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Fact Check: GAP Legal Filing Falsely Claims Intelligence Workers Lack External Avenues to Blow the Whistle

7:54 am in Uncategorized by MSPB Watch

In a friend-of-the-court filing dated Dec. 17, the Government Accountability Project argued that a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 should be declared unconstitutionally vague as it might chill whistleblowers’ speech. In describing the legal landscape affecting whistleblowers’ rights, however, GAP painted an unduly narrow picture of the avenues currently available.

On page 11, counsel for GAP described the protections in the Whistleblower Protection Act as follows:

The primary legislation affecting federal whistleblowers, the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 (“WPA”), provides certain federal employees who report evidence of violations of law, rule or regulation including gross mismanagement, waste of funds, or substantial and specific danger to the public health or safety with some protection, including judicial review.  See 5 U.S.C. § 2302(b)(8).

It noted that “employees in the intelligence community are excluded from the WPA’s protections.”

The brief then continued to state that

[W]histleblowers in the intelligence community . . . are limited to internal administrative avenues. The Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act of 1998 (“ICWPA”) is toothless and creates bureaucratic procedures that makes blowing the whistle an exercise in futility. [Emphasis added.]

This particular claim is false. By law, all executive branch employees have the right to make disclosures of classified (or unclassified) information externally–to the Office of Special Counsel. See 5 U.S.C. § 1213(a)(2). The exemption of intelligence workers from protections against reprisal, found in 5 U.S.C. § 2302(a)(2)(C)(ii), does not affect their right to make disclosures to the Office of Special Counsel.

As such, the ICWPA is not the only avenue to blow the whistle in the intelligence community. Though the WPA does not provide protections against reprisal to intelligence community employees, it does guarantee confidentiality, and an unfiltered channel to the National Security Advisor and relevant intelligence committees in Congress for intelligence-related disclosures. See 5 U.S.C. §§ 1213(h), (j).

Moreover, OSC recently accepted a disclosure from a former FBI employee (FBI is one of the agencies listed in 5 U.S.C. § 2302(a)(2)(C)(ii)), further demonstrating that disclosures by intelligence community employees may be made outside the ICWPA.

Update: In a YouTube video posted Dec. 18, OSC official Bruce Fong (at the 3:31 mark) said that

If your disclosure involves information that you believe might be prohibited from public disclosure, be very careful. You must use a protected channel in order to benefit from the protections of the whistleblower laws. So, if you have information in your disclosure that includes classified information, for example, make sure you use one of the protected channels. The office of inspector general is always a protected channel. So is the Office of Special Counsel. [Emphasis added.]

Veal Pen Watch: Is POGO part of the problem?

8:11 am in Uncategorized by MSPB Watch

Veal! (photo: rinalia/flickr)

Veal! (photo: rinalia/flickr)

A disturbing post was put up by the Project on Government Oversight yesterday, featuring an unthinking quote by its Executive Director, Danielle Brian:

For his part [Nuclear Regulatory Chairman Gregory] Jaczko has said he only recently learned of the allegations, but admitted to sometimes having a brusque management style at times. “There are times when I can question people intensely and that’s something I am aware of in my style,” Jaczko said at a Senate hearing today.

“Whatever the case is regarding the allegations, they do not rise to the level of Inspector General or Congressional scrutiny,” said POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian. “Even if the worst allegations are true, they are hardly unique in Washington, a city full of bullying bosses. They are, however, convenient as a weapon for those who disagree with Jaczko’s voting record.”

Here’s a comment I left on the site (awaiting moderation):

Sorry, dismissing DC culture as one full of “bullying bosses” understates the case and undermines POGO’s credibility. Intimidation, abuse, and reprisal run rampant, and the civil service — and America — are worse off for it. It doesn’t have to be this way – the U.S. Office of Special Counsel and the Merit Systems Protection Board could take their statutory mandate seriously – as required by the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978.

But then again, POGO (and others) have steadfastly refused to confront lawbreaking by OSC and MSPB for over thirty years.

Why?

By the way, bullying is “abuse of authority” – an illegal practice under 5 U.S.C. 2302(b)(8)(A)(ii). It merits a de-politicized, sober investigation, not a brusque dismissal by a purported government oversight organization.

Update: in response to criticism, POGO changed the phrase “bullying bosses” to “mean bosses.” But this is an empty, arrogant gesture that misses the point.

Four Nuclear Regulatory Commissioners blow whistles to the White House about NRC Chair’s abusive, “erratic” behavior

3:07 pm in Uncategorized by MSPB Watch

An excerpt from the New York Times:

Another chapter is out in the continuing and very public story of conflict within the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which has now taken the form of a battle of snail mail.

A letter addressed to the White House chief of staff and signed by four of the five commission members was circulated Friday criticizing the fifth member, Gregory B. Jaczko, its chairman, and expressing “grave concerns” that his deficiencies as a leader could compromise nuclear safety. It was dated Oct. 13. A similar letter was sent directly to Dr. Jaczko.

And this week, a rebuttal letter from Dr. Jaczko, also addressed to William M. Daley, President Obama’s chief of staff, said the other four members were improperly trying to involve themselves in management affairs, which in a reorganization of the commission in 1980 became the chairman’s sole responsibility. Dated Dec. 7, the letter said that the rest of the commission had “taken an approach that is not as protective of public health and safety as I believe is necessary.”

For relevant context on how such breakdowns in the civil service occur, see this letter from Joe Carson, Nuclear Safety Engineer at the Department of Energy:

December 10, 2011

Chairman Jaczko
Commissioner Svinicki
Commissioner Apostolakis
Commissioner Magwood
Commissioner Ostendorff

Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Washington, DC 20555

Subject: The “broken covenant” of Civil Service Reform Act of 1978; significant and persistent deficiencies in scope and implementation of engineering ethics; and your mission and your disputes about your various authority in executing it

Dear NRC Commissioners,

I am writing because of a NY Times story, “New Discord at NRC,” today about your dispute, which links to your respective letters to the White House.1 I have already established that you cannot demonstrate objective compliance with your fundamental duty to NRC employees – to ensure they are adequately protected from reprisal, discrimination, personal favoritism, or other types of “prohibited personnel practices (PPPs),” so they can perform their duties in a trustworthy fashion, per the merit system principles. How else can you possibly claim to be complying with your duty to “prevent PPPs” at 5 U.S.C. section 2302(c), if you cannot do this?

But I do not blame you, because you cannot do this by yourself. Congress, per the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, assigned the duty to “protect (NRC) employees from PPPs” to the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), per (what is now) 5 U.S.C. section 1214, and assigned the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) the duty to conduct oversight of OSC and NRC in interpreting and applying their respective duties to determine whether NRC employees are adequately protected from PPPs, per 5 U.S.C. section 1204(a)(3). But OSC interpreted away, at its creation, its essential duty to “protect” by claiming it never has to tell anyone when it determines a PPP has occurred, and MSPB enabled OSC by claiming it never has to conduct oversight of OSC or NRC to determine whether NRC employees are adequately protected from PPPs. This is detailed, in boring, nuclear safety grade, detail at www.broken-covenant.org and http://mspbwatch.wordpress.com/.

So, maybe Chairman Jaczko took a page from OSC’s and MSPB’s playbooks in claiming he does not have to tell other NRC Commissioners what they believe they need to know to comply with their statutory duties for nuclear and public health and safety.

The NRC Inspector General report about Chairman Jaczko’s actions about terminating the NRC’s review of DOE’s license application for Yucca Mountain determined he did not break any laws.2 But it was silent to the most relevant question – did he abuse his authority? “Abuse of authority” is a legal phrase with defined meaning in federal civil service law – it is not just a subjective “eye of beholder” combination of sounds.3 Perhaps the NRC IG feared retribution to make such a finding, so he was silent to it.

As I understand rule of law in USA, the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) of the Department of Justice should be the final referee in Executive Branch about your respective authorities. I also understand you have the authority to task OLC to issue its opinion on your concerns.4

I played a significant role in the American Nuclear Society (ANS) issuing a new code of ethics about 7 years ago.5 I regret it, it is nothing but worthless eyewash in practice – ANS has yet to ever investigate a member for violating it or taking any action to uphold it when an ANS member claims to have been so foolhardy to put it ahead of their economic self-interest and to be suffering employer retribution for it, even when legally established.

The NRC Inspector General found former NRC Commissioner Merrifield violated some conflict of interest requirements of the federal civil service. This was publicized in the Washington Post.6 In doing so, he also violated aspects of the ANS Code of Ethics. I brought this to the appropriate attention of ANS leadership, the 10 or so former NRC Commissioners who belong to ANS, and others. Everyone stuck their head in the sand and pointed me to someone else, demonstrating the “broken honor code” implementation basis of engineering ethics.7

Commissioner Ostendorff – you knew me in Navy Nuclear Power School. When Admiral Rickover interviewed me, he asked me why I wanted to be in his program and I told him I wanted to be a better engineer. Be careful what you ask for, I suppose, because my being a “better engineer” includes the unpopular assignment to call out my profession about the significant and persistent deficiencies in its code of ethics – which forms an essential part of the engineering, as any other, profession.

Commissioner Magwood – you have known me a bit via our common membership in ANS and common employment in DOE.

Chairman Jaczko – we met about my concerns as a Department of Energy whistleblower when you were on Senator Reid’s staff.

Everyone in nuclear profession would be better served by clarity about your respective roles – as applied in specific instances – not just in theory. Everyone in federal civil service would be better served by clarity about the respective responsibilities of agency heads, the Special Counsel of the Office of Special Counsel, and Members of the Merit Systems Protection Board for ensuring members of federal civil service are adequately protected from PPPs. Everyone on planet earth in 2011 would be better served if the members and leaders of engineering profession would find the moral courage to acknowledge and address the significant and persistent deficiencies in the scope and implementation of engineering ethics.

You have sworn duties for a reason – and not just to burnish your resumes for your next career move – and I am bringing serious, well evidenced, far-reaching concerns to your attention and they are certainly relevant to nuclear safety. Please act in accordance with the merit system principles, your oaths of allegiance, and standing as nuclear professionals, in considering them, because you do have the influence and/or authority to substantiate or dispel them.

Respectfully,

Joe Carson, PE

Copy: Relevant Stakeholders in Government, media, and elsewhere

1. www.nytimes.com/2011/12/10/us/new-discord-at-nuclear-regulatory-commission.html?scp=1&sq=nrc&st=cse

2. See http://republicans.energycommerce.house.gov/Media/file/Hearings/Environment/061411/IGREPORT.PDF

3. See 5 U.S.C. sections 1213(a)(1)(B), 2301(b)(9), and 2302(b)(8)

4. See 28 U.S.C. sections 510-512, 28 C.F.R. section 0.25, and www.justice.gov/olc

5. See www.new.ans.org/about/coe/

6. See www.pogo.org and perform a search on “merrifield” to locate the NRC IG report

7. See http://srhrl.aaas.org/newsletter/per/archives/per43.pdf for a short article on the broken state of engineering ethics

 

New FOIA litigation in progress, aimed at clarifying ethical issues at MSPB

6:16 pm in Uncategorized by MSPB Watch

Back in August, a suit was filed (with exhibits) by [8-time prevailing whistleblower and federal nuclear safety engineer] Joe Carson against MSPB in federal district court, over MSPB’s refusal to comply with a FOIA request. In his request, reprinted below, Carson raises worthy questions regarding the ethical duties of the MSPB chair, currently occupied by Susan Tsui Grundmann. Take a look.

*****

Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) REQUEST

May 28, 2011
Mr. Bernard Parker, FOIA Officer
U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board
1615 M Street NW
Washington, DC 20419

fax at (202) 653-7130 <FOIAHQ@mspb.gov> <www.mspb.gov>

Subject: New FOIA request based on Chairman Grundmann’s May 24, 2011 denial of my FOIA appeal in FOIA no. CB11-171

Dear Mr. Parker,

As MSPB leadership knows, I contend there is a 32 year-long “broken covenant” by Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 (CSRA). I contend that the government (i.e. Courts, Congress, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the President, the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), and agency heads) have failed to ensure federal employees are adequately protected from reprisal and other types of prohibited personnel practices (PPPs) as they do their duties in a trustworthy fashion, per the merit system principles - the fundamental objective of the CSRA.

My contentions are detailed at <www.broken-covenant.org>. I contend that thousands of loyal patriotic federal employees, foolhardy enough to put duty to the Constitution and the common good before their personal economies were unlawfully betrayed for doing so since 1979. I contend America is much diminished and more threatened as a result. Furthermore, I contend that if my concerns are substantiated at the Office of Legal Counsel of the Department of Justice, it is GOOD NEWS for America in that: 1) a previously unidentified significant causal factor to much which has befallen and besets America has been exposed, and 2) it can readily be corrected.

If my contentions are substantiated, then the Merit Systems Protection Board – the 3 person Board – for past 32 years, its lawyer members and the lawyers in its Office of General Counsel and Office of Policy are, in my opinion, most responsible. Only MSPB has the positive, nondiscretionary, statutory duty to conduct oversight, via its special studies function at 5 U.S.C. section 1204(a)(3), of the Office of Special Counsel’s interpretation of and compliance with its nondiscretionary statutory duties to protect federal employees from PPPs, most specifically its duty to report its determinations of PPPs at 5 U.S.C. section 1214(e), and agency heads interpretation of and compliance with their nondiscretionary statutory duties to prevent PPPs, per 5 U.S.C. section 2302(c).

I am a licensed professional engineer (PE) employed in the Department of Energy as a nuclear safety engineer. I was so foolhardy as to put my positive legal and professional duty to be a “mandated reporter,” when necessary, to protect others related to my professional duties for their health and safety, regardless of possible job/career retribution. PE’s are “mandated reporters” in such circumstances, I acted consistent with that duty. My actions played a positive, perhaps significant, role in the passage of the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA) of 2000, by which over 65,000 diseased, disabled, or prematurely deceased Department of Energy contractor workers (or their survivors) have received over 7 billion dollars in compensation. So, as I now see it, I have done my positive legal and professional duty, as great personal and professional cost, as a licensed professional employed by a government agency because other licensed professionals employed by a government agency – attorneys who served on the 3 person Board during past 32 years – betrayed their duty to enforce the laws entrusted to them, particularly section 1204(a)(3).

Why has this gone on for 32 years? As I understand Chairman Grundmann’s reasoning in denying my FOIA appeal, she is really not the Chair of MSPB, with a positive legal duty to ensure MSPB is properly interpreting and complying with its non-adjudicatory statutory duties to protect the Merit Systems in the Executive Branch from PPPs – and to “blow whistles” as a “mandated reporter,” if it is not. Instead, she has an attorney-client relationship MSPB, her government employer. Because MSPB is her client, she must as a licensed attorney – what she was before becoming Chair of MSPB and what she will continue to be when her term at MSPB ends – hold paramount MSPB’s interests – not those of the federal civil service when the two come into conflict. Therefore she is a “mandated NON-reporter” about MSPB’s failures or possible failures to properly interpret and comply with its nondiscretionary duties regarding conducting special studies and oversight of Office of Personnel Management regulations.

Additionally, Ms. Grundmann has a background as a lawyer employed by federal employee unions, so she had an attorney-client relationship with them. In my opinion, federal employee unions have devolved to become low-level protection rackets, which use fear of PPPs to sell union memberships at about $400 -$500/year to federal employees. Federal employee unions, in my close observation and experience, benefit from the “broken covenant” of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 – they do NOT want federal employees to be adequately protected from PPPs by agency heads and OSC, because if they were, then they would be even less likely to voluntarily pay union dues. Federal employee unions want status quo – “OSC is the last place an employee alleging a PPP should go” – to continue because it helps sell union memberships.

In fact, federal employee unions were the chief advocate of a 1994 law that put severe restrictions on federal employees represented by federal employee unions (i.e. their members and prospective members, only about 20% of federal employees represented by federal employee unions actually pay their dues), seeking protection from PPPs at OSC, per 5 U.S.C. section 7121(g). They did this to make their remedy for PPPs – binding arbitration – more exclusive. Why? To help sell union memberships, to pay the exorbitant salaries of their officers and their employed attorneys.

So, federal employee unions and their lawyers want and benefit from a broken, lawbreaking fraud of federal law enforcement agency at OSC – one that is “the last place a federal employee alleging a PPP should go,” and lawbreaking enabler of OSC’s fraud at MSPB.

To clarify my understanding of Ms. Grundmann’s ethical obligations as a licensed attorney who is Chair of MSPB and who was previously employed by Federal employee unions, I submit a FOIA request for any responsive records for the following:

  1. -Any records relevant to Ms. Grundmann’s duties to be a “mandated reporter” as a lawyer who is the Chairman of MSPB, a federal agency, if she determines there is reasonable cause to believe MSPB has misinterpreted and/or misapplied its nondiscretionary duties regarding its special studies function at 5 U.S.C. sections 1204(a)(3) and (e)(3) for past 32 years.
  2. -Any records relevant to Ms. Grundmann’s duties to be a “mandated NON-reporter” as a lawyer who is the Chairman of MSPB, a federal agency, if she determines there is reasonable cause to believe MSPB has misinterpreted and/or misapplied its nondiscretionary duties regarding its special studies function at 5 U.S.C. sections 1204(a)(3) and (e)(3) for past 32 years.
  3. -Any records relevant to Ms. Grundmann’s duties to be a “mandated reporter” as a lawyer who is the Chairman of MSPB, a federal agency, if she determines there is reasonable cause to believe MSPB has misinterpreted and/or misapplied its nondiscretionary duties regarding its oversight function of the Office of Personnel Management at 5 U.S.C. section 1204(a)(4) and (f) for past 32 years.
  4. -Any records relevant to Ms. Grundmann’s duties to be a “mandated NON-reporter” as a lawyer who is the Chairman of MSPB, a federal agency, if she determines there is reasonable cause to believe MSPB has misinterpreted and/or misapplied its nondiscretionary duties regarding its oversight function of the Office of Personnel Management at 5 U.S.C. section 1204(a)(4) and (f) for past 32 years.
  5. -Any records relevant to Ms. Grundmann’s duties to be a “mandated NON-reporter” as a lawyer who is the Chairman MSPB if she determines there is reasonable cause to believe MSPB has misinterpreted and/or misapplied its duties regarding its oversight function of the Office of Personnel Management at 5 U.S.C. section 1204(a)(4) and (f) for past 32 years, because she was previously employed by federal employee unions, which possibly benefitted from the government lawbreaking, because fear of PPPs helps sell union memberships.
  6. -Any records relevant to Ms. Grundmann’s duties to be a “mandated NON-reporter” as a lawyer who is the Chairman MSPB if she determines there is reasonable cause to believe MSPB has misinterpreted and/or misapplied its duties regarding its special studies function at 5 U.S.C. sections 1204(a)(3) and (e)(3) for past 32 years, because she was previously employed by federal employee unions, who benefitted from the government lawbreaking, because a broken, lawbreaking fraud of an OSC – “the last place a government employee alleging a PPP should go” – and a lawbreaking MSPB that enables it, helps sell federal employee union memberships.
  7. -Any records related to any evaluation MSPB has conducted of its interpretation of and compliance with its non-discretionary statutory duties at 5 U.S.C. sections 1204(a)(3), (a)(4), (e)(3) and/or (f).
  8. -Any records related to any consideration MSPB has made of telling the President, Congress or anyone else that its interpretations of and compliance with 5 U.S.C. sections 1204(a)(3), (a)(4), (e)(3) and/or (f) during past 32 years is suspect.
  9. -Any records related to any consideration MSPB has made of seeking interpretations from the Office of Legal Counsel of the Department of Justice of its interpretations of 5 U.S.C. sections 1204(a)(3), (a)(4), (e)(3) and/or (f) during past 32 years.
  10. -Any records related to MSPB’s compliance with its nondiscretionary statutory duty to conduct reviews of OPM rules and regulations for possible PPP’s, per 5 U.S.C. sections 1204(a)(4) and/or (f)(1)(A), on its own motion.
  11. -Any records of any written complaints received from the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), requesting such a review, per section 1204(f)(1)(c),
  12. -Any records of any “special studies” conducted by MSPB, per sections 1204(a)(3) and (e)(3), that considered MSPB’s and OSC’s compliance with their positive, nondiscretionary, statutory duties to proactively review any OPM rule or regulation for possible PPP’s.

I will pay up to $100 for the records I seek.

Respectfully,

Joseph Carson, PE

*****

This suit will be tracked at http://mspbwatch.wordpress.com/litigation/

For more information, see www.broken-covenant.org and please sign a related White House petition here.