A group of U.S. Senators formally called on Rick Perry, the Department of Energy’s (DOE) new Secretary, to immediately reinstate rules allowing the agency to hold its contractors accountable for retaliation against whistleblowers who report nuclear safety violations.
In a March 6 letter, U.S. Senators Roy Wyden (D-OR), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), and Edward Markey (D-MA), noted that the DOE has a “long history of failing to protect whistleblowers” who call out violations of rules and regulations governing nuclear safety.
Their concerns about whistleblower retaliation within the agency were underscored by a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that documented the DOE’s poor handing of whistleblowers. According to the report, energy contractors not only disregarded whistleblowers but in many cases lashed out against them, and the DOE did nothing to monitor or intervene in those cases.
The GAO found whistleblower retaliation by DOE contractors was not occasional but widespread.
The GAO prepared the report at the senators’ request and released it last July along with a call for the DOE to immediately expedite whistleblower protection rules for the sake of public safety and national security.
The agency had published the final DOE contractor accountability rules in December, but the Trump administration suspended those rules on Jan. 31 without explanation.
“Whistleblowers at DOE have exposed substantial waste, fraud and abuse, as well as prevented serious safety violations across the DOE complex. That DOE contractors have retaliated against these whistleblowers is well documented,” Senators Wyden, McCaskill, and Markey wrote in their letter to Secretary Perry. “What’s missing is DOE’s willingness to do something to reverse the culture of retaliation among its contractors and to demand accountability.”
The letter continues: “After failing for years to close a regulatory chasm that prevented the DOE from fully using its nuclear safety authority to protect whistleblowers, including the use of civil penalties, DOE finally did so in December, only to then suspend them a month later. We request that you immediately lift this suspension and reinstate these rules.”