A key United States intelligence whistleblower advocate, who worked in the Office of the Inspector General for the Intelligence Community (IG IC), was fired from his job by an ad-hoc board that was supported by no policy. One of the board members also had a substantial conflict of interest with the advocate.
April Stephenson, who was the acting inspector general for the Energy Department, was part of an executive review board that met in the IC IG’s office on January 12. The board fired Dan Meyer, the head of the Whistleblower and Source Protection Program for the office, after he allegedly committed two “security infractions,” including engaging in a “secret dialogue” with Congress. (Meyer learned of his removal in March.)
There is no directive that permits an ad-hoc board to be convened to fire an IG employee.
On October 26, 2009, Stephenson was fired from her job as Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA) director. A major part of the reason she was removed involved complaints made by Thi Le, a DCAA senior auditor, and other whistleblowers, who Meyer assisted. Stephenson and the leadership of DCAA were implicated in whistleblower retaliation against Thi Le that was sustained by the Office of Special Counsel (OSC).
Thi Le alleged supervisors approved “findings of compliance” for contractors, including Fluor, Parker Hannifin, and Interstate Electronics, that simply were not compliant with standards. Supervisors even changed or deleted findings of noncompliance.
Stephenson, along with Thi Le, appeared before the Senate Homeland Security committee on September 10, 2008, to testify about alleged corruption at the Pentagon’s auditing agency.
According to John Crane, a former Defense Department assistant inspector general, he was at the hearing and spoke to Stephenson about Meyer, Thi Lee, and how Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill was “concerned because there was extra pressure on [a] whistleblower because she had contacted Congress.”
Stephenson knew the person she was considering for removal handled whistleblowers that led to her firing nearly ten years ago. Regardless, she participated in the investigation of Meyer’s work helping whistleblowers contact Congress, which were a part of his official duties.
Crane supervised Meyer when he was the whistleblower ombudsman for the Defense Department. He also ran the Defense Department hotline for whistleblowers that received 22,000 contacts per year, according to him.
“This is the first time that a whistleblower advocate [was] removed [because] he was making whistleblower contacts with the Congress,” Crane stated.
Stephenson is currently the Principal Inspector General for the Energy Department. He maintained the fact that she is an inspector general is “bizarre.”
“This is a person who was removed in part because of whistleblower retaliation, and then to have that person subsequently become an inspector general, who [is] charged to ensure whistleblower retaliation doesn’t take place—that is not consistent,” Crane said.
In March, Meyer told the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) he remained uncertain about why he was fired. “Unfortunately, during the three months of hearings and appeals regarding my case, I was not permitted to see the materials serving as a basis for termination.”
Journalist Marisa Taylor reported on April 2, 2014, that the Pentagon inspector general attempted to suspend Meyer and revoke his access to top secret information because of his involvement in investigating the leak of information about the Osama bin Laden raid to “Zero Dark Thirty” filmmakers.
When the leak occurred, Meyer was the head of the Pentagon inspector general’s whistleblowing and transparency unit. “After he left, Meyer and other Pentagon inspector general employees were grilled about whether they leaked a draft of a report that concluded that former CIA Director Leon Panetta and the Defense Department’s top intelligence official disclosed sensitive information to the filmmakers,” according to Taylor.
Lynne Halbrooks was the acting Pentagon inspector general. In December 2011, Taylor reported, Halbrooks authorized an investigation into Panetta and Vickers. The report was sanitized to protect Panetta and Vickers, and in September 2012, Meyer accompanied one of Halbrooks’ staffers, who went to Capitol Hill to inform Congress that management was delaying an appropriate investigation until Panetta left office.
Crane made whistleblower disclosures to the Office of Special Counsel in February 2015, when he was the assistant inspector general for communications and congressional liaison at the Defense Department and oversaw the office’s whistleblower outreach program.
He alleged Halbrooks and OIG General Counsel Henry Shelley, between 2011 and 2014, directed an investigative team to depart from investigative practices, abruptly canceled scheduled subject interviews, improperly met with officials who were the subject of the investigation, removed key findings from a final report, and delayed the release of the report for improper reasons.
The OSC believed the allegations warranted investigation, but the allegations of misconduct were referred to a body empaneled under the Inspector General Act of 1978, and they chose not to investigate. OSC admitted this was an example of the “challenges OSC faces in addressing allegations of misconduct by inspectors general and their high-level employees.”
All of which raises questions about the inspectors general, whether they are doing their job under the Inspector General Act, as well as how they are failing to support the Whistleblower Protection Act.
“The inspectors general do not want their agencies to investigate them so they have turned themselves into these super-empowered stakeholders, and they have setup a system where they are the sole judges,” Crane contended. “They are the sole arbitrators, and yet they act without oversight. And the inspector general community will not allow oversight.”
“When you have this class of super-empowered federal employees that simply does not have to act according to the law because they have no accountability and no oversight, that’s a larger institutional problem for the federal government.”
Meyer’s firing continues to reverberate on Capitol Hill. Senators Ron Wyden and Chuck Grassley placed a “hold” on President Donald Trump’s nominee for general counsel at the Office of Director of National Intelligence. They are irate over Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats’ failure (or refusal) to provide documents on what happened with Meyer, and Wyden noted Meyer was fired at a time when the “acting leadership of the OIG” showed a lack of support for the “critical whistleblower protection mission of the office.”
Meanwhile, ODNI spokesperson Timothy Barrett insists all applicable laws and policies were followed in the firing of Meyer and any “allegations to the contrary are false.”