Supended Agency Leader Says Veterans Were Denied Preference by Accident

WASHINGTON – The chief operating officer for the Bonneville Power Administration, suspended for discriminatory hiring practices and allegedly seeking to punish whistleblowers, insists her agency failed to give preference to job applicants who are military veterans as a result of an innocent misreading of federal regulations.

Appearing before the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee on Thursday, Anita Decker said the misstep occurred because of a failure to properly interpret a May 11, 2010, White House memorandum on the agency’s recruitment and hiring process. Once the problem was identified in May 2012, she said, the improper hiring practices were stopped.

“It’s my understanding that BPA’s hiring of veterans has been roughly comparable to other non-defense executive agencies,” she told the panel. “I have actively supported veteran personnel and was extremely proud to have received recognition for BPA and me personally for support of veterans at BPA.”

Decker and Bonneville administrator Bill Drummond were suspended on July 16 after the inspector general’s office in the Department of Energy issued a preliminary report finding numerous violations of federal hiring practices and possible retaliation against employees who objected to the practices. A full review currently is underway.

The IG report uncovered evidence indicating that the rights of applicants for federal positions at Bonneville were violated, most notably affecting those entitled to veterans’ preference. During the course of its review the IG learned that Bonneville employees who had raised questions to their management regarding violations of personnel practices may have been subjected to retaliation.

The initial inquiry determined that the allegations were credible and that management’s coercive behavior continued while the investigation was underway. The Department of Energy has assumed control of Bonneville’s hiring and promotion authority

According to the IG report, Bonneville management engaged in prohibited personnel practices in 95 of the agency’s 146 competitive recruitments -- 65 percent – from November 2010 through June 2012. Those practices excluded several veterans from being selected despite laws that granted them preferred status.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the Oversight Committee, said he called the hearing as part of its role to keep governmental institutions accountable.

“We have a responsibility to the American people to understand what happened at BPA and ensure that it does not happen elsewhere,” Issa said.

Bonneville, a component of the Department of Energy, was established in 1937 as a self-funding agency that covers its approximately $4.4 billion in annual costs by marketing electric power to all or parts of eight Pacific Northwest states -- Idaho, Oregon, Washington, western Montana and parts of eastern Montana, California, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming – covering about 300,000 square miles and borrowing from the U.S. Treasury.

The electric power is generated by 31 hydroelectric projects operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation. The administration also includes a nuclear plant not owned by the federal government and a handful of small non-federal power plants.