Washington, DC — Despite pledges by President Obama to protect federal whistleblowers, the reality of retaliation inside the agencies remains unchanged, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Nor has the Obama administration ended Bush-era prosecutions of civil servants who blew the whistle.
As Exhibit A, PEER points to the situation of William Knox, a National Park Service safety officer who reported asbestos problems at the agency’s Job Corps Center in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia back in 2000. In response, the Park Service tried to fire Knox but, when that failed, subjected him to a campaign of harassment. Nine years ago, Knox filed a whistleblower complaint that has been twice upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit but is still unresolved.
Since blowing the whistle in 2000, Knox, a decorated disabled veteran who should be at the top of civil service preference lists and affirmative action programs under veterans laws has been –
• Passed over 20 times in applying for vacant Park Service positions;
• Repeatedly denied requested training to aid his advancement; and
• Assigned duties such as operating heavy equipment and climbing ladders that are inappropriate for someone with his disabilities, and Knox has suffered several injuries as a result.
“Bill Knox is the poster child for mistreatment of whistleblowers,” stated PEER Senior Counsel Paula Dinerstein, who has filed a new complaint on Knox’s behalf alleging that he has been blackballed from promotion and singled out for abuse within the Park Service. “Rampant retaliation is still occurring within the federal service and is unlikely to stop unless the Obama administration makes it a priority.”
Apart from the career damage, the underlying asbestos dangers that Knox exposed at the Harper’s Ferry Job Corps Center still have not been adequately investigated, let alone fixed.
Unlike issues such as the Freedom of Information Act where the Obama administration has announced new policies, there have been no new directives establishing a zero-tolerance policy against whistleblower harassment. Similarly, the new administration has not dropped removal actions or other litigation against civil servants who blew the whistle on abuses during the Bush years.
“If there has been a memo to stop attacking whistleblowers, nobody seems to have read it,” added Dinerstein, who also represents former U.S. Park Police Chief Teresa Chambers and other employees targeted under the Bush administration. “The Obama administration could send an unmistakable signal by restoring whistleblowers to positions empowered to fix the problems for which they risked their careers.”