AMAZING TALES Of The Obama Administration Ethics Train Wreck: The Whistleblower Protection Agency That Punished Its Own Whistleblower

whistleblower_From the Ethics Alarms mail bag: A commenter asks, “Is there any department, agency or bureau of the executive branch that hasn’t become thoroughly corrupted during the regime of Obama?”

I don’t know, but I suspect not, and this AMAZING TALE supports that conclusion.

The Merit Systems Protection Board is a personnel court of last resort for federal employees who claim that they were unjustly fired, demoted, discriminated against or punished for bucking cultures of corruption in government departments and agencies and revealing, reporting or addressing misconduct by administrators and managers. It’s an agency that exists to bolster courage, integrity, transparency fairness and justice in government, so one would assume that the MSPB would either be as popular in this administration as a toothache, or, in the alternative, so corrupted by the culture emanating from this White House that it cannot be trusted any more than any other agency comfortably seated on board the Obama Administration Ethics Train Wreck.

Here is a clue as to which:

In 2013, MSPB employee Timothy Korb presented data at a staff meeting  that revealed his agency’s shocking backlog of pending cases and the inexplicable amounts of time it was taking MSPB to adjudicate them. His boss was so grateful for his efforts to improve the functioning of the Board and its vital role in keeping other agencies honest (you know, like the Veterans Administration) that he moved to suspend Korb without pay for 21 days and removed some  of his key duties, in essence demoting him. The suspension threat was never executed, but it doesn’t matter: that’s still intimidation.

Korb is an attorney and active union member, however, and didn’t accept his fate meekly as loyal incompetence-and-corruption-enabling Obama agency employees are supposed to do. He sued, bringing Timothy L. Korb v. Merit Systems Protections Board TO the Merit Systems Protections Board, appealing to his own agency to decide, impartially, whether the supervisors in that same agency had retaliated against him for blowing the whistle on the agency deciding the case.

Got that?

To avoid a conflict of interest, an administrative judge was brought in from the U.S. Coast Guard—the judge may have been at sea for the last seven years and perhaps hadn’t had his ethics vaporized yet– to hear his case. He  ruled that the MSPB board had indeed suspended Korb and reduced his job duties in retaliation for whistleblowing, an activity protected by federal law—one, in fact, that the agency doing the retaliating is in existence to uphold.

“The Agency was required to prove by clear and convincing evidence that it would have taken the same personnel action in the absence of any protected activity or disclosure,” Administrative Law Judge George Jordan wrote. “It has not done so.”

Korb, who works in the office that reviews appeals of administrative judges’ rulings, will get damages and will resume his previous duties. As with most whistleblowers in places that need whistles blown, he will be miserable and a pariah, and probably won’t last a year. Trying to stave off this likely result, Korb’s attorney, Stu Miller, who was an administrative judge for the merit board for 20 years, raising its own conflict of interest problems (I’m using this case in my next government lawyer ethics course for the D.C. Bar. Gold!) made this ridiculous statement:

“There’s going to be a rush to condemn the agency,when in fact the condemnation is more appropriately placed on the leadership of the agency, not the agency itself. No one stepped in to tell the mid-level managers, ‘What you’re doing is wrong.”

Someone explain to Miller (though I am sure that he knows) that agencies are never good, bad, competent or incompetent, their leaders are, and when they are, that makes the agencies the same. Also explain that if  the leaders of a pro-whistleblowing agency have to step in and tell mid-level managers that punishing whistleblowers is wrong, then the whole agency needs to be dismantled and re-staffed.

His statement is roughly as much sense as saying, “People will want to claim that the Boston Red Sox stunk this year, but the truth is that only their players did.”

A few final observations:

How can whistleblowers from other agencies trust that their cases will be handled fairly by the pro-whistleblower agency when it punishes its own whistleblower? They can’t.

Let’s see if the MSPB head and others responsible for this disgraceful hypocrisy are sacked. In an ethical culture, they would have been already. My guess is that they won’t be. Agencies didn’t get this bold about blatantly unethical conduct without receiving the message loudly and clearly that there is no accountability in the Obama Administration, starting at the tippity-top. This is especially true when one considers the Administration’s well-documented hostility to whistleblowers.

—I once gave an ethics seminar to the Merit Systems Protections Board, but that was before the Obama years.


Spark: Steven M. Pilling

Source: Washington Post


5 thoughts on “AMAZING TALES Of The Obama Administration Ethics Train Wreck: The Whistleblower Protection Agency That Punished Its Own Whistleblower

  1. Every time I think that I couldn’t possibly have a lower opinion of Obama and his administration, I am proven wrong. Will this nightmare ever end? Or will Hillary come in and make it worse? Or is making it worse even possible? Carter, who was president the last time I was afraid the flag was going to change, was merely (as if anything connected to the presidency could be mere) inept,as opposed to this administration which is thoroughly and completely corrupt. The only thing that hasn’t happened yet, or at least that I haven’t heard about, is taking bribes.

  2. This is another who watches the watchers tale. And the final answer is always the same: The Citizens have to watch the watchers. But we don’t care or we’re just involved in organizations just like this.

  3. This MSPB story is sad but at least Timothy Korb gets damages and reinstatement and can sleep in his own bed at night. Hopefully there will be management changes. Far more significant is the Edward Snowden case, so well covered in the “Joint Letter to President Obama Regarding Whistleblower Protections for Intelligence Community Contractors” which is linked from the main post (click on “well documented hostility to whistleblowers”) – thanks. This surely deserves a blast of support from ‘ethicsalarm’, far more so than the Timothy Korb case.

    • Snowden wasn’t a whistleblower any more than Bradley Manning, and she wasn’t either. Disagreeing with US intelligence power and exposing it to the world is closer to treason than whistleblowing.

      • The only legitimate, protected form of whistleblowing that allows one with a security clearance to reveal classified information is when the secrecy of classification is being used to hide criminal activity.


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