Interior IG says USGS director retaliated against whistleblower

A watchdog report alleges that an "impermissible, retaliatory motive" was behind the reassignment of a whistleblower at the U.S. Geological Survey.

An investigation by the Office of Inspector General in the U.S. Department of the Interior substantiated an allegation of whistleblower retaliation by James Reilly, Director of the U.S. Geological Survey, according to a report released Oct. 29.

The original complaint was submitted by a USGS employee to the Office of Inspector General. Less than a year after Reilly learned that this employee had done so, he had USGS employees reassign the whistleblower to a new position with different responsibilities and conditions. The details of the original complaint are not included in the publicly released version of the investigative report.

The IG states that Reilly had described the person who filed the complaint as having an "evil streak," or words to that effect. A staff member quoted in the report also said that Reilly "wouldn't trust those that had complaints on him."

The report concluded that the four elements of a reprisal under Whistleblower Protection Act were present in the case.

Reilly reportedly has questioned if employees had filed any complaints against him in a variety of places – the Office of the Inspector General at the DOI, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Office of Special Counsel or Congress – so that he could "move them."

"While the DOI provided some evidence of other motivations that may have played a role in its personnel decision, it failed to disentangle those motivations from the evidence of impermissible, retaliatory motive found during our investigation," the report states.

The Interior Department disputes the findings in the IG report.

"The report attempts to turn the USGS human resources department's reassignment of an administrative employee into a prohibited personnel practice, which is fundamentally inaccurate" an agency spokesperson said in a statement, adding that Reilly's "record and tenure at the USGS is above reproach."

The DOI statement says that the employee had requested to be moved before the complaint was issued, and points to the fact that their pay and grade level weren't changed, nor the fact that the still reported to a senior GS-15 supervisor.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), chairwoman on the Committee on Oversight and Reform, Gerald Connolly (D-Va.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Government Operations, and Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), chairman of the Committee on Natural Resources which has oversight of USGS, issued a joint statement calling for Reilly's removal as director of USGS.

"Whistleblower retaliation does not get more clear cut than this," the three lawmakers said in a statement. "Director Reilly made it a practice to seek out whistleblowers and target them for transfer. Anyone who uses official power to retaliate against whistleblowers—who help uncover waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement—is not fit to hold government office."

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