By JOE DAVIDSON
The case involves Rhonda Conyers and Devon Northover, two low-level Defense staffers. They are not whistleblowers, but advocates say their case is an example of the kind of government overreach that could be used to punish whistleblowers. One was suspended and the other demoted after their positions were declared “non-critical sensitive.” They were deemed unfit for a sensitive job, but “not because of their performance or conduct,” according to the special counsel, which filed a brief supporting them.
Sensitive? Conyers was an accounting technician, a gig starting at $27,000, and Northover was a stock man, making sure a government store had enough shampoo and such. Neither had access to classified information.
It sounds like a “Saturday Night Live” skit, but it’s no joke.
A three-judge panel of U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit agreed with the Obama administration in a ruling that said the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) cannot review the merits of the administration’s “national security determinations concerning eligibility of an employee to occupy a sensitive position” — even if the employee is stocking soap.
“The ruling eliminates independent due process hearings at the MSPB for employees who lose their eligibility to hold a sensitive position,” the special counsel’s office said in a statement. “Approximately 500,000 employees at DoD alone occupy positions designated as sensitive. Tens of thousands of others across the government are similarly designated.”
Preventing staffers from taking their cases to the MSPB strips workers of a primary avenue to appeal unfair employment actions. The full Court of Appeals will hear arguments on the case next week.
Meanwhile, the administration is also considering regulations that would allow the reclassification of federal workers, a move that advocates fear could undermine employee civil service rights.
In a January presidential memorandum, Obama instructed the directors of national intelligence and personnel management to develop “standards for designating positions in the competitive service as national security sensitive.”
The intelligence and personnel offices did not reply to questions about the proposed regulations. Tom Devine, legal director of the Government Accountability Project, which advocates for whistleblowers, was not so hesitant.
To federal employees, he said, the regulations are part of the administration’s “blitzkrieg against traditional rights.”