FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
DOI Whistleblower Reaches Settlement after 5-Year Battle for Reinstatement, Back pay
Government Accountability Project Client Concludes Legal Fight
WASHINGTON – Thanks to effective support by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC), the five-and-a-half year ordeal for Department of Interior whistleblower Jeffrey Missal is over. In 2015, Missal, a GS-13 Environmental Protection Specialist in DOI’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEEE), blew the whistle on violations of National Environmental and Policy Act’s (NEPA) environmental impact requirements for offshore oil drilling in Alaska. The agency was pushing through approval of an environmental review for Arctic drilling before the legal requirements for NEPA were met.
Beginning in the spring of 2014 and prior to filing the whistleblower complaint, Missal had protested within the chain of command and, when his concerns fell on deaf ears, went to the Inspector General to report his observations in late 2015. Although the company eventually withdrew its drilling plan for unrelated reasons, Missal nearly paid with his career. BSEE stripped him of all duties and opened a secret retaliatory investigation in which he did not get to defend himself. The investigation was concluded without any due process, and Missal was removed from his position.
In 2016, Missal sought help from the Special Counsel, and OSC delivered. After a thorough and exhaustive investigation, OSC obtained a stay of Missal’s termination in August 2017, just in time to keep him from losing his home and defaulting on other debts. When the agency still would not agree to make Missal whole by neutralizing the direct and indirect effects of the harassment, the OSC filed a prohibited personnel practice report that concluded DOI had violated the Whistleblower Protection Act. The Special Counsel then filed for a hearing at the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). OSC’s persistence broke a settlement impasse, and after another two years of negotiations the agency agreed to full corrective action.
The settlement provides Missal with full reinstatement, restored back pay and annual leave, a retroactive promotion, a fresh start in a modified chain of command, an award, completion of unissued performance appraisals, two year priority consideration for new jobs, $180,000 in compensatory damages, and $20,000 in attorney fees. Missal commented:
“Federal employees are all too often between a rock and a hard place in this regard. On one side, we have the Code of Federal Regulations, policy, and procedures which dictate how government business is to be conducted; yet on the other, we are faced with pressure by elected officials, political appointees, Senior Executive Service members, and zealous General Schedule managers who may seek a particular outcome outside of those restrictions. Day in and day out, we see wrongdoing at all levels of government, but are dissuaded from reporting it due to inadequate protections. Careers have been lost, families destroyed, and even lives taken when one man or woman had the wherewithal to stand against the tide and report a break in the public trust. I knew what I faced before filing with OSC. It was an uphill battle that was very likely unwinnable; however, thanks to the support and tenacity by Government Accountability Project combined with Special Council’s willingness and ability to investigate the truth of the matter, we achieved an incredibly rare win for whistleblowers. While this may empower some, there remains lot of work ahead of us before federal employees feel truly safe and secure in their reporting of wrongdoing.”
His attorney, Government Accountability Project Legal Director Tom Devine added:
“This case demonstrates how much the Office of Special Counsel can make a difference when they are determined to get results for a whistleblower. Mr. Missal’s nightmare would continue indefinitely if not for Special Counsels Carolyn Lerner and Henry Kerner and the consummate professionalism of staff in OSC’s western regional office. Unfortunately, due to a partisan Senate impasse, the OSC could not duplicate that success today. The case breakthrough occurred when OSC got a stay from the MSPB, but the Senate has failed to confirm any Members since 2016, leaving the Board empty, the OSC toothless, and the MSPB with a backlog of over 2,500 cases. It is past time for politicians who rhetorically are whistleblower champions to give the OSC its teeth back, and to give back due process for whistleblowers to defend themselves.”
Contact: Andrew Harman
Phone: (202) 457-0034 ext. 156
Government Accountability Project
Government Accountability Project is the nation’s leading whistleblower protection organization. Through litigating whistleblower cases, publicizing concerns and developing legal reforms, Government Accountability Project’s mission is to protect the public interest by promoting government and corporate accountability. Founded in 1977, Government Accountability Project is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.