U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) officials ordered employees not to talk to Congress about its investigation into claims of prohibited hiring practices and allegations of whistleblower retaliation, according to House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Darell Issa (R-Calif.).
Issa, in a letter obtained by the Washington Free Beacon, claimed that the deputy secretary of energy issued a gag order following the release of a highly critical inspector general report last week.
The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), a division of the DOE, allegedly violated DOE hiring guidelines in a way that unfairly disadvantaged military veterans, according to the scathing IG report.
The BPA employees who actually assisted the IG with its investigation were fired, suspended or disciplined in other ways, the report found.
Further, Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman "verbally instructed Elliot Mainzer, the individual [Poneman] chose to serve as acting administrator of BPA, that no BPA employees were to talk with anyone regarding these allegations, including congressional investigators," Issa wrote in a July 17 letter.
Issa went on to warn that "obstructing a congressional investigation is a crime."
“Additionally, denying or interfering with employees’ rights to furnish information to Congress is against the law," he added.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, June 6, 2013, ahead of witness testimony before the committee's hearing regarding IRS conference spending. Credit: AP
In an email to the Free Beacon, Stephen M. Kohn, the executive director of the National Whistleblower Center expressed similar concerns.
He argued that any "attempt to ‘gag’ employees from communicating with Congress" represents a "gross violation of law."
“It is highly illegal for any federal agency to attempt to prevent employees or contractors from communicating whistleblower concerns with Members of Congress or an Inspector General,” Kohn added. “If true, this conduct by government officials would be intolerable.”
"Oversight Committee spokesman Ali Ahmad told the Oregonian that a senior BPA official had informed the committee of Poneman’s gag order," according to the Free Beacon.
To read the Washington Free Beacon's entire report, click here.