US officials take action to protect Alaska whistleblower
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The federal office that protects employees against reprisals for whistleblowing is advocating on behalf of a federal employee in Alaska who complained about the handling of an Arctic offshore lease sale.
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel announced Tuesday it’s filing a whistleblower retaliation complaint with the Merit Systems Protection Board on behalf of Jeffrey Missal, a regional environmental officer for the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.
Missal was fired after filing a complaint with the Interior Department’s inspector general and contending that the department violated environmental regulations to facilitate Arctic oil exploration.
Interior Department spokeswoman Heather Swift said by email she could not immediately comment because the complaint was a personnel matter.
Missal has been represented by the Government Accountability Project, a whistleblower advocacy organization. Missal was fired in January 2016, but the board halted the termination in August 2017.
“This reprieve kept Mr. Missal from losing his home,” the advocacy group said in a release Tuesday.
Missal’s work has been restricted at the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, the group said.
“Even after putting Mr. Missal back on payroll, it has continued to violate many of the details of MSPB stay orders by continuing to isolate him and intentionally restricting his normal duties,” said Tom Devine, Missal’s attorney from the advocacy group, in a prepared statement.
According to the Office of Special Counsel, Missal in 2012 began expressing concern that the Interior Department had violated environmental regulations to facilitate oil exploration in the Arctic Ocean.
Records from the Merit System Protection Board indicate that Missal believed the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement violated the environmental review process for a lease sale in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska’s northwest coast.
When Missal was not satisfied with the internal response to his complaints, he filed a complaint with the department’s inspector general.
In 2014, on the same day a senior employee was informed of the inspector general’s inquiry, the senior employee launched an investigation of Missal.
Missal was fired based on alleged misconduct discovered in the investigation. However, the Office of Special Counsel concluded the termination was retaliatory for his complaint to the inspector general.
Missal was reinstated for 45 days in August 2017. The special counsel since then has obtained eight more stays of the firing while negotiating to resolve the case.
The Interior Department has declined to provide corrective action, so the office moved forward with a complaint to the Merit Systems Protection Board, said Zachary Kurz, spokesman for the Office of Special Counsel.
“Whistleblowers must have confidence they can report wrongdoing without facing retaliation,” said Special Counsel Henry J. Kerner in the announcement.