Tactical

Army cyber officials retaliated against whistleblowing staff: report

Two Army Cyber Command officials worked to get an employee fired following his reporting of misconduct and subsequent participation in investigations, the Pentagon’s inspector general found in a report published Wednesday.

The IG recommends that the employee be reinstated to his job with backpay, while the Defense Department officials involved “receive appropriate action.” For one of them, that means just a note in his personnel file, as he retired before the investigation began.

“It is important to encourage personnel, at the DoD and throughout the government, to come forward when they see something they reasonably believe is wrong,” Inspector General Robert Storch said in a release. “Protecting such whistleblowers from reprisal is vital to the ability to detect and deter fraud, waste, and abuse within the Department of Defense.”

The report puts the next moves in the Army secretary’s hands, recommending action against the supervisor that fired the employee.

“The U.S. Army will review the Department of Defense Officer of Inspector General’s report findings released today and take appropriate action, consistent with the DoD OIG recommendations,” Lt. Col. Randee Farrell, spokeswoman for Army Secretary Christine Wormuth, told Military Times on Wednesday.

The investigation stems from a June 2018 complaint alleging that Army Cyber Command human resources was violating his employment agreement by first delaying, then reducing, then altogether stopping student loan repayments that were due to be finished by the end of 2019.

A year later, after spending months contacting a half dozen officials about resolving the issue, the employee filed a complaint with the command’s inspector general.

He later filed several more IG complaints, alleging that Army Cyber Command violated policies on performance evaluations, hiring practices, reimbursement for travel expenses and more.

That included time and attendance issues, like asking employees to report their time working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic as administrative leave, rather than create required telework agreements, and requiring staff to request comp days rather than be paid overtime when they were given assignments on tight deadlines that couldn’t be completed during the normal workday.

“If the lawyer finds [the complainant] to be correct, we have a lot of issues to deal with,” the employee’s supervisor wrote in an email after the employee pointed out that the law required overtime pay.

The retaliation began in summer 2020, after the employee filed multiple IG complaints, gave interviews in the investigations and noted his perceptions of a toxic work environment in a command climate survey.

His supervisor, called Subject 1 in the IG report, demoted him, gave him a poor performance evaluation and later worked to have him fired. He used documentation that the employee improperly filled out time sheets and inappropriately requested that a subordinate write a nomination for a performance award for him.

Another superior, known as Subject 2, signed off on the firing in November 2020 after meeting with the employee about the effort to have him fired, during which the employee disclosed that he had been involved in several whistleblower efforts against the command.

The IG concluded that the employee’s whistleblower disclosures were made too close to the proceedings against him to have been a coincidence, and that his firing was a result of trying to hold the command responsible for misconduct.

Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.

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