OSC Releases Conclusions Regarding Port Mortuary Retaliation

In an encouraging follow-up to a story we have blogged about before, the U.S. Office of the Special Counsel (“OSC”) has released its investigative report regarding the whistleblower retaliation that took place at the Port Mortuary in Dover, Delaware. The report found that three United States Air Force officials – Quinton Randall Keel, Port Mortuary Director for the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations (“AFMAO”); Trevor Dean, then-Deputy Director, AFMAO; and Colonel Robert G. Edmondson, then-Commander, AFMAO – retaliated against four mortuary employees who disclosed wrongdoing. The report called on the Air Force to take disciplinary action against the offending supervisors.

The report noted the following about the culpability of the supervisors:

The evidence shows that Colonel Edmondson was the primary force behind the majority of the retaliatory adverse actions. However, he did not-and could not- act alone. Without Mr. Keel routinely apprising Colonel Edmondson of the complainants' actions and conduct, and officially proposing or taking the adverse actions, Colonel Edmondson would not have had the bases to direct and/or approve the numerous, unsupported adverse actions.

The OSC further noted that:

Congress included protection for whistleblowers in the Civil Service Reform to assure federal employees that ‘they will not suffer if they help uncover and correct administrative abuses.’ S. Rep. No. 95-969, at 8 (1978), reprinted ill 1978 U.S.C.CAN. 2723, 2730. In this matter, OSC’s investigation uncovered willful, concerted acts of retaliation that necessitate disciplinary action. Holding management accountable for engaging in prohibited perso1l1lcl practices is essential to assuring employees that they can blow the whistle or engage in other protected activity without fear of reprisal. Accordingly, and for the reasons set forth herein, the Air Force should take appropriate disciplinary action against Colonel Edmonson, Mr. Keel and Mr. Dean for their retaliatory actions.

The OSC states in its press release that one of the three supervisors has already resigned from the Air Force, and that the Air Force has now begun disciplinary procedures against the remaining two. In addition, corrective actions for the whistleblowers are now complete. Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner further states that the Air Force has committed to improving its internal investigation procedures and the way it remedies whistleblower retaliation claims.

“I am pleased the Air Force has agreed to take further disciplinary action and institute training to prevent whistleblower retaliation in the future,” Lerner added. “The Port Mortuary whistleblowers provided an important service to our country. They courageously stepped forward to report malfeasance and misconduct in the care of our fallen service members. Their actions have resulted in significant improvements at the Mortuary. The Office of Special Counsel will continue to work with government agencies to ensure that whistleblowers are protected from retaliation.”