Energy & Environment

Top Interior official retaliated against whistleblower, watchdog says

Top Interior official retaliated against whistleblower, watchdog says

The leader of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) retaliated against an employee who filed a complaint against him, according to an internal watchdog.

The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for the Interior Department said in a new report that USGS Director James Reilly had agency personnel reassign someone who had complained about him to a different job and concluded that the reassignment “qualified as personnel action under the [Whistleblower Protection Act].”

The report also found that evidence “strongly indicates that he had a motive to retaliate” after the person filed a complaint about him to the OIG. 

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Interior Department spokesperson Nicholas Goodwin said in an email that the report was “wrong in its legal and factual conclusions.”

“The report attempts to turn the USGS human resources department’s reassignment of an administrative employee into a prohibited personnel practice, which is fundamentally inaccurate given the employee requested to be reassigned multiple times before a complaint was issued, was moved with no reduction in pay or grade level and still reported to a senior GS-15 supervisor," Goodwin said. "Given the circumstances, this was unquestionably the appropriate action to take."

The OIG report’s said, however, that the complainant “did not request this reassignment,” which had different responsibilities and working conditions. 

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The report said that Reilly claimed that the reassignment was based on the person’s inability to get along with another staff member and that they were a “negative influence” on the office 

However, the other staff member told the inspector general that there were tensions during a certain period but also said they had a cordial working relationship with the person. Two people that Reilly said would corroborate his “negative influence” assertion did not say that the person’s behavior was disruptive, the report said. 

Witnesses also told the OIG that Reilly said that the complainant had “weaponized the IG process” against him and that Reilly said the person was “evil.”

Reilly told the OIG that he had said that the person had an “evil streak,” or something similar, and said it was a “very poor choice of words.” 

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He also said that he did not specifically remember saying that the complainant weaponized the process, but said, “I would have made the comment to the fact that it can be weaponized ... and that when it’s weaponized, there’s no consequence.” 

Reilly also made headlines recently after The Washington Post reported that he had slowed the release of a study on the number of polar bears that give birth on land overlapping an area recently opened to oil and gas drilling. 

 
“Whistleblower retaliation does not get more clear cut than this. Director Reilly made it a practice to seek out whistleblowers and target them for transfer. Anyone who uses official power to retaliate against whistleblowers—who help uncover waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement—is not fit to hold government office. The Administration must immediately remove Director Reilly.," said the lawmakers, who chair the Oversight and Natural Resources Committees and the Oversight Subcommittee on Government Operations respectively. 
 
Updated 4:50 p.m.