BPA violated hiring practices, retaliated against whistleblowers, DOE says

The Department of Energy’s Office of Inspector General released a preliminary review today that found consistent violations of federal hiring practices by the Bonneville Power Administration and possible retaliation against whistleblowers by management.

 

The DOE on Monday placed BPA Administrator Bill Drummond and chief operating officer Anita Decker on leave and reportedly escorted them from the BPA’s Lloyd District headquarters, though it has yet to acknowledge or comment on the action. Drummond was appointed administrator in February after the retirement of long time administrator Steve Wright. Drummond had served as the agency’s deputy administrator since mid 2011.

 The DOE, BPA’s parent agency, appointed BPA Deputy Administrator Elliot Mainzer as acting administrator on an interim basis.

 The DOE did not return calls Monday or Tuesday seeking comment. The BPA is referring calls to the Office of Inspector General. The OIG’s report did not say whether Drummond or Decker were directly implicated in retaliatory actions against employees.

Anita-Decker.jpgAnita Decker, BPA COO

 “We don’t comment on ongoing reviews,” said Tara Porter, an OIG spokeswoman. “At this point, our management review speaks for itself.”

 The DOE and Office of Personnel Management have been reviewing BPA’s hiring and human resources practices for months after receiving an anonymous complaint in June of 2012. That review turned up substantive problems in the agency’s hiring practices and competence of its HR staff.

According to documents obtained by The Oregonian, the Office of Personnel Management in May decertified more than two dozen of BPA’s human resources staff for “significant issues, errors, and legal violations” that left BPA vulnerable to legal challenges. The OPM evaluator said the HR specialists “lack competencies in most fundamentals of Federal staffing.”

In the review released Tuesday, the OIG concluded that BPA engaged in prohibited personnel practices in 65 percent of its competitive recruitments conducted from November 2010 to June 2012.

Those practices included “modifying the best qualified category after all applications were received,” which excluded some veterans from selection. By law, veterans receive preference in federal hiring.

BPA apparently took no action to correct the situation when they were disclosed to human resources and confirmed by independent sources, the review said.

Instead, the OIG’s review said it received a number of complaints from Bonneville staff that they were disciplined because they had communicated hiring problems to BPA management. The report said there were “a range of a range of adverse personnel actions including removal from Federal service.”

Last week, the Energy Department ordered Drummond to take no adverse action against HR employees, suspend any such actions already taken, and reinstate any employee that was put on leave or was in line for firing. Drummond was also ordered to tell staff that they were free to cooperate fully with the OIG review without fear of retaliation.

The OIG’s management review said the primary reason for the urgency was the retaliatory actions. “These actions have a potentially chilling effect on various aspects of our work and, as such, jeopardize our ability to effectively complete our review of the circumstances surrounding inappropriate Bonneville hiring practices.”

BPA is the largest utility in the region and a huge player in the Northwest economy. It sells power from 31 hydroelectric dams and a nuclear plant, and operates much of the region’s transmission system. Public power customers are always concerned about federal encroachment on regional control of the agency.

“Customers are anxious to know more about this and the next steps,” said Scott Corwin, executive director of the Public Power Council, which represent public utilities who buy power from BPA. “What really are these actions and who was supposedly taking them. This is a drastic move and it needs better explanation.”

A statement from Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and chair of the Senate Energy Committee, said the government owed a special commitment to veterans.

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