Senators Call on Energy Secretary to Protect Whistleblowers, Hold Contractors Accountable after Department Confirms Nuclear Whistleblower’s Retaliation Claims
Wyden, McCaskill, Markey Ask What the Energy Department Will do to Prevent Future Retaliation Against Whistleblowers like Sandra Black
Washington, D.C. – After learning that Energy Department investigations confirmed a whistleblower was illegally fired for cooperating with a government investigation, U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., called on Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Rick Perry to better protect whistleblowers.
In a letter to Perry today, the senators also asked how the Energy Department will prevent future retaliation against the whistleblower, Sandra Black, if she decides to return to her job as a contractor employee at the department’s Savannah River site in South Carolina.
Additionally, the senators today released reports from the Energy Department’s own independent investigator and the department’s Office of Hearings and Appeals (OHA),substantiating Black’s claims that a department contractor fired her more than two years ago for cooperating with a Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigation about whistleblower retaliation. The Energy Department investigations concluded she should be reinstated at the job where she faced retaliation by her contractor employer.
According to the department’s appeals office, Black will also receive back pay and compensatory damages in addition to being reinstated at her job at the Savannah River site, where she worked for more than 30 years. However, the department’s reports did not say whether it would take action against the company – Savannah River Nuclear Solutions – or the managers who fired her.
“We are writing to request that you explain to us what actions the Department has taken or will take to respond to the OHA findings. Specifically, we want to understand what actions are being taken to ensure that Ms. Black herself does not return to an environment in which she is subjected to further retaliation by those responsible for what happened to her in the first place,” Wyden, McCaskill and Markey wrote to Perry today.
Earlier this month, the senators called on Perry to immediately reinstate rules to hold contractors accountable for retaliating against whistleblowers who report nuclear safety violations. The department had published the rules in December, but they were suspended by the Trump Administration in January. The retaliation against Black is exactly the type of action the now-suspended regulations would have covered.
In July, the senators released the GAO’s investigation. Black cooperated with that investigation and told GAO investigators that managers at the company tried to stifle safety complaints raised by its employees at the Savannah River complex. The GAO investigation found that disregard for, and retaliation against, whistleblowers by Energy Department contractors was widespread. It also showed the department did little to monitor or stop those abuses. Additionally, the investigation recommended that the department expedite publishing the now-suspended regulations in order to hold contractors accountable for whistleblower retaliation.
In response to the July investigation, Wyden, McCaskill and Markey introduced the Department of Energy Whistleblower Accountability Act to expand protections for whistleblowers at the Energy Department.
Read today’s letter here.