OSC comes to defense of two federal whistleblowers

Tuesday - 10/11/2011, 2:09pm EDT

By Jolie Lee and Jack Moore
Federal News Radio

The Office of Special Counsel is trying to reinstate two federal whistleblowers who were placed on unpaid administrative leave.

Franz Gayl, a science and technology advisor to the Marines, blew the whistle on the Marine Corps for failing to provide Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles to troops in Iraq. The Marine Corps stripped Gayl of his top secret security clearance.

Paul Hardy, a regulatory review officer for the Public Health Service, led a team of scientists who found radiation exposure problems with a breast cancer screening device. When the FDA planned to approve it over his team's recommendations, Hardy went to the media with his findings.

The FDA launched a criminal investigation of Hardy for unauthorized release of information but did not take any action against him. The agency approved the device last year.

In the previous three years Hardy received positive performance evaluations. After he went to the media, he was given a negative performance rating.

OSC filed with the Merit Systems Protection Board to reinstate Gayl and Hardy.

"These cases concern serious threats to public health and safety, and raise important issues of law," said Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner in a statement." OSC's actions make clear that this agency will vigorously protect federal employees against retaliation when they blow the whistle."

Lerner, who joined the Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Amy Morris for an interview, said the OSC has two specific units devoted to federal whistleblowers.

The disclosure unit deals with employees making claims of waste, fraud or threats to public safety, while the investigation and prosecution unit investigates if whistleblowers say they've faced retaliation at their agency for going public.

OSC's filing on behalf of the employees would give the office more time to investigate, Lerner said.

"We haven't made any determinations yet," she added, "but we're saying 'Give us some time to investigate these allegations.'"

She said the office tries to promote a culture where whistleblowers feel they can come forward.

"I think an overall goal [for OSC] is trying to create an environment in the government where open dialogue is not only accepted and encouraged. We want to make sure that whistleblowers feel free to come forward and feel that they'll be protected once they do."

Whistleblowers actually save the government money, Lerner said.

Her office has calculated that disclosures to the OSC over the past two years have saved $8 million. And there benefits that can't be quantified monetarily, she said — "lives that have been saved, plane crashes that didn't happen because of disclosures."