OSC Finds Retaliation against BIA Whistleblower

The Office of Special Counsel says it has confirmed a complaint of whistleblower retaliation in a case unusual in that the personnel actions at issue were ordered at a high agency level.

While whistleblower reprisal complaints commonly arise from actions taken by the employees’ supervisors, in this case the supervisors not only did not advocate the personnel action but actively opposed it, the OSC said in its announcement.

The case involved an employee who along with a coworker disclosed that terms in oil and gas lease agreements appeared to violate Bureau of Indian Affairs rules and environmental law. The tribe whose land was involved then demanded that they be removed from their office, OSC said.

It said that even though “agency attorneys agreed with the validity of the whistleblowers’ concerns” and “supervisors for the whistleblower and his coworker tried to resist the tribe’s demands and defuse the situation,” the tribe “escalated their demands to high levels within BIA and the Interior Department”–and senior officials there ordered the reassignment.

A supervisor for the whistleblower “was unsettled by the decision” and wrote an email to those senior officials, stating that the action implied that the employees had done something wrong when in fact they were only doing their jobs, OSC added.

OSC ultimately negotiated a settlement between BIA and the whistleblower that resolved his retaliation claim. While the employee requested anonymity, OSC said it released a description of the case because of its “broad educational value throughout the federal workplace.”
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