- WASHINGTON - In a remarkable, videotaped deposition to air Thursday in federal
court, former Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary says workers who expose flaws
at nuclear weapons plants and labs regularly are harassed and undermined
by their bosses.
- There "has been a practice of repeated
and long-term reprisal that visits (a whistle-blower) in the place he or
she is most vulnerable" by "questioning the employee's competence,"
- Federal law bars retaliation against
whistle-blowers, and the Department of Energy and its contractors face
a spate of suits alleging violations.
- O'Leary's testimony, obtained by USA
TODAY, has implications beyond the case for which it was given - a suit
by Joseph Carson, a DOE safety inspector who says his career was ruined
by raising concerns about the Oak Ridge nuclear weapons site in Tennessee.
- O'Leary's testimony offers high-level
corroboration for whistle-blowers' complaints.
- "This takes the genie out of the
bottle," says Robert Seldon, Carson's lawyer, of Project LAW, a group
that represents whistle-blowers. "You've got a Cabinet secretary testifying
under oath that the DOE . . . systematically violates the rights of its
employees. This testimony could be used in every whistle-blower case against
- It is rare for a former Cabinet secretary
to testify against his or her own agency.
- Carson says DOE managers cut his duties
and ordered his transfer after he alleged, among other things, that a worker
was crushed by an illegal hoist and a welder died unnecessarily in a fire.
- The DOE says Carson is a disgruntled
worker who was properly disciplined for violating reporting procedures
and harassing colleagues.
- O'Leary, Energy secretary from 1993-96,
initiated reforms to protect whistle-blowers.
- DOE officials say they've made great
progress in addressing a culture of reprisal.
- But O'Leary, in an interview, says problems
remain. "These are important issues that deserve the light of day,"
she says of her testimony. "The old way, I suspect, is slipping back."