The Washington Post, Report Is Bleak For Whistle-Blowers

The Washington Post, Report Is Bleak For Whistle-Blowers

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A47997-2004Mar10.html


Whistleblowers…  Washington Post 3/10/04

Report Is Bleak for Whistle-Blowers

By Darryl Fears

A  watchdog group issued a report card yesterday that gave failing
grades to several federal agencies for allegedly allowing repeated
verbal abuse, retaliation and harassment of employees by superiors who
were the targets of discrimination complaints.

The No Fear Institute, a Washington-based organization that was formed
to monitor treatment of workers after President Bush signed the No Fear
Act of 2002, said the law has had little effect on the federal
workplace because the administration has not enforced it.

“Tens of thousands of people are discriminated against on the basis of
race, sex and because they are whistle-blowers,” said Marsha
Coleman-Adebayo, who chairs the institute. She said agencies are too
slow to process complaints, investigate them and discipline managers
who discriminate.

“We demand that agencies punish and fire managers who break the law,”
she said.

The institute based its report on data the agencies posted on their Web
sites. But an Office of Personnel Management lawyer said the law did
not  go into effect until last October and does not require agencies to
supply data until April 2005. The OPM is charged with collecting data
from agencies to help enforce the law, formally titled the Notification
and Federal Employee Antidiscrimination and Retaliation Act of 2002.

“It did not create any new employee rights or protections,” said Mark
A. Robbins, OPM general counsel. “All the No Fear Act did was force the
agency to reimburse their budgets for judgments based on discrimination
and whistle-blower complaints.”

Under other regulations, federal agencies are required to file
information about how complaints are processed to the Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission, but they often do not.

“I share their frustrations,” Robbins said of employees. “Clearly,
there’s a problem that Congress is trying to fix. Some of these
agencies aren’t complying the way they should. Congress tried to hit
the agencies where it hurts, in their budgets. Only time will tell
whether the law helps. I’m confident that it will work.”

Members of the No Fear Institute are not as confident. The group graded
six agencies in its report card, saying that they were the worst
offenders.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the departments of Agriculture,
Commerce, and Health and Human Services received failing grades for the
way they handle complaints regarding equal employment opportunity.

The departments of Justice and Labor received incomplete grades because
they did not produce enough data for a score, Coleman-Adebayo said.

In 2000, it cost $1 million to settle judgments at Commerce alone,
according to the institute. “These actions are costing taxpayers tens
of millions of dollars,” Coleman-Adebayo said.

Robbins said that after next year, Commerce will have to pay for such
judgments. The law needs time to work, he said.

“We have no idea of knowing . . . whether the No Fear Act is working or
not,” Robbins said.

Workers at the institute’s news conference said their lives and
livelihoods are at stake. Karen Leperi, an assistant in the USDA’s
animal and plant health inspection services section, described her
workplace as “a living hell.”

Leperi said a manager who used an epithet when saying he would not
sleep with her “if I were the last woman on earth” was not disciplined
when she filed a complaint. She filed a lawsuit against the USDA, which
is pending.

Matthew Fogg, a Justice Department employee and a member of Blacks in
Government, said Commerce employees were outraged when a white deputy
division chief repeatedly referred to an African American employee as
“Buckwheat.”

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.), a member of the institute’s board,
said she will work with other members of Congress to hold hearings so
that workers can  voice their complaints.

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