San Francisco

Federal Whistleblower Investigator Fired After Blowing the Whistle on His Own Agency

Former OSHA employee says he was fired as ‘retaliation’ for exposing problems in the Whistleblower Protection Program

A federal whistleblower investigator who put his career on the line to expose what he calls bureaucratic dysfunction has been fired, NBC Bay Area has learned.

Darrell Whitman, a former San Francisco-based investigator for the Whistleblower Protection Program administered by OSHA, claimed the agency failed to defend workers who faced retaliation for reporting illegal activity and public safety concerns.

"They got rid of the squeaky wheel," Whitman said.

He now views his own termination from OSHA as retaliation for raising red flags about the agency.

"I was going to report what I thought to be violations of law and policy," Whitman said. "They were going to have to answer to those reports and they didn’t like that."

In an interview with NBC Bay Area earlier this year, Whitman said he tried to warn OSHA leaders that his managers pressured investigators to close complaints without proper review to clear a backlog of cases. He also said his supervisor altered his reports by changing his conclusions and dismissed cases even when Whitman found they had merit.

Whitman wrote letters to OSHA leadership and to the U.S. Secretary of Labor, Thomas Perez.

"I had gone through every conceivable channel and what I saw was inaction," Whitman said.

In a Notice of Removal written in May, OSHA states it fired Whitman for six different reasons including "lack of candor during an investigatory meeting" and "unauthorized release of government documents."

"The real reason was that I appeared on [NBC Bay Area News]," Whitman said.

Whitman is now a complainant before the Office of Special Counsel, another government agency which protects federal employees from retaliation for whistleblowing. If he is successful, Whitman’s claim could result in a settlement with OSHA or include financial reinstatement.

Tom Devine, the legal director for the Government Accountability Project based in Washington D.C., is representing Whitman. Over the past three decades Devine has testified before Congress, helped pass whistleblower laws and assisted thousands of whistleblowers defend themselves against retaliation.

A critic of OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program, Devine believes Whitman’s allegations have merit.

"They ring true based on my own experience and based on complaints of lawyers who investigate whistleblowers," Devine said. "Then when we start hearing from people who are responsible to protect whistleblowers, it really strikes a chord."

OSHA declined to comment on Whitman’s situation because it is an ongoing personnel case. In an email, OSHA acknowledged problems with the Whistleblower Protection Program but said the agency is taking steps to improve the program.

Whitman risked, and lost, his job to expose what he calls OSHA’s failure to protect public health and safety. He says he hopes his story will lead the government to reform the Whistleblower Protection Program.

"It may be one of the most important programs in the federal government because it touches all of our lives in different ways," Whitman said.

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