U.S. Office of Special Counsel announces corrective and disciplinary action settlement – February 23, 2000

U.S. Office of Special Counsel announces corrective and disciplinary action settlement in whistleblower retaliation case concerning public safety

U.S. Office of Special Counsel

Washington, D.C.
February 23, 2000

office-special-counsel-logo U.S. Office of Special Counsel transmits report of investigation in response to whistleblowers’ allegations of tour boat safety concerns at Crater lake National Park, Oregon

For Immediate Release – 2/23/00

Contact: Jane McFarland

(202) 653-7984

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) today transmitted to President Clinton and the Congress, an investigative report from the Department of the Interior, National Park Service (NPS), into whistleblower allegations of violations of law, rule, or regulation and a substantial and specific danger to public safety at Crater Lake National Park (Crater Lake), Oregon.

The Interior Department/NPS investigation was triggered by a disclosure made to the OSC by Stephen L. Robinson and Amelia E. Bruno, seasonal employees with the NPS at Crater Lake. They alleged that since at least 1992, a boat tour operation at Crater Lake, run by a private company under contract with the NPS, and staffed by NPS employees and Rangers, was fraught with safety hazards and violations of marine laws. Their concerns included insufficient training and lack of Coast Guard Certification for boat operators, lack of safety equipment, unreliability of boat engines and dangerous operation of boats in inclement weather.

The OSC found that Mr. Robinson’s and Ms. Bruno’s disclosures demonstrated a substantial likelihood of violations of law and specific danger to public safety, and forwarded the allegations to the Interior Department, directing it to conduct an investigation and provide a written report.

The Interior Department/NPS report is a thorough and careful response to the specific allegations made by Mr. Robinson and Ms. Bruno, and to their overall concerns about the safety of the boat tours on Crater Lake. The report concluded that there were legitimate safety concerns regarding the boat tour operations at Crater Lake prior to 1996, but that since 1996, the safety of the boat operations has improved markedly, particularly with the involvement of the U.S. Coast Guard in the inspection and certification of the tour boats and boat operations, in improved training, and in upgrades to the maintenance of the boats.

Although no violations of law, rule, or regulation were found, the Interior Department/NPS report concluded that there is inconsistent policy guidance on the scope of the applicable NPS boating regulations. The agency proposes to remedy the NPS policy inconsistency through the work of the NPS Boating Regulations Task Force, a national task force convened in 1997 to update NPS boating regulations. The Task Force is slated to reconvene in the spring of this year.

Based on its findings, the Interior Department/NPS has represented that it has and will continue to commit appropriate resources to immediate improvements in the tour boat program at Crater Lake, including revisions to written standard protocols for safety, boat operations, staff training, and weather communications, and continued involvement of the U.S. Coast Guard in annual boat inspections and certifications. The report also identifies long-range plans for the enhancement of safety and enjoyment at Crater Lake, including the acquisition of new vessels utilizing alternative fuel technologies that would provide increased protection for water quality.

Among its other functions, the Office of Special Counsel provides federal employees with a secure channel for blowing the whistle on violations of law, rule or regulation, gross mismanagement or waste of funds, an abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public health and safety. The OSC is empowered to require agencies to conduct investigations whenever it finds a substantial likelihood that a federal employee’s disclosures demonstrate the existence of one of these conditions, and to report back to the OSC its findings along with any corrective action taken. After the OSC reviews the report to insure that it contains the necessary information and that its findings appear reasonable, the OSC transmits the report to the President and the Congress for further action, if appropriate.

Copies of the Interior Department/NPS report, Mr. Robinson’s and Ms. Bruno’s comments, and Special Counsel Elaine Kaplan’s transmittal letter can be obtained by contacting the OSC.