Supended Agency Leader Says Veterans Were Denied Preference by Accident

Bonneville is responsible for the sale and transmission of nearly one-third of the electric power used in the region it serves. These responsibilities are carried out by nearly 3,100 federal employees.

Gregory Friedman, inspector general at the U.S. Department of Energy, told the committee that the controversy revolves around a memorandum issued by President Obama on May 11, 2010, requiring federal agencies to increase the candidate selection pool while still complying with merit system principles including veterans’ preference.

The Office of Personnel Management delegated the competitive hiring authority to the Department of Energy, which in turn delegated the authority to Bonneville. One hiring principle Bonneville was required to follow involved the development of a “best qualified list” of applicants, which had to be finalized before the vacancy was publicly announced and couldn’t be changed once the vacancy occurred to ensure fair and equitable treatment.

“Our preliminary findings validated the department’s conclusion that Bonneville had engaged in potential prohibited personnel practices by adjusting quality category definitions after vacancy announcements were closed and applications were reviewed,” Friedman said. “We noted that Bonneville employees responsible for rating and ranking applicants relied on informal, undocumented procedures in this regard. Bonneville claimed that its goal was to present selection officials with ‘manageable’ applicant pools.”

As a result, he said, “veterans and other applicants were inappropriately excluded from consideration for job selection.”

Friedman acknowledged that Bonneville management reportedly changed the improper practices in May 2012, as Decker said, but that the agency failed to notify those who were adversely affected.

Decker told the committee “we made a regrettable mistake” regarding veterans’ applications, but added, “we stopped making the mistake over a year ago and I want be part of making this right.”

Daniel Poneman, deputy secretary in the Department of Energy, testified that the agency is “strongly committed to a workplace where all workers are free to speak out, voice concerns or lodge complaints” and warned Bonneville executives not to retaliate against any employees who may have raised concerns regarding questionable personnel practices.

“For this reason we were seriously concerned when we learned, after the fact, that BPA had issued a notification of proposed removal against a potential whistleblower,” Poneman said. “DOE then took swift and decisive action” by demanding that Bonneville halt removal proceedings. Ultimately, the department learned of planned retaliation against three whistleblowers.

Decker advised the committee that to her knowledge no improper actions against employees were taken and that “the principles of balance between guarding against retaliation and managing performance were being followed.”

“Until the investigation, audits and any legal determinations are final, jumping to conclusions is inappropriate and may do unintended damage to effective and efficient government and public servants,” she said.

Issa said DOE’s decision to reverse the alleged retaliatory personnel actions represents “a positive step,” but added “it should never have been necessary in the first place.”

“Let me be perfectly clear -- retaliation against whistleblowers is illegal and I will not stand for it,” Issa said. “We want the truth and the American people deserve the truth.”

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