Washington, DC -- The Office of Special Counsel has obtained a stay protecting U.S. Park Police Chief Teresa Chambers from any adverse action for 45 days while it investigates her case. At the end of 45 days, the Special Counsel will decide whether to seek to return Chief Chambers to her job, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
Chief Chambers has been on paid administrative leave and forbidden to work since December 5, 2003. The National Park Service proposed to dismiss Chief Chambers for speaking with news media and congressional staff about the U.S. Park Police budgetary needs and staffing levels. While Chief Chambers filed a response to those charges in early January, the Department of Interior, the parent agency of the Park Service, has not acted on the matter.
The Office of Special Counsel serves as a referee of federal civil service rules. It has obtained a promise from the Department of Interior to withhold any adverse action against Chief Chambers for 45 days (until mid-May) or until the Special Counsel finishes its investigation of the matter. Nothing, of course, would preclude the Department from returning Chief Chambers to active duty as Chief of the U.S. Park Police at any time. Today, the Special Counsel will conduct its first investigative interview with Chief Chambers who filed for relief with the Special Counsel back on January 29.
"The only thing Chief Chambers wants is to go back to work," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch whose organization is part of the Chambers legal defense team. "If the Special Counsel does not expeditiously resolve this matter, Chief Chambers will take other legal steps to force the issue."
After its investigation, the Special Counsel will decide whether to petition the civil service court, called the Merit Systems Protection Board, to order Chief Chambers restored. Left pending, however, are the charges made against Chief Chambers by Deputy Parks Director Don Murphy one week before Christmas. Murphy had earlier offered to forego all charges if Chief Chambers would agree to an unprecedented gag order, restricting her ability to answer media or congressional inquiries without screening by political appointees. Chambers, the first female Park Police chief, refused Murphy's offer.
In the meantime, the U.S. Park Police has been left in a vacuum, with two acting chiefs, no budgetary direction and with key structural and personnel issues adrift. In addition, the lack of honesty and prudence in the National Park Service's handling of its budget matters has generated intensely negative commentary from Congress, commentators and former Park Service employees.
"The treatment that Chief Chambers has endured is an abomination," added Ruch. "Unless Chief Chambers is vindicated, honesty in public service will require a profile in courage."