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Project on Government Oversight




Whistleblower Groups Challenge DOE Officials' Optimism That Employees Who Raise Concerns Will Be Protected

February 5, 2003 


Contact: Danielle Brian or Peter Stockton of POGO at 202-347-1122 and Tom Carpenter of Government Accountability Project (GAP) at 206-292-2850

DOE Acting Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, Linton Brooks, stung by negative press reports about Los Alamos National Lab, quoted DOE Secretary Spencer Abraham as appealing to DOE managers and contractors to listen to whistleblowers. (To view the email click here.)

In the email sent to all DOE New Mexico employees, Administrator Brooks quoted Secretary Abraham as saying, "I am concerned that too many concerned employees believe that their only recourse to address system failures is to go to the media or the IG. And that is a result that should concern us all. It tells me that, fairly or unfairly, many of our employees believe that when they raise concerns they will either be ignored, or worse, harmed in terms of their career. That is a failure of leadership. And starting with me, I expect every manager down the line to make clear that I expect us to take these concerns seriously and address them quickly and effectively." Brooks himself went on to state, "I expect that people who raise concerns will be taken seriously, that their concerns will be investigated, that the employee will be informed of the results of the investigation, and that people will be honored, not punished for calling attention to problems."

Former DOE Secretaries have made the same well-intentioned speeches, including Secretary Hazel O'Leary (who told a room full of whistleblowers that she would protect them) and Secretary Bill Richardson (who declared a "zero tolerance for retaliation" policy) to many of the same DOE managers who are still there. However, whistleblowers repeatedly experienced retaliation during those Administrations, and the retaliation continues to this day. Therefore, it appears Secretary Abraham and Administrator Brooks may be a little naive about how this bureaucracy works.

"In fact, all the recent revelations about fraud and mismanagement were first reported internally to DOE and Los Alamos management. Nothing was done, however, until outside watchdogs and the media were alerted. In the near term, we can judge how serious Administrator Brooks is in protecting people who are simply revealing problems is how he resolves the retaliatory suspension of DOE Los Alamos Area Office Safety manager Chris Steele," said Danielle Brian, POGO Executive Director.

"There can be no substitute for meaningful protections for these employees," added Tom Carpenter, Director of the Government Accountability Project's Nuclear Oversight Program. "DOE shows by its behaviors - - such as reimbursing contractor attorney fees in whistleblower litigation - that it has a "zero tolerance for whistleblowers" policy in fact. When security officers at Lawrence Livermore went to the Office of Inspector General with their concerns in 2001, those officers (Mathew Zipoli and Charles Quinones) were terminated from their jobs, and the DOE has done nothing to protect these guys. Believe me, employees watch what these managers do, not what they say," said Carpenter.

Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO's investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

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