee whistleblower allegations, has been vacant for over two years. I reported here last month about her confirmation hearing.
Ms. Lerner has a difficult job ahead of her. Her staff is underfunded, and the law does not give her office all the tools it needs to effectively protect whistleblowers. Notably, her office does not have the power to order federal agencies to reinstated whistleblowers who are wrongly fired.
The previous administrations were notorious for failing to protect whistleblowers, and Ms. Lerner will need to dramatically and quickly change the culture of the Office of Special Counsel. I do not know if the incumbent staff has investigated or prepared any cases that are ready for action. It may take many months for us to see if Ms. Lerner's leadership can accomplish the kind of improvements we hope for.
The Senate digest reports that the Senate confirmed Ms. Lerner for a term of five (5) years. Ms. Lerner was a founding partner of the Washington, DC, civil rights and employment law firm called Heller, Huron, Chertkof, Lerner, Simon & Salzman. I extend my best wishes to her in this challenging and important office.
Yesterday, Senator Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) introduced the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2011 (WPEA), S. 743. Stephen M. Kohn, Executive Director of the National Whistleblowers Center (NWC) issued the following statement on this bill:
In December of 2010, the National Whistleblowers Center (NWC), the Federal Ethics Center, the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition and the No FEAR Coalition, together with nationally respected whistleblowers and thousands of citizen activists, strongly opposed the prior version of the WPEA (S. 372) calling it a "bad deal for whistleblowers." We laid out seven detailed reasons for why the bill would be detrimental for federal employees and would roll back existing whistleblower protections.
We were strongly criticized for opposing S. 372. We were told that this was the best bill we were going to get and if we did not change our position federal employee whistleblower protections offered in the new Congress would be worse. However, we believed that we were doing what was in the best interest of all federal employee whistleblowers and refused to back down.
Federal employees deserve better and were promised more by President Obama. If the flawed S. 372 had passed in December, all federal employees would have been materially harmed by the roll backs in protections. We had no choice but to stand our ground and it turns out that we were right - changes could be made to improve the bill.
The WPEA was re-introduced yesterday with one of our major concerns fixed. The exception for "minor" and "inadvertent" violations of law in the definition of protection disclosure has now been removed from this latest version of the Senate bill.
We are pleased that the Senate sponsors of the WPEA have agreed with the NWC, the Federal Ethics Center, the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition and the No FEAR Coalition, and the thousands of persons who advocated for this important change in the bill from what was proposed in the last Congress.Continue Reading...
We previously reported about the Senate Intelligence Committee's plan to include a provision in the Intelligence Authorization Bill (S. 719) requiring federal employees working at intelligence agencies to sign a contract stipulating that they would forfeit their federal pensions if they violated non-disclosure agreements, agency pre-publication review regulations or disclosed information to the press, outside groups like Wikileaks, or even Congress. The provision will give the head of each intelligence agency broad discretionary power to decide what a "leak" is - which will be broadly defined to include complaints about violations of law, waste, fraud and abuse, or risks to public safety.
Yesterday, the Senate published the bill and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) issued a press release and floor statement announcing his strong opposition to this bill because it will chill employee rights to report wrongdoing at intelligence agencies and will not afford employees due process if they are accused of violating this provision. Senator Wyden stated:
It is unfortunately entirely plausible to me that a given intelligence agency could conclude that a written submission to the congressional intelligence committees or an agency Inspector General is an “unauthorized publication,” and that the whistleblower who submitted it is thereby subject to punishment under section 403, especially since there is no explicit language in the bill that contradicts this conclusion. Withholding pension benefits from a legitimate whistleblower would be highly inappropriate, but overzealous and even unscrupulous individuals have served in senior government positions in the past, and will undoubtedly do so again in the future. This is why it is essential to have strong protections for whistleblowers enshrined in law, and this is particularly true for intelligence whistleblowers, since, given the covert nature of intelligence operations and activities, there are limited opportunities for public oversight. But reporting fraud and abuse by one’s own colleagues takes courage, and no whistleblowers will come forward if they do not believe that they will be protected from retaliation.
Senator Wyden has also announced he will block the bill from coming to the Senate floor for a vote if it contains this harmful provision. It is unclear what support exists in the Senate for this provision, but Senator Wyden’s hold could be overridden if there are 60 votes in favor of passing this bill with the anti-whistleblower pension provision in it.Continue Reading...