A federal agency implemented hiring practices that disadvantaged applicants who are military veterans and retaliated against employees who spoke out about the practice, according to a new report from federal watchdogs.
The Bonneville Power Administration, a division of the Department of Energy (DOE), routinely violated DOE hiring guidelines to eliminate preferential treatment for veteran applicants, the DOE inspector general found.
When employees brought the issue to light, the report notes, Bonneville "apparently proposed or recently executed a number of personnel actions against certain employees who have cooperated with our review."
Employees in Bonneville’s Human Capital Management office were reportedly targeted for firing, suspension, probationary status, and other retaliatory measures for exposing hiring practices that violated DOE guidelines.
"The chilling effect of the adverse actions against Bonneville staff is clear, jeopardizing efforts to get at the truth in these matters," the IG found.
Employees were reportedly targeted explicitly for cooperating with the IG’s investigation into Bonneville’s hiring practices.
The IG determined that officials in Bonneville’s HCM office "modifying the best qualified category after all applications were received," which "resulted in the inappropriate exclusion of veterans and other applicants from consideration for selection."
Even after these issues were brought to light, "it appears that Bonneville did not take required action to notify the affected applicants that were disadvantaged and to address the impact of the inappropriate hiring that was associated with the prohibited practices."
Citing these findings, the IG recommended that Bonneville suspend all pending disciplinary action against its employees and re-hire on a provisional basis all employees who have been fired or whose termination is pending until the IG can conduct a more thorough investigation.
Robert Gibbs, DOE’s chief human capital officer, concurred with its findings and recommendations in a letter to the IG’s office.
DOE "takes these allegations very seriously," Gibbs wrote. "The department is committed to a workplace where employees feel free to raise concerns without fear of retaliation."