April 24, 2018
After ten months of waiting for the DOE Inspector General to complete its investigation into whistleblower retaliation by Battelle/PNNL, today Management Director Aleta Busselman used the “kickout” provision of the federal whistleblower law to leave the administrative forum and to file a complaint in federal district court making the same allegations, but this time asking a jury to hold Battelle/PNNL accountable and asking a judge to order that she be returned to her position.
The complaint alleges retaliation for opposing management efforts to change a root cause finding that management lacked policies and procedures to prevent a $530,000 theft at PNNL.
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory provides scientific expertise in support of the Department of Energy including the Hanford cleanup.
On December 16, 2016, a subcontractor invoice for approximately $530,000.00 was authorized for payment by Battelle/PNNL personnel and was electronically paid to a new bank account by the U.S. Treasury Department to a fraudulent requestor, who withdrew the funds from the new bank account within a few days and closed the account.
Ms. Busselman and her team examined the fraudulent payment and determine the root cause. In a March 2017 report, her team determined the root cause to be that Battelle/PNNL management did not clearly define adequate controls to prevent theft by external criminal entities in the Vendor Management Process.
Battelle/PNNL management sought to water down the root cause finding to make management look better, because as one manager said to Ms. Busselman, the finding makes management look like we were “asleep at the wheel.”
On March 31, 2017, Ms. Busselman wrote to her boss opposing management’s efforts to change the language of the root cause finding. She wrote, “We do not just let concerned stakeholders manipulate root causes at the end of the process to make us sound better.” She also wrote, “I am not going to make this team sign a product they can’t stand behind.” Her boss assured her that she had his support. She went on vacation, and upon her return she was removed from her position.
The April report changed the language of the root cause finding consistent with management’s wishes.
Ms. Busselman was removed from her job, put in an office with no windows, and given no new job responsibilities. She complained internally, she filed an employee concern with DOE, she emailed her management asking to be reinstated and that her team be protected, and when no action was taken to fix the problem, she filed this complaint.
Attorney Jack Sheridan stated, “federal whistleblowers have long suffered because government agencies whose task it is to investigate whistleblower retaliation claims, take no action, sometimes for years. For some federal whistleblower laws, Congress has wisely permitted whistleblowers to leave the administrative forum if the agency fails to timely investigate. Ms. Busselman is heading for federal court because DOE-IG has made no headway in this case over the course of ten months.”
Jack said, “Taxpayers spend almost $1 Billion per year to operate PNNL. In exchange, we expect operational integrity. Ms. Busselman has invested 30 years in this company. She loves her job and her company. She filed this complaint to ensure that PNNL management lives up to her belief that Battelle is an ethical company that works in the public interest, and to ensure that integrity trumps politics at PNNL.”
Ms. Busselman remains employed at PNNL, but has not been returned to her position.
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