Punishments in mortuary case 'appropriate,' officials say

Top officials at the Defense Department and the Office of Special Counsel say they are satisfied with punishments imposed on the supervisors accused of retaliating against whistleblowers at the Port Mortuary at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.

Top officials at the Defense Department and the Office of Special Counsel say they are satisfied with punishments imposed on the supervisors accused of retaliating against whistleblowers at the Port Mortuary at Dover Air Force Base.

The whistleblowers, who had disclosed irregularities in the way the remains of military service members were handled at the Delaware-based facility, claimed management at the mortuary later retaliated against them for their disclosures.

The Office of Special Counsel investigated the retaliation allegations and found that three supervisors at the facility — an Air Force colonel and two civilians — engaged in reprisals. The Air Force subsequently reviewed the OSC findings, conducted additional investigations and disciplined the men.

According to a report from American Forces Press Service, for the retaliation, the Air Force colonel was reprimanded and “denied further command opportunity.” Each of the civilian supervisors received an involuntary downgrade to a non-supervisory position outside the mortuary — one voluntarily, the other involuntarily.

For gross mismanagement, the Air Force officer accepted non-judicial punishment, and after a hearing and appeal, received a reprimand and a $7,000 fine. One of the civilian supervisors received a 20-day suspension without pay, and the other, who resigned before action could be initiated, nonetheless was issued a letter of censure after his resignation, the report said.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Air Force Secretary Michael Donley both pronounced the punishments appropriate, according to department spokesmen.

"Looking forward, Air Force leadership is reviewing instructional materials used to train supervisors and employees to ensure military members and civilian employees alike understand the rights of all employees to express important concerns in the workplace," said an Air Force spokesman.

Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner said she was “encouraged” by the disciplinary actions.

“These actions send a strong signal that employees at all levels will be held accountable for whistleblower reprisal,” Lerner said.

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