GSA inspector general says he's been cleared of misconduct charges

The General Services Administration inspector general said an executive branch oversight committee has cleared him and his top deputies of misconduct allegations, finding that they did not retaliate against attorneys who disagreed with their policies and decisions.

According to a statement issued by GSA IG Brian Miller, the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency has dismissed a pair of complaints filed by the IG's former counsel.

"I have been informed by the PCIE that at its January 2008 meeting it reviewed the matter (a personnel detail) that I referred to them on Oct. 1, 2007, and which was supplemented in December 2007," Miller's statement read. "The PCIE rejected the allegations, closed the entire matter, and returned it back to me. They found that there was no substantial likelihood of any violations of law, regulations, mismanagement, waste of funds or abuse of authority."

The inquiry was conducted by the PCIE's Integrity Committee, chaired by Kenneth Kaiser, assistant director of the FBI's criminal division. An FBI spokesman did not respond to a request for confirmation of the PCIE's decision. The PCIE's ruling comes only days after the allegations were reported by Government Executive and just six weeks after the most recent complaint was filed by four attorneys in the IG counsel's office. All but one of those attorneys has since left the office.

The origin of the complaints, which were first reported on The Washington Post's Government Inc. blog, date back to the fall of 2006, when a female IG employee made a series of whistleblower complaints -- the contents of which are still not known -- against IG managers.

Shortly thereafter, Robert Samuels, Miller's former top deputy, sent the whistleblower on an eight-month nonreimbursable detail with the Housing and Urban Development Department's chief information officer. That detail was extended several times by Samuels.

Kevin Buford, former counsel to the IG's office, told the PCIE in October 2007 that Miller and Samuels had "recklessly violated the law" and that the detail amounted to retaliation for the whistleblower's complaints. Buford also alleged that the IG's Office of Internal Evaluation had conducted a lengthy investigation of the whistleblower's performance shortly after her complaint was filed.

Buford filed a hot-line complaint against Samuels in September 2007 and later added a supplemental complaint that included Miller. After Miller informed his deputy of the complaints, Samuels filed his own hot-line complaint against Buford.

Buford argued that Samuels' actions amount to a violation of federal personnel practices that forbid retaliation against subordinates involved in whistleblower complaints.

Samuels, who retired from the IG office in November, said his countercomplaint against Buford merely addressed what he believed was an improper use of the complaint system. He added that the HUD detail was legitimate, had been approved by an IG staff attorney and resulted in important new work on computer security.

Samuels told Government Executive earlier this month that "the allegations of wrongdoing were unfounded and contained numerous and significant errors, omissions and distortions. By filing its specious complaints and asserting the pre-emptive exclusivity of those complaints, counsel launched a plan to seek control over management decisions, evade appropriate management by the front office, deny front office personnel their rights to report counsel's abuses, and disable the internal evaluation unit from looking into them."

A follow-up PCIE complaint in December by the four counsel's office attorneys outlined what they alleged was a continued pattern of abuse and harassment by IG managers.

The attorneys and IG managers apparently argued for months about staffing, business travel and access to internal databases. The attorneys also said the IG discouraged personnel from soliciting advice from the counsel. Samuels has denied those allegations.

Neither Samuels nor Buford, who left the IG office on Jan. 4 to take a position with NASA, responded to request for comment about the PCIE's decision.

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