House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., accompanied by the committee's ranking Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., discusses a plan to move mail to cluster box and curbside delivery in a move to cut costs at the cash-strapped Postal Service by up to $4.5 billion a year, Wednesday, July 24, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Credit: AP
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is not buying the Department of Energy's (DOE) response to allegations of whistleblower retaliation within the agency.
House investigators will reportedly hold a hearing next week to look into claims that top DOE officials told lower agency employees not to talk to members of Congress about its investigation into illicit hiring practices and related whistleblower retaliation allegations.
The alleged gag order, if proven true, adds up to the "obstructing [of] a congressional investigation," which is a "crime," Issa recently said.
"The hearing follows a back-and-forth between DOE officials and congressional investigators, who say the agency is attempting to stonewall its efforts to investigate allegations of whistleblower retaliation," according to the Washington Free Beacon.
Issa revealed the alleged DOE gag order in a past letter to Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman. In his letter, Issa claimed the inspector general's report suggests Poneman instructed the head of the Bonneville Power Administration, which is part of the DOE, not to discuss the report with Issa or other members of Congress about the allegations.
DOE general counsel Eric Fygi denied the claims in a letter to Issa on Wednesday, saying, "Poneman gave no such instructions."
"Rather, Bonneville was informed that this was a serious matter and that any external questions were to be coordinated with the appropriate Headquarters offices," he wrote.
Fygi continued: "It has always been the Department’s policy that any and all DOE employees are free to speak out, voice concerns, or lodge complaints without fear of retaliation, including with Congress."
Issa was unimpressed.
In an emailed statement to the Free Beacon, Issa said that "BPA employees have told committee staff--this week--that they still fear retaliation."
“These conversations speak for themselves,” he later added.
However, Fygi told Issa that BPA employees were reminded of their right to talk about their concerns with Congress in a "recent communication."
That claim directly contradicts claims made directly by BPA employees, who Issa says told the House Oversight Committee that their "chain of command" is preventing them from "providing more information to the committee."
The hearing on the BPA investigation, titled “Department of Energy’s Bonneville Power Administration: Discriminating Against Veterans and Retaliating Against Whistleblowers," is reportedly set for Thursday, August 1.
To read the Washington Free Beacon's full report, click here.