House probes veteran bias, whistle-blower retaliation at Department of Energy agency

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Published August 01, 2013

| FoxNews.com

A House committee is set to examine hiring practices at a Department of Energy agency in Oregon that allegedly discriminated against veterans and retaliated against whistle-blowers.

The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is holding a Thursday morning hearing regarding allegations of illegal personnel practices at the Bonneville Power Administration, a component of the federal agency that generates roughly one-third of all power used in the Northwest.

Bonneville officials, according to a July 16 management alert report by the Department of Energy’s Office of Inspector General, engaged in “prohibited personnel practices” in 65 percent — or 95 of 146 cases — of its competitive recruitments conducted from November 2010 through June 2012.

“These practices involved modifying the best qualified category after all applications were received; actions that resulted in the inappropriate exclusion of veterans and other applicants from consideration for selection,” the report read. “We also discovered that even after the inappropriate practices were disclosed by HCM staff and confirmed by independent sources, it appears that Bonneville did not take required action to notify the affected applicants that were disadvantaged and to address the impact of the inappropriate hiring that was associated with the prohibited practices.”

The report also found that Bonneville officials have “apparently proposed or recently executed” several personnel actions against certain employees who cooperated with the inspector general’s review.

“The chilling effect of the adverse actions against Bonneville staff is clear, jeopardizing efforts to get at the truth in these matters,” according to the report.

Those expected to testify at the hearing include U.S. Department of Energy Deputy Secretary Daniel Poneman, U.S. Department of Energy Inspector General Gregory Friedman and Anita Decker, chief operating officer of Bonneville Power Administration.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the committee, wrote a letter to Poneman last month seeking documents related to the allegations.

“Let me be perfectly clear: retaliation against whistle-blowers is illegal, and I will not stand for it,” Issa said in prepared remarks for Thursday’s hearing. “We want the truth and the American people deserve the truth.”

Issa said a high-ranking Bonneville Power Administration official informed the committee that they had received specific instructions not to speak with anyone outside the company or the Department of Energy.

“Consequently, BPA employees have been, quite frankly, scared to speak with Committee investigators for fear of retaliation,” Issa’s prepared remarks continued. “I want to send a message to any whistle-blower out there — if you want to come forward and speak, we will protect you.”

Bonneville Power Administration, a self-funded nonprofit agency that earns more than $3.3 billion in revenue annually, also operates and maintains roughly three-fourths of the high-voltage transmission in its service area, including parts of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, California, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming.

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