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Why Did Congress Add an Intelligence Community Loophole to the Contractor Whistleblower Protections in NDAA Bill?

3:00 pm in Uncategorized by MSPB Watch

The National Whistleblowers Center is on record that Department of Defense contractors already had access to jury trials, and that Section 827(e) of the NDAA Bill, the IC loophole, (now codified at 41 U.S.C. 4712(e)) was a new provision that did not previously exist in the law.

So why did it get tacked on to a bill supposedly enhancing rights for government contractors who blow the whistle?

Here’s a relevant timeline of events related to NDAA lobbying:

  • Fourth Quarter of 2012: The Government Accountability Project lobbies Congress for passage of H.R. 4310 (the NDAA bill).
  • Monday, Dec. 10, 2012: Via email, GAP solicits signatures for an organizational petition letter (.docx).
  • Monday, Dec. 17: GAP emails the signatories to the petition letter, saying that “[t]he following has not been publicly announced yet, but we have been informed that the federal contractor provision – through our advocacy and staff negotiations – has overcome opposition.” (Emphasis added.)
  • Tuesday, Dec. 18: A House/Senate conference approves section 827(e), stripping protections for intelligence community contractors.
  • Wednesday, Dec. 19: GAP asks the signatories to hold off on publicizing the petition letter.
  • Wednesday, Dec. 19: NWC issues a “Take Action” alert, both via email and a website announcement, for the public to “urge Congress to protect National Security Whistleblowers.”
  • Friday, Dec. 21: Congress passes the NDAA bill with the loophole intact.
  • Friday, Dec. 21: GAP praises Congress for its action but also criticizes the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence for insisting on inclusion of the loophole.
  • Monday, Dec. 24: GAP emails members of the whistleblower community with news of the bill’s passage.
  • Wednesday, Jan. 2: President Obama signs the NDAA bill, issues a signing statement that concerns some members of Congress and divides GAP.

Please note: this bill would not have protected Edward Snowden, even assuming the loophole was not enacted and he used approved channels, because the bill takes effect only on July 1, 2013 (see Sec. 827(i)) and applies to contracts and task orders entered on or after that date.

But this bill also does nothing to protect others who are concerned, as Snowden was.

DC Media Relays OPM Director’s Crocodile Tears for Civil Servants On Last Day in Office

2:16 pm in Uncategorized by MSPB Watch

Various publications covering the federal government relayed concerns by outgoing OPM director John Berry over the “denigrat[ion]” of public service while ignoring his role in the Obama Administration’s unprecedented assault on workplace protections for hundreds of thousands of civil servants, via Berry v. Conyers & Northover. (The “Berry” is for John Berry, on behalf of the Office of Personnel Management).

Whistle blowers

Whistle blowers

That case, which is currently on appeal, has generated the following comments:

Tom Devine, Government Accountability Project:

If the ruling stands, “the merit system will be history.”

Lynne Bernabei, Bernabei & Wachtel, PLLC:

[T]he Obama administration’s support of this position is an integral part of the administration’s increasing secrecy and support of a national security system that is unaccountable.

Judge Dyk, dissenting opinion in Berry v. Conyers & Northover:

The majority completely fails to come to grips with the [Civil Service Reform Act of 1978]. . . the majority’s holding effectively nullifies the statute.

Angela Canterbury, Project on Government Oversight:

Congress must legislate to overturn the wrongheaded over-reach of the Federal Circuit, . . . and to prevent agencies from arbitrarily labeling away the rights of civil servants.

None of the major publications that cover civil service issues mentioned that decision. Instead, we’re treated to this:

Federal Times, April 11, 2013:

After taking over OPM, Berry quickly became known for his optimistic and passionate speeches defending federal employees. As the political winds soured on civil servants in recent years, Berry continued speaking up for feds. At a March labor-management meeting, an angry-sounding Berry warned that the government risks becoming unable to recruit and retain a qualified workforce if it keeps freezing employees’ pay, cutting their benefits, and publicly denigrating them.

Government Executive, April 11, 2013:

Berry has been a vocal champion for federal workers during the last four years, and has a good reputation among lawmakers on Capitol Hill. His exit comes just as federal employees at a number of agencies are starting to feel the effects of sequestration, including furloughs.

The biggest offender seems to be the Washington Post, which served up the following:

Though Berry faced major headaches from computer systems and retiree issues, his greatest frustration was something more fundamental.

“I don’t know if we succeeded in beating back those small-hearted people who somehow feel it is appropriate to denigrate public service,” he said during an interview.

“I don’t know what sort of smallness of mind or heart motivates them, but they need to understand that public service matters. And these jobs are just too important to not be able to recruit the best and the brightest to do them. . . . Do you want Homer Simpson researching cancer for your children’s diseases?”

It was President Obama, Berry’s boss, who, with congressional approval, upset federal workers by freezing their basic pay rates, a freeze now in its third year.

Obama has proposed a 1 percent pay raise for next year, paired with a requirement that employees increase contributions to their pensions.

The freeze happened on Berry’s watch, but it was largely out of his hands.

Meanwhile, Federal News Radio covered its flank a bit by getting positive comments from stakeholders. None of these publications, however, mentioned the decision that could gut civil service protections for hundreds of thousands of employees.

It’s difficult to square Berry’s stated concerns for public servants in the media when he’s trying to strip them of their rights in court. It’s even more difficult to see what’s in it for the free press to give him a pass.
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1978 to 2012: Transparency and Congressional Deliberation of Whistleblower Laws through the Years

12:17 pm in Uncategorized by MSPB Watch

An array of tin whistles

A look at whistleblower laws of recent decades

In 1978, Congress debated the Civil Service Reform Act extensively. It was a landmark, once-in-a-century effort. Naturally, there would be a lot of coverage. Deliberations in the Senate took 12 days, deliberations in the House took 13 days, and the House-Senate conference took place over at least 6 days, according to records recently discovered in the Library of Congress. Here are some of the mark-up sessions and other documents from those deliberations:

By contrast, research into the mark up of the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 revealed only one day’s worth of deliberations, and the Senate’s mark up of the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2011/12 took only five minutes.

Contrast this give-and-take in 1978 over the role of the Special Counsel, as just one facet of law, versus the entirety of the discussion over the WPEA in the Senate, 33 years later.

June 1978:

Sen. Chiles offered that

My feeling is if you put a Special Counsel in and he is appointed by the President, you know, we are really having sort of two groups that are supposed to be doing the same thing, and that is protecting the workers. You have the Merit Board, and the Merit Board is a bipartisan board with staggered terms, and it is certainly supposed to be operating in the best interests and for the best results of protecting employees. And then you turn around and appoint a Special Counsel by the President, and then you get into the whole thing of how do you get rid of him. Is he for cause? Who can initiate?

He also raised the point that

If you have a Special Counsel, and I am concerned with what we did with the Special Prosecutor in this regard, we are starting to create individuals or posts with tremendous power but no accountability  You let the President nominate him, but then he can’t be removed except for cause. He is really sort of accountable to no one once he gets in that job.

Senator Jacob Javits (R-N.Y.) responded to Sen. Chiles’ concerns and said that

[A] Special Counsel appointed by the commission would not have the standing that a Special Counsel appointed by the President would. . . . I would hope that we could take a Presidential appointee subject to Senate confirmation, give him the necessary stature and then give him the necessary protection so then he is really acting as the independent prosecutor. . . [unintelligible] making him a Special Counsel is that we don’t necessarily want them to work together. We are a little bit concerned that the Merit Systems Protection Board may, like so many other boards, get impregnated with the views and the attitudes, et cetera, of the agency which it serves. Therefore, as a check and balance, especially for whistleblowers, we want to have somebody out there who can initiate a prosecution.

Sen. Chiles responded that

Now what happens, every time that we decide we can’t trust one group and so we are going to add another check, I think really what we do is we remove a little further from the people the ability to judge and assess responsibilities and to pinpoint that responsibility, and we diffuse it. But we also make it where government can’t work because they start working at loggerheads.

So I would rather have the responsibility be on the appointments of the Merit Protection Board, that board be confirmed by the Senate, make that board of some stature, make them responsible and allow them to appoint the Special Prosecutor or the Special Counsel, and have that chain of responsibility. I think when you start deviating from that, before long we are going to need somebody to check on the Special Counsel. Then we will have to give some independence to that person because we are afraid the Special Counsel, by virtue of his term or the fact he is only removed for cause — that is just looking at it philosophically.

October 2011:

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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.]

OSC: Commerce Dep’t Inspector General Gagged Employees From Blowing Whistle

11:17 am in Uncategorized by MSPB Watch

In a Kafkaesque turn of events, the Office of Special Counsel is alleging that top officials in the Commerce Department Office of Inspector General threatened subordinate employees with negative performance reviews if they didn’t sign non-disclosure agreements that barred them from exercising their rights to blow the whistle and petition Congress.

The Special Counsel petitioned the Merit Systems Protection Board to stay enforcement of the non-disclosure agreements, which she argued are an “any other significant change in duties, responsibilities, or working conditions” in retaliation for the employees’ potential for blowing the whistle – a/k/a their “perceived whistleblower” status.

The Special Counsel said in a press release Nov. 30 that “[b]ecause the act of disclosing the gag provision may itself be prohibited by the harsh terms of the agreements, OSC is protecting the employees’ identities.”

MSPB Member Mark A. Robbins, in a single-member decision, Nov. 29 granted the stay request for 45 days, adding that

For purposes of this nonprecedential single-member decision in this ex parte proceeding, I accept OSC’s assertion that the Former Employees’ inability to report perceived wrongdoing to the appropriate authorities as a result of signing the nondisclosure agreement may constitute a “significant change in duties, responsibilities, or working conditions” under 5 U.S.C. § 2302(a)(2)(A)(xi).“

Other examples of “any other significant change in duties, responsibilities, or working conditions” may be found here.

From OSC’s press shop:

OSC Granted Stay in Challenge to Commerce Department Gag Clauses

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Ann O’Hanlon, (202) 254-3631; aohanlon@osc.gov

WASHINGTON, D.C./November 30, 2012 –

The Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) yesterday granted a stay requested by the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) prohibiting enforcement of unlawful gag clauses in settlement agreements between the Commerce Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) and four former employees of the OIG, each of whom was coerced into signing an agreement under threat of harm to their career prospects and future employment. The order is available here.

The agreements prohibit employees from voluntarily communicating with OSC or Congress. The employees were told that manufactured negative performance appraisals would be shared with prospective employers if the employees did not sign the nondisclosure agreements.

The MSPB’s action means that the personnel actions taken or threatened to be taken by OIG senior management must cease for 45 days, giving OSC further time to investigate the allegations. These personnel actions include the threatened communication with prospective employers and the imposition of significant changes in the employees’ working conditions.

The order concludes that an agreement restricting employees’ ability to report wrongdoing is a change in working conditions and is therefore a personnel action under the Whistleblower Protection Act.

In addition, the order applies the Lloyd-LaFollette Act, a 1912 law codifying the rights of federal employees to blow the whistle to Congress.

Because the act of disclosing the gag provision may itself be prohibited by the harsh terms of the agreements, OSC is protecting the employees’ identities.

“OSC is committed to ensuring that agencies do not interfere with whistleblowing to Congress,” said Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner. “We are pleased that the MSPB has granted the stay so that OSC can further investigate this matter.”

Dissenters’ Digest for July 8-21

10:00 am in Uncategorized by MSPB Watch

Dissenters’ Digest takes a look back at news stories covering whistleblowers, watchdogs, and government accountability. Look for it every other Saturday evening at www.dissentersdigest.com.

Chilling Effect: Acting ATF Director B. Todd Jones spoke in an internal video to ATF employees where he appeared to admonish his subordinates not to blow the whistle outside the chain of command, lest they face “consequences.” He did not mention they have the right to do so under numerous laws, including the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 and the Lloyd-La Follette Law of 1912, which allows civil servants to communicate with Congress without prior restraint. Sen. Chuck Grassley and Rep. Darrell Issa are investigating.

If Nixon had Keylogging Software: The New York Times reported last week that the Food and Drug Administration’s suspected surveillance of whistleblowers is bigger than previously believed, and includes tracking of sources outside the agency.

The FDA reportedly has developed an “enemies list” to push back against negative coverage of its oft-criticized review of drugs and medical devices. The list includes not only scientists employed within the FDA, but also congressmen, journalists, and outside medical researchers. These efforts have resulted in the collection of some 80,000 pages of documents that include private emails to Congress, draft whistleblower retaliation complaints, and communications with journalists and attorneys.

Senator Chuck Grassley took the lead in expressing outrage against what he previously called FDA’s “Gestapo” tactics.

Grassley’s review includes a demand for the legal memo authorizing the spying campaign, which began in mid-2010. Expect the focus to shift to FDA’s past and current chief counsels.

What’s In Your Wallet?: The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau announced its first enforcement action: a $210 million settlement with Capital One for deceptive marketing practices.

The allegations include misleading consumers about the benefits of Capital One products, which were not always depicted as optional. Some consumers were knowingly sold products they could not utilize, and others succumbed to “high-pressure tactics” to buy add-ons like payment protection and credit monitoring. In some instances, Capital One enrolled consumers in products without their consent, or led them to believe there was no additional cost.

Capital One will fully refund its customers at a cost of $140 million and pay another $25 million to the CFPB and another $35 million to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, totaling $210 million.

In other news, in-house corporate attorneys are concerned about CFPB enforcement actions.

Full disclosure: I have a Capital One card in my wallet.

Below the Fold:

–An environmental watchdog takes a look at Governor Romney’s anti-civil service track record in Massachusetts.

–24 percent of Wall Street executives believe they need to break the law to succeed; 16 percent would commit insider trading if they could get away with it, according to a survey done by the whistleblower law firm Labaton Sucharow.

–The Justice Department and the FBI are reviewing thousands of criminal cases to determine whether any defendants were wrongly convicted because of flawed forensic evidence. The whistleblower who first brought this to light almost 20 years ago will be monitoring progress. Legislation has already been introduced.

–A Navy whistleblower is now in charge of investigating whistleblower cases in the Defense Department.

–Penn State officials knew.

–A federal district court judge blew the whistle, in a way, about coercive plea bargain tactics that demand waiver of appeal rights in lieu of going to prison on unreasonably heavier charges.

–Some news outlets let political operatives approve quotes before they appear in print. Why not also let them write the articles?

FDA isn’t the only agency snooping on its employees.

Treasury officials, unauthorized gifts, prostitutes, and golf.

–The American Federation of Government Employees reached an agreement with the TSA to provide TSA officers personnel appeal rights at the Merit Systems Protection Board.

–The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission approved an 18-year-long race discrimination class action lawsuit brought by U.S. Marshals against the U.S. Marshal Service.

–The White House issued a memo to strengthen the rights of service members who return home and seek to reintegrate into the working force.

Send tips to dissent@dissentersdigest.com.

Dissenters’ Digest for May 6-12

4:00 pm in Uncategorized by MSPB Watch

Dissenters’ Digest takes a look back at the week’s stories covering whistleblowers, watchdogs, and government accountability. Look for it every Saturday evening at www.mspbwatch.net/digest.

Senate Passes the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012: In a rare show of unanimity, the Senate passed S. 743, the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, this week, the latest attempt to update the Whistleblower Protection Act in 13 years. The last attempt, in December 2010, was defeated by a secret hold in the Senate, according to the Government Accountability Project. Not all are enthused with the bill’s protections, which “fall[] short of the comprehensive whistleblower law reforms promised in the 2008 political campaign,” notes Stephen Kohn of the National Whistleblowers Center. Now it’s up to the House to pass their version, H.R. 3289, before the two bills can be reconciled and sent to the President’s desk.

OSC Reports the FAA is Slow in Correcting Whistleblower Complaints: In a rare move, the Office of Special Counsel combined seven whistleblower disclosures from FAA employees into one report to the President and the Congress, citing “an ongoing series of troubling safety disclosures by air traffic controllers and other FAA employees” which have not been rectified by the Department of Transportation. The Special Counsel stated that the “FAA has one of the highest rates of whistleblower filings per employee of any executive branch agency: OSC received 178 whistleblower disclosures from FAA employees since FY 2007, 89 of which related to aviation safety. OSC referred 44 of those to DOT for investigation. DOT ultimately substantiated all but five of those referrals — 89 percent – in whole or in part. In four of the seven cases presented today, the whistleblower had to make repeat disclosures with OSC because the FAA took inadequate steps to correct the concern or failed to implement any corrective action.” The Washington Post has additional coverage.

Below the Fold:

–An internal Pentagon report claims the DoD left whistleblowers vulnerable to reprisal.

–Two F-22 pilots who refuse to fly the aircraft appeared on 60 minutes, claiming a malfunction causes oxygen deprivation aloft.

–The above notwithstanding, the Air Force is in the process of disciplining the F-22 pilots. Congress is expressing concern.

–An EPA scientist who lost her job after blowing the whistle on health dangers to 9/11 first responders prevailed at the Merit Systems Protection Board and will be reinstated.

–The media is silent when the Obama Administration goes after whistleblowers.

–An employment lawyer looks at the fuzzy definition of “gross waste of funds.”

–Thomas Drake speaks with Eliot Spitzer about the DOJ being used to cover up crimes of the Bush and Obama Administrations.

–The FBI is the most effective lobbyist against whistleblower protections, according to a radio interview with National Whistleblowers Center Executive Director Stephen Kohn.

–Former Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary will file a whistleblower suit against the university over its handling of the Jerry Sandusky abuse scandal.

–The Fourth Circuit revives claims by former Iraqi detainees against contractors who are alleged to have tortured them.

Send tips to tips@mspbwatch.net.

Anatomy of an Oversight Breakdown

5:39 pm in Uncategorized by MSPB Watch

Earlier today, a nominee of one party appeared in front of a lone Senator of the opposite party. These men traded cordial remarks while discussing the future of the nominee’s legal and political career. Mark A. Robbins, nominee for the Merit Systems Protection Board, appeared in front of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, which was represented solely by Senator Daniel Akaka.

Akaka began by introducing Robbins, who was flanked by his parents and many of his friends. After going over his resume, Akaka swore in Robbins and handed him the floor. Here’s what Robbins had to say.

This was followed by a few softball questions, and the matter was over and done with in less than an hour.

What did not take place:

Any serious discussion of the MSPB’s current difficulties, Robbins’ plans for helping to remedy them, and whether MSPB will fulfill its mandate as originally designed by Congress. To hear it from Robbins’ himself (and I was there), you would think that MSPB was doing just fine and was in no need of any course correction.

My blog – its very reason for existence – is proof to the contrary.

Sadly, Akaka played along with this charade, and the NGOs who deign to represent the whistleblower and good government community (and who indeed have a near-monopolistic hold on Congress’ attention) were nowhere to be found. Not one word has been uttered from the press shops of GAP, POGO, MISC, or NWC about Robbins’ nomination. Maybe maintaining cordial relations is more important than holding government officials’ feet to the fire; maybe discussions take place behind closed doors and out of public sight; maybe it doesn’t really matter who the nominee is as long as the whistleblowers keep coming in through the front door.

The Civil Service Reform Act was signed into law in 1978. At the time, it was landmark legislation that was motivated by the abuses of the Watergate scandals. The Whistleblower Protection Act was passed in 1989, a year before the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA has achieved public renown and near-constitutional status. No one would think of repealing it or letting its provisions go unenforced. But how many Americans have heard of the CSRA or WPA? How many know the turbulent history of the Office of Special Counsel, assuming they’ve even heard of it? How many realize that the WPA is one of the least observed laws in the U.S. Code?

It’s been over a dozen years since whistleblower legislation was passed by Congress. But do these new, enhanced laws matter if they can be gutted and ignored before the ink dries?

It’s not enough to pass new laws, or to make sure the ones in the books are enforced. If we really care about good government, it’s also important to raise the profile of these laws to near-constitutional levels. It starts by practicing transparency, by asking the tough questions regardless of impact on personal relationships, and by looking past transactional, beltway politics.

 

How did Carson v. OSC arrive on the hallowed steps of the Supreme Court?

9:31 pm in Uncategorized by MSPB Watch

Act I

Joe Carson filed complaints for “prohibited activity” against his employer, the Department of Energy, with the Office of Special Counsel. OSC made a “jurisdictional investigation” of his complaints and determined that they were outside of its enforcement jurisdiction.

Given that:

  1. –OSC is both an investigator and a prosecutor (i.e. both cop and district attorney);
  2. –OSC has no Inspector General;
  3. –MSPB has no Inspector General;
  4. –MSPB and Federal Circuit can curb OSC’s prosecutorial excesses, but no one (except for Congress and MSPB) can oversee OSC’s dereliction of its investigatory duties;
  5. –OSC has not, in 30+ years, ever made formal report of a determination per 5 U.S.C. §1214(e) (generally, that “there is reasonable grounds/cause to believe” that a violation of law, rule or regulation has occurred”)–not in about 50,000 investigations into complaints alleging about 100,000 specific violations within its jurisdiction.
  6. –In 30+ years, OSC has only made about 250 formal determinations that: 1) a violation within its jurisdiction occurred, and 2) the violation required corrective action;
  7. –The U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board has also failed, for 30 years, to conduct, as required by 5 U.S.C. §1204(a)(3), any “special studies” of OSC’s compliance and performance of its nondiscretionary duties to protect federal employees from agency violations within its jurisdiction (note: Mr. Carson has sought judicial review of MSPB’s compliance with §1204(a)(3), but because MSPB’s reports go to Congress and the President, he does not have standing to obtain such a review);
  8. –Inadequate Congressional oversight of OSC’s compliance with §1214(e) and MSPB’s compliance with §1204(a)(3);
  9. –Dispositive judicial review of OSC’s compliance with §1214(e) and MSPB’s compliance with §1204(a)(3) has not occurred; and
  10. –Current “rules of professional conduct for attorneys” simply do not address whether attorneys employed at OSC and MSPB have any duty, as attorneys, to voice concerns about their agencys’ compliance with its nondiscretionary duties;

Therefore, the only remedy is the writ of mandamus.

Act II

Carson sued OSC in federal district court, alleging that OSC terminated its investigation based on the determination resulting from its screening investigation (a/k/a/ jurisdictional investigation) that it did not have jurisdiction to investigate the complaint.

Carson relied on Weber v. United States, a D.C. Circuit case that recognized the principle that a federal district court has jurisdiction to issue a writ of mandamus if it determines that OSC has failed to perform a non-discretionary statutory duty as an investigatory agency.

In Weber, Mr. Weber submitted a complaint to OSC, alleging violations of laws, rules, or regulations under its investigatory jurisdiction. OSC conducted a preliminary investigation (or inquiry) and determined it did not have jurisdiction to investigate and/or seek corrective action on his behalf (loss of security clearance). The Court reviewed OSC’s reasons for making its jurisdictional determination and agreed with them, it also made clear that if OSC’s jurisdictional determination had been incorrect, mandamus relief would be warranted to compel OSC to fully investigate his complaint.

OSC, through Loretta Harber, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Easter District of Tennessee, motioned the court to dismiss the writ of mandamus with prejudice. OSC argued that although OSC is obligated to investigate any allegation of a PPP that it receives, the scope of its investigations of such allegations is committed to its discretion. Moreover, “when the OSC decides to terminate an investigation that it began pursuant to a complaint, the decision is not reviewable.”

OSC relied on DeLeonardis v. Weiseman, a Fifth Circuit case that stands for the proposition that “when the OSC decides to terminate an investigation that it began pursuant to a complaint, the decision is not reviewable.” However, OSC claimed Weber was somehow irrelevant, even though it described its jurisdictional investigation of his complaints and their outcome:

For example, in Weber, OSC took the position that security clearance decisions, as a class, were not reviewable, regardless of the particular facts and circumstances of the case, and as a result, declined to investigate allegations concerning security clearance decisions. OSC did not consider the facts specific to Weber’s security clearance revocation or reach a decision to close the case based on the application of those specific facts to relevant legal standards, but rather closed the case based on its determination that it would not (and indeed could not) review security clearance decisions.

The District Court sided with OSC, ruling that in no circumstance could it review any OSC negative determination, whether jurisdictional or substantive, when used to terminate an investigation.

Act III

Carson appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. In his appeal, Carson further elaborated his jurisdictional investigation argument.

In response, OSC significantly altered its argument, in ways contradicted by the undisputed facts in Weber. To the appellate court, OSC argued:

The D.C. Circuit’s analysis of the jurisdictional issue – i.e., whether OSC had jurisdiction to investigate allegations concerning security clearances – was undertaken for the purpose of determining whether OSC on a ministerial duty to the petitioner to investigate. Id. at 760. The D.C. Circuit concluded that OSC did not have a clearly established (i.e. “ministerial”) duty to act. ld. Further, because OSC had not, in fact, investigated (emphasis added), the appellate court had no occasion to address whether OSC’s decisions to terminate investigations would be subject to judicial review. Thus nothing about the Weber decision can be read to support the proposition that OSC’s decisions terminate investigations, if based on legal grounds, are subject to judicial review.

For whatever reason, OSC made this new, and factually erroneous, argument to the Sixth Court. As OSC’s “investigation termination letters” to Mr. Weber and Mr. Carson show, there is no difference in how OSC complied with its duties to “shall investigate the allegation” for Mr. Weber’s and Mr. Carson’s complaints – its CEU determined the complaints outside OSC’s enforcement jurisdiction and OSC terminated its investigations on that basis. As Carson stated in his reply brief,

To this Court, in its brief, OSC made the new and false claim of material fact and law that it had neither conducted an initial investigation of Mr. Weber’s complaints nor notified Mr. Weber, per 5 U.S.C. §1214(a)(2)(A), that it had terminated its investigation of his complaints and its reasons for doing so. Based on this false claim of material fact, OSC made the false claim of material law that Weber is not relevant to this case.

The Sixth Circuit recognized the D.C. Circuit’s holding but flatly disagreed with it, albeit without much support, stating:

We decline to rely on Weber to hold that district courts have authority to review the jurisdictional determinations of the Office of Special Counsel for a number of reasons.

However, the decision only mentions DeLeondaris as a reason. But DeLeonardis did not involve negative OSC jurisdictional determinations. In that case, OSC’s initial investigation determined OSC had jurisdiction over the alleged complaint, but the evidence for its occurrence was insufficient and OSC closed the complaint on that basis.

Act IV

Carson then appealed to the Supreme Court. The U.S. Solicitor General waived response without consulting with its client, OSC. Carson and amici now wait to see if the Solicitor General will allow amici to file an amicus brief, waive his response, request the Court to extend a looming disposition deadline, allow OSC to file a confession of error, or allow OSC to moot the case by establishing policy consistent with Weber. Failure to consent to the amicus brief will be contested by motion.

What’s really at stake in this litigation?

1) OSC’s 33-year-long interpretation and application of its reporting requirements by §1214(e) is clearly wrong, but stating this would expose OSC as a fraud of a federal law enforcement agency, one that interpreted away, 33 years ago, its most important tangible nondiscretionary statutory duty. This would also expose the MSPB as having failed to comply, also for 33 years, with its nondiscretionary statutory duty to conduct “special studies” of OSC’s interpretation and compliance with its nondiscretionary statutory duties to protect federal employees from PPPs.

2) There is no statute of limitations for OSC’s enforcement jurisdiction, therefore many thousands of federal employees, who did not obtain the protection OSC owed them, per §1214(e), could re-file their complaints – and OSC has destroyed all its investigation files for them.

3) Thousands of other current and former federal employees who sought OSC’s protection since 1989 for PPPs could refile their complaints, alleging “other prohibited activities” in violation of §1216(a)(4).

Apparently, the Sixth Circuit decided it was better to “keep the lid on it.”

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Forty six whistleblowers and supporters (including at least 5 lawyers) seek a response from the Office of Special Counsel

10:00 am in Uncategorized by MSPB Watch

They are:

They are the signatories to an amicus brief in Carson v. OSC. Here’s a cover letter to the Solicitor General that summarizes amici’s position. In particular, it states that

[T]his case puts you in a unique position of having to ensure your representation of OSC is consistent with its mandate to “act in the interests” of Mr. Carson. I respectfully suggest that your waiving OSC’s right to respond, apparently without Special Counsel Lerner’s specific authorization, was not very consistent with OSC’s mandate to Mr. Carson.

In other words, though the Solicitor General is expected to exercise a great deal of independence, amici’s request that his actions be consistent with the “shall act in the interests” mandate of OSC paradoxically requires him to yield his independence to OSC to a significant degree in this case.

Key paragraph:

The amici want to trust Special Counsel Lerner to do her duty. They want to trust that she will act in the interests of federal employees who seek OSC’s protection from PPPs and other prohibited activities. They want to be able to tell concerned federal employees that, finally, that they have reason to believe a Special Counsel will comply with her duties to act in their interests and protect them. This case provides an unprecedented opportunity for her to do so. OSC has never been party to a case at the Supreme Court before, let alone one involving a split in the circuits about an important issue of law – whether federal district courts can review OSC’s negative jurisdictional determinations, when used to terminate its investigations.

The amicus brief is available here.

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