Bipartisan Call to Terminate Commerce Officials Who Retaliated Against Whistleblowers

Apr 1, 2014

Washington, D.C. – All of the Members on the Oversight Subcommittee today sent a bi-partisan letter to the Commerce Department Inspector General (IG) Todd Zinser demanding he immediately terminate two senior officials based on the results of a nearly year-long investigation by the Office of Special Counsel (OSC). 

The OSC is the federal agency charged with investigating allegations of whistleblower retaliation and found that two whistleblowers from the Department of Commerce’s IG Office were coerced into signing “gag clauses” that specifically forbid them from bringing mismanagement issues regarding the IG’s office to the attention of the OSC, the U.S. Congress or the media.  In its efforts to intimidate these individuals into abiding by these illegal “gag” orders, these senior officials also created fake “interim performance appraisals,” which they promised to hide in exchange for the whistleblowers’ silence.  The OSC report concluded: “In this matter, OSC’s investigation uncovered willful, concerted acts of retaliation that necessitate disciplinary action.” 

Although Inspector General Todd Zinser was initially listed as a subject in the OSC investigation, the OSC found no direct “documentary evidence” that he was aware of the actions of his closest advisors.  The letter sent by Oversight Subcommittee Members to Mr. Zinser today, however, said, “We are concerned that the mistreatment and intimidation of potential whistleblowers is emblematic of a culture which has taken hold at the Commerce OIG.  As the IG, it is your responsibility to be aware of the activities in your office and to hold your management team to the highest standards.  It is your office that is supposed to be a safe-harbor for whistleblowers throughout the Department.” 

Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Paul Broun (R-Ga.): "It is bad enough that the OSC report determined that the individual in charge of whistleblower protection violated that trust, but to face no disciplinary action in the aftermath of that revelation baffles the mind.  As the IG at the Department of Commerce, the buck stops with Mr. Zinser, and as such, I call on him to faithfully execute the duties of the office by providing justice for the whistleblowers who had the courage and fortitude to step forward with their claim.  I would interpret inaction by the IG on this matter to mean support for the two individuals' actions, in which case we have a bigger problem in that office."

Ranking Minority Member Mr. Dan Maffei (D-NY): “The fact that every Member of the Subcommittee on Oversight, from both sides of the aisle, signed this letter should send a strong message to Inspector General Zinser that the Committee takes this issue extremely seriously.  As Members of Congress it is our duty to help ensure that federal employees with concerns about mismanagement in their agencies are empowered to bring problems to Congress without fear of illegal retaliation.  In this effort, Inspectors General are normally our allies, and to find an Inspector General’s office that engaged in the sort of retaliatory behavior detailed in the OSC report is very troubling.”

The letter concludes, “Instead of parsing the law to defend your senior officials from the detailed and well-documented OSC report and recommendations, we believe this issue requires your direct attention, including the immediate termination of the two officials responsible for the whistleblower retaliation documented by the Office of Special Counsel.”

The letter was also signed by the following Oversight Subcommittee members: Representatives Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), Bill Posey (R-Fla.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), and Scott Peters (D-Calif.).  The Subcommittee Members asked Mr. Zinser to respond to their letter by April 15, 2014.

The full letter can be found here.