Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Chill Wind for Metro Whistleblowers

From CS:
If ever an organization needed strong whistleblower protection, it’s Metro. At substantial risk to themselves, whistleblowers buck the system, attempting to bring to light waste, fraud, safety violations, mismanagement, and other abuse. Metro itself has recognized the value of whistleblowers, with a whistleblower rights policy that includes purported protections against retaliation for those who speak up. This policy was strengthened in the wake of the 2009 Ft. Totten crash when investigators discovered a culture of retaliation against Metro employees who tried to speak up about potential safety concerns.

Unfortunately, as recent release of Metro documents reveals, a major whistleblower protection is turning out to be pretty toothless. Which is a shame, because it makes it all the harder for would-be whistleblowers to try to call attention to the wrongs they encounter. And as we know too well, Metro has plenty of unsavory practices that could bear some sunlight., which proclaims its mission as “rummaging in the government’s attic,” obtained copies of the decisions by Metro’s Whistleblower Retaliation Hearing Panel. This is a trio of senior Metro executives, which hears cases of alleged retaliation against Metro whistleblowers.

The documents cover six cases back to November 2010. Although Metro has committed itself to full investigation of problems and protection of employees from retaliation, the documents show the review panel hasn’t exactly been breaking a sweat to get to the bottom of things. The documents show the panel has made minimal independent investigation of cases; for example, deciding to forgo investigation of incidents with those complaining or their supervisors.

In addition to that relaxed approach, the panel has also done scarcely anything to explain the thinking behind its decisions. (Assuming there is any thinking.) It’s important to lay things out, because only in seeing how the panel weighs evidence can would-be whistleblowers evaluate how much protection they’ll get – or not. Put simply, to see what flies and what doesn’t.

Customarily, legal decisions state the rule at issue in a case, present the facts and evidence considered, and then provide a line of reasoning based on things like precedent and case law that allow parties to see how a decision was reached.

What the panel’s decisions do instead is summarily state the outcome and leave it at that. They barely break half a page each. Thus, they’re of no use to anyone trying to gauge when it’s worth laying their career on the line. Any law student would flunk if they turned in work like this. (It’s possible the decisions could be short case summaries, but they are not described that way in the documents released. They are described as the “written decision(s)” of the review panel.)

Put it all together, and the message is pretty plain: Whistleblowers, we don’t have your back.

Whistleblowers take tremendous risks from the start, and the panel is supposed to be the last line of defense against unjust retaliation. But with friends like this, it’s easy to see why whistleblowers would feel an even bigger chill as they weigh whether to step forward.

That’s bad for the employees, but even worse for the agency and the traveling public.
Other items: 
Metro screw ups lead to cell phone delays (Examiner)
Metro paid $35,000 in legal fees over controversial ads (Legal Times)
More details on Woodley Park stabbing (Examiner)
MindMixer site gets trolled, Metro picks up ball and goes home (FixWMATA)
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