A biologist who was terminated from her job at Canaveral National Seashore has won a whistleblower retaliation ruling against the U.S. Department of Interior.
In December, a federal civil service court judge in Atlanta ruled that the former employee, who had reported contracting violations, nepotism and other misconduct at the park, had been subjected to assault, harassment and adverse personal actions in retaliation for blowing the whistle on the park’s activities, according to Florida Today.
The former employee was terminated this past October for medical reasons related to a tick-borne disease. She has applied for disability retirement. The judge directed the National Park Service to upgrade the former employee’s October 2012 performance rating to “superior,” allow her to take administrative leave for any medical needs, and pay the whistleblower any outstanding earnings, National Parks Traveler reported.
In 2011, the former employee complained about contracting violations at the park. She alleged that contracts for the construction of a building were broken down into “split purchases,” to avoid the competitive bidding process. She accused her former co-workers of hiring family and friends to do the jobs, according to National Parks Traveler.
The OIG’s investigation found evidence to support the whistleblower’s allegations. The judge in the case noted in her 65-page decision that the park’s superintendent ignored the whistleblower’s allegations and even made $800 worth of personal calls on her government cellphone over the course of three months, National Parks Traveler reported.
The biologist claimed the park continued the same illegal procurement practices in 2014, even after her 2011 complaint, triggering the U.S. Department of Interior’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) to launch another investigation, Florida Today reported.
Park officials said that privacy concerns prevent them from discussing the new investigation, but a spokesman for the park service’s southeastern region told Florida Today that Canaveral National Seashore is following the parks service policy on procurement and charge card use. “The superintendent instituted more internal steps requiring employees to obtain additional approvals prior to purchasing as well as consistent use of a log of procurement actions,” he said.
Parks officials won’t say whether any disciplinary actions resulted from the biologist’s whistle-blowing or would in the future, due to privacy laws. Canaveral staff received additional training to try to ensure there will be no contracting violations in the future, nepotism or retaliation against whistle-blowing, according to Florida Today.