October 16, 2015
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(ANTIMEDIA) San Francisco, California — A former employee of the Whistleblower Protection Program claims he was fired for blowing the whistle on misconduct within the agency. The accusations highlight the government’s past and present attitudes towards those who inform the public of corruption within the system.
Darrell Whitman worked for five years as an investigator for “Region 9” of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which administers the Whistleblower Protection Program. Region 9 encompasses California, Nevada, Arizona, Hawaii, and Guam, a U.S. territory. Whitman says he attempted to expose “bureaucratic dysfunction” within the agency that led to a failure to “defend workers who faced retaliation for reporting illegal activity and public safety concerns.” After being fired in May, he now claims he was terminated for his attempts to address these issues.
Whitman spoke with NBC’s local affiliate for the San Francisco Bay Area in February, at which time he felt he had exhausted his options to provide accountability within the agency. He said that in at least six cases, his superiors “bungled the outcome of cases or decided to dismiss them unfairly.” In that same story, NBC reported it had spoken with six whistleblowers who felt their cases had been wrongfully dismissed.
“I expected those supervisory people in that office to back up my complaint,” one whistleblower told NBC at the time. “They simply kicked me to the curb.” The whistleblower had exposed the incorrect use of devices intended to detect cancer-causing asbestos, which could have causes thousands of faulty test results. Though Whitman was able to intervene to have this dismissal overturned, the former investigator says he encountered roadblocks in others. He suggested this pattern had ominous implications for the agency.
“When you simply dismiss a case because you don’t like it or don’t want to stand up to business,” Whitman said in February, “you are basically sending a message to other whistleblowers, don’t file a complaint because we’re not going to take it seriously.”
He also claimed he attempted to warn OSHA that his managers dismissed claims without adequate investigation in order to clear a backlog of cases. Further, he said his supervisors altered his reports to justify dismissing whistleblower claims — even when Whitman found they had merit.
By OSHA’s own measure, only 15% of cases filed with the Whistleblower Protection Program are settled, while a mere 2.7% are deemed to “have merit.”
All others are dismissed, and according to Whitman, this is done to meet quotas and achieve desirable numbers — so as to give the appearance of less overall corruption. OSHA has been criticized by the Inspector General and other agencies for its lack of accountability and failure to protect whistleblowers.
This atmosphere within the agency is what led Whitman to speak to NBC in February. As he explained then, he had “lodged formal complaints all the way up to the U.S. Secretary of Labor, and he now considers himself a whistleblower. He says he has faced discipline for giving complainants information about how he believes OSHA management mishandled their cases, and expects to be fired after NBC Bay Area’s investigation airs.”
By May, Whitman had been terminated. OSHA claims Whitman was fired for “six different reasons including ‘lack of candor during an investigatory meeting’ and ‘unauthorized release of government documents.’”
Whitman disputes those allegations. “The real reason was that I appeared on [NBC Bay Area News],” he said.
“They got rid of the squeaky wheel,” he also said. “I was going to report what I thought to be violations of law and policy.They were going to have to answer to those reports and they didn’t like that.”
Whitman has filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel; a separate federal agency tasked with protecting government whistleblowers. He is represented by Tom Devine of the Government Accountability Project. For decades, Devine has fought for more transparency in government, testifying before Congress and helping to pass whistleblower protection laws. He has helped thousands of whistleblowers defend themselves from retaliation. Devine stands by Whitman’s allegations against OSHA and the Whistleblower Protection Program:
“They ring true based on my own experience and based on complaints of lawyers who investigate whistleblowers,” Devine observed. “Then when we start hearing from people who are responsible to protect whistleblowers, it really strikes a chord.“
OSHA declined to comment on Whitman’s situation. If the Office of Special Council sides with Whitman, however, he may receive a settlement from OSHA. Nevertheless, he says his real reason for filing his complaint is his desire to improve upon the protection program.
“It may be one of the most important programs in the federal government because it touches all of our lives in different ways,” he said. This sentiment is all the more vital in light of the federal government’s malicious prosecution of whistleblowers it ostensibly aims to protect.
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