Washington, DC -- Even as it seeks to remove its top law enforcement officer for speaking with the Washington Post, the National Park Service has issued an email to all its employees assuring them of their "absolute" right to report "wrongdoing or mismanagement," according to the memo released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
In a message sent to all employees on June 22, 2004, the Park Service distributed a memo written by Deputy Director Donald Murphy that is dated February 20 but, curiously, has never been previously seen. In that memo, Murphy, who suspended U.S. Park Police Chief Teresa Chambers on December 5, 2003, and ordered her to surrender her badge, gun and law enforcement credentials before assigning armed agents to escort her from headquarters, wrote:
I want to take this opportunity to emphasize management's continued commitment to all employees that they be free from all retaliation in reporting any witnessed or suspected waste, fraud, wrongdoing or mismanagement committed by anyone in the workplace. This right is absolute and shall not be impaired or obstructed by any manager, employee or other person under threat of appropriate disciplinary action.
Murphy then directs employees with evidence of problems to contact the Office of Inspector General that answers to Interior Secretary Gale Norton.
"Donald Murphy offering whistleblowers protection is like Attila the Hun offering villagers shelter," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch who noted that Murphy's actions in the Chambers case have created a chilling effect cited by many current and former NPS employees as the "Chambers Effect." "If the Park Service wants people to believe them they should follow through on this rhetoric by actually removing managers who have ‘obstructed' reports of mismanagement – starting with the author of this memo, Don Murphy."
Ironically, the Department of Interior, the Park Service's parent agency, has still not implemented a 1994 law requiring it to inform all employees of their rights under the Whistleblower Protection Act [5 U.S.C. 2302(c)]. Mr. Murphy's memo fails to meet this requirement because it omits important legal safeguards, including rights of employees to –
- File disclosures of wrongdoing and complaints of retaliation outside of the Interior Department with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel;
- Communicate with Congress about problems within the agency; and
- Publish or speak about agency matters of public interest.
"This memo is a lame, belated effort to create a fiction that the National Park Service leadership actually cares about what its career people have to say," added Ruch.