Board Orders Pentagon Official Fired For Punishing Whistleblower
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Defense Department’s top civilian auditor must be fired and two of his subordinates demoted for retaliating against Pentagon whistleblower George B. Spanton, the Merit Systems Protection Board ruled Thursday.
Spokesman Lon Anderson said it was the first time the board has ordered someone removed for retaliating against a fellow civil servant trying to expose waste, fraud or abuse.
″Today’s decision reinforces the significant protections which Congress provided for whistleblowers in the Civil Service Reform Act,″ Anderson said.
The board told the Pentagon to remove Charles O. Starrett Jr., director of the Defense Contract Audit Agency, and also fined him $1,000.
In addition, the panel ordered the Defense Department to demote Paul Evans, the DCAA’s Atlanta regional director,and Arlin Tueller, the Atlanta regional audit manager, to non-supervisory jobs. Both also were fined $500.
The decision overturned the recommendations of one of the board’s administrative law judges, Edward J. Reidy, who ruled last year there was not enough evidence to prove the three men were attempting to punish Spanton for his public disclosures of wrongdoing.
K. William O’Connor, the board’s special counsel, had accused the three men of trying to force Spanton to move from West Palm Beach, Fla., to the West Coast to punish him for talking to reporters and Pentagon investigators outside the DCAA.
At the Pentagon, Defense Department spokesman Jim Turner said, ″We have just received the (board’s) decision and are studying it and as yet we have no comment.″
Under federal law, the ruling may be appealed to the courts.
Reached at his home in West Palm Beach, Spanton, who retired on Jan. 1, 1984, said: ″It was worth the effort. I think the Defense Contract Audit Agency, which has a tremendous responsibility, will have to start performing the professional work they are being paid for.″
Spanton, resident auditor at Pratt & Whitney’s Government Products Division, had accused the company of trying to get the Pentagon to pay for improper entertainment expenses and for employee salary increases higher than average for other industries.
Pratt & Whitney, which makes jet engines, is a division of United Technologies Corp., a major defense contractor based in Hartford, Conn.
The company has repeatedly denied Spanton’s allegations.
Under DCAA rules, auditors are transferred regularly, but Spanton sought a waiver because he was nearing retirement.
Starrett turned him down March 11, 1983, a day after Spanton appeared on a segment of ABC-TV’s news magazine ″20-20″ dealing with high payments for military spare parts.
In ordering Starrett fired, the Merit Systems Protection Board said the top auditor told Spanton in a memo that one reason for the reassignment was the allegations the auditor had made to reporters.
″The memorandum is an admission that the allegations were a factor in Starrett’s decision,″ the board said. ″Moreover, it is clear that they were a significant factor in that decision.″
The board said it recommended that Starrett be removed, and that Evans and Tueller only be demoted because ″we find Starrett to be the most responsible. As head of DCAA, he bore a special obligation to prevent prohibited personnel practices throughout the agency.″
Spanton said he felt the punishment was appropriate.
″I think you need to clean house. You have to start with the head man. The policies have to be changed so these people recognize they work for the taxpayer,″ he said.
The board has not issued a ruling yet on the case of a fourth DCAA official, Deputy Director James R. Brown.
O’Connor had accused Brown of taking improper action against Spanton for filing an age discrimination complaint and for testifying on behalf of a friend in a civil service proceeding. The case against Brown was tried separately before Reidy because it did not relate specifically to ″whistleblowing.″