A congressional committee on Thursday will look into hiring practices at a U.S. Department of Energy agency in Oregon that kept veterans from being considered for jobs and retaliatory actions taken by management against workers who blew the whistle.
The DoE Inspector General, in a management alert report dated July 16, said the Bonneville Power Administration "engaged in prohibited personnel practices in 65 percent (95 of 146 cases) of its competitive recruitments conducted from November 2010 to June 2012."
Rep. Darryl Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Investigations Committee, said in a letter also dated July 16 to DoE Deputy Secretary Daniel Poneman that hiring practices that undermine veterans' preference "are starkly at odds with this Administration's public proclamations supporting the hiring of thousands of veterans returning from the war theater."
"In fact, it appears as though some individuals may have even been fired for blowing the whistle on these egregious hiring practices" at the Bonneville Power Administration, Rep. Darryl Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Investigations Committee, wrote in a July 16 letter to the DoE Deputy Secretary Daniel Poneman.
"The fact that [DoE] officials may be engaged in retaliation against whistleblowers courageous enough to report improper hiring practices is … deeply concerning and if true, this is something this committee will not tolerate."
The IG said it learned of the unfair hiring practices a year ago through an anonymous tip.
The practices involved altering the "best qualified" category after all applications were received, actions resulting in the inappropriate exclusion of veterans and other from consideration, according to the IG. Even after staff with BPA's personnel management office alerted agency higher ups and the "inappropriate practices" were confirmed independently, the agency took no action.
But for the whistleblowers, things got worse, according to the IG.
Those who brought the issue to the attention of supervisors in the personnel section and BPA became "subject to, or proposed for, a range of adverse personnel actions including removal from federal service, suspension, or placement on a Performance Improvement Plan," the IG states. Investigators said they learned that others who raised issues to BPA management have also suffered.
"The chilling effect of the adverse actions against Bonneville staff is clear, jeopardizing efforts to get at the truth in these matters," the IG said.
BPA is a federal nonprofit agency operated under U.S. Department of Energy. Its operating costs are paid for by the sale of products and services, specifically the sale of electrical power from 31 federal hydro projects in the Columbia River Basin, a nonfederal nuclear plant and several small nonfederal power-generating plants.
Approximately a third of all power used in the Northwest is generated by BPA, according to the agency's website.
In addition to generating and wholesaling the power, BPA operates and maintains about three quarters of the high-voltage transmission system in its coverage area of Oregon, Washington, western Montana and small parts of eastern Montana, California, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming.