Washington, DC — The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has proposed to fire a biologist after finding e-mails he had sent to environmentalists and to other agencies, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In its letter of proposed termination, the agency alleged the “subversive” activity of communicating with “environmental organizations which are opposed to Reclamation generally and adversarial in nature” justifies immediate removal.
Charles (Rex) Wahl, a GS-12 Environmental Specialist, has been on paid administrative leave for the past three months while the agency continues to ponder his fate. Shortly after Wahl was notified of his proposed firing on September 18th, the Bureau of Reclamation also dismissed his wife Cherie from a temporary clerk-typist position.
Ironically, Wahl’s main duty in Reclamation’s Yuma Area Office was to keep stakeholders, including environmentalists, abreast of agency “actions and initiatives” as required under National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). In addition to his contact with environmentalists, Wahl is also charged with revealing “administratively controlled information” to other federal agencies.
“These charges are both insulting and illegal,” stated PEER Senior Counsel Paula Dinerstein, who is leading Wahl’s legal challenge against any proposed disciplinary action. “Public servants cannot be fired simply for telling inconvenient truths.”
In May, Wahl (who had earned excellent performance evaluations) had transferred to Reclamation’s Albuquerque Office. In August, Reclamation discovered the emails Wahl had sent months earlier as it cleared the hard drive of his computer.
Wahl’s disclosures concern an array of proposed Reclamation projects on the Lower Colorado River. He also revealed that Reclamation had falsified material in a permit it submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In addition, Wahl suggested to environmentalists that they obtain certain agency reports through the Freedom of Information Act.
“Federal employees are not required to swear bureaucratic omertà – silence at the expense of the public interest,” Dinerstein added. “Part of the Bureau of Reclamation’s problem is that it apparently regards environmentalists as enemies. Contrary to its paranoid posture, Reclamation is required to be forthright about the implications of what it is doing.”
Reclamation is under no deadlines to act on Wahl’s case. Facing a short statute of limitations on filing complaints, however, PEER has initiated an investigation into the matter by the U.S. Department of Labor under the whistleblower provisions of the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act and Solid Waste Disposal Act.