Donley: Air Force Will Not Tolerate Wrongdoing
By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 16, 2012 The Air Force will not tolerate wrongdoing, Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley said in a statement today in response to a report by the independent Office of Special Counsel.
The investigative report, released today but presented to the Air Force in late January, found that Air Force officials at Dover Port Mortuary, Del., retaliated against mortuary employees who disclosed wrongdoing there.
"The Air Force will not tolerate wrongdoing, especially prohibited personnel practices, by employees,” Donley said. “We continue to work closely with the Office of Special Counsel in addressing this issue.”
Incidents of mishandling remains at Dover were reported by staff members and investigated in 2010 by the Army Inspector General, the Air Force Inspector General and the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.
At the time, the Air Force investigation found that some remains were not handled according to official procedures, and the mortuary leadership implemented corrective actions, including improvements in accountability, processes and procedures, record keeping and human and labor relations.
As a result of the investigation, in 2010 the mortuary commander received a letter of reprimand and two civilian employees were demoted and shifted to nonsupervisory jobs.
At a Nov. 10 news conference, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta noted concerns about this disciplinary action and other matters that were raised in a report by the Office of Special Counsel.
In light of the OSC report, Panetta said, he wanted to make sure the 2010 disciplinary actions were appropriate and that no management reprisals were taken at Dover against four employees who first reported the mishandling of remains.
In today’s statement, Donley said the Air Force has reviewed the OSC report of reprisals taken against the whistleblowers. Disciplinary proceedings have been initiated, he said, and all decisions should be complete by mid- to late-April.
"We are reviewing all training materials with supervisors and employees to ensure people understand the rights of whistleblowers,” Donley said.
“We are committed to a workplace climate that makes individuals feel confident that they can raise any concerns they may have, that those concerns will be taken seriously, and that those raising the concerns will be treated with respect and appreciation,” the Air Force secretary added.
The whistleblowers, he said, performed an important service to the Air Force and the nation. They continue in their positions and the Air Force is working with OSC to correct their records.
"In the meantime,” Donley said, “we are implementing the recommendations of the Defense Health Board subcommittee to assure the very highest standard of care for our fallen and their families. We are proud of the employees at AFMAO and their continued commitment to this mission."
Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner said the Air Force has committed to improving its internal investigation procedures and the way it remedies whistleblower retaliation claims.
“I am pleased the Air Force has agreed to take further disciplinary action and institute training to prevent whistleblower retaliation in the future,” Lerner said.
“The Port Mortuary whistleblowers,” she added, “ … courageously stepped forward to report malfeasance and misconduct in the care of our fallen service members.”
Their actions, Lerner said, “have resulted in significant improvements at the mortuary.”