Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River.

Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River. Bonneville Power Administration file photo

Whistleblowers Who Exposed Hiring Offenses at Bonneville Power Administration Win Relief

Manipulation of ratings process adversely affected veterans.

Four Energy Department employees who exposed manipulation of hiring procedures at the Bonneville Power Administration won settlements with full relief, the Office of Special Counsel announced on Wednesday.

Two supervisors who were found to have retaliated against the whistleblowers were disciplined and relieved from supervisory duties, though a third human resources director said to have led the misconduct at the 3,000-employee facility in Portland, Ore., retired during investigations by the OSC and Energy’s inspector general.

“Whistleblowers were key to uncovering hiring offenses that adversely affected veterans at the Bonneville Power Administration, and they deserve praise for bravely speaking up,” said Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner. “The Bonneville Power Administration should also be commended for taking steps to provide relief to the whistleblowers and to correct its past wrongs in order to move forward.”

The efforts to disqualify some 117 veterans from November 2010 to June 2012 were documented in an October 2013 inspector general’s report. It said, “Bonneville consistently manipulated the applicant rating process. This practice involved modifying the ‘best qualified’ category after all applications were received; actions that resulted in the inappropriate exclusion of veterans and other applicants from consideration for job selection….

“The impact of Bonneville's improper hiring practices is widespread, has subjected affected individuals to economic consequences, has disrupted Department and Bonneville operations, and has exposed the department to a variety of legal challenges,” the inspector general added. “Most importantly, adversely impacted veterans, individuals who have made significant sacrifices and to whom the nation has committed to giving preference in federal hiring, have not received promised benefits. Further, based on the significant influx of complaints we have received regarding Bonneville's hiring practices, there appears to be a significant loss of public trust in the organization.”

The charges that Bonneville supervisors had violated Obama administration and Office of Personnel Management guidelines for hiring sparked a congressional hearing in August 2013. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., then-chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said, “a high-level BPA official informed us that they had received specific instructions not to speak with anyone outside of BPA or the department about this matter -- and that the instruction came straight from the top of the department. Consequently, BPA employees have been, quite frankly, scared to speak with committee investigators for fear of retaliation.”

The OSC also found that BPA improperly excluded one veteran who was eligible for a hiring preference and was qualified for a position, but was not selected. BPA agreed to take full corrective action by appointing the veteran to the position with full back pay.