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Federal Eye
Posted at 09:00 AM ET, 03/21/2012

Idled nuclear driver for government still collecting paycheck

Stephen Patrick, a nuclear courier who has collected a federal paycheck but not worked for much of the last four-and-a-half years, is still idle, five months after the Post reported on his fight for his job.


Patrick is technically still employed by the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration, where was hired in 2006 to drive nuclear materials around the country to support the U.S. weapons stockpile.

In 2007, Patrick broke the rules on overnight rest during a trip to New Mexico and drove a government vehicle beyond the distance allowed under agency policy.

He was suspended for 30 days and appealed, triggering a bureaucratic odyssey that has pitted him and the Office of Special Counsel against his Energy Department bosses, who, documents show, tried to fire him and twice offered him money to quit, he says.

“There’s still no decision,” Patrick said recently from his hometown near Canton, Ohio. A former Marine, he returned there in January 2011 to pursue an associate’s degree under the G.I. bill, which still collecting his $47,000-a-year salary.

“It’s a travesty,” he said. “People here at school can’t believe I’m going to school and collecting my paycheck.”

Nuclear agency spokesman Joshua McConaha declined to comment.

After Patrick appealed his suspension on the car violation, his long limbo began, as his bosses weighed whether he should continue in his driving job.

About this time, he told the Energy inspector general that fellow couriers were drinking on the job. An investigation followed. Patrick says his claims — and his appeal of the car-rule suspension — prompted his bosses to retaliate.

His certification to guard nuclear materials was revoked pending a review — making it impossible for Patrick to work. Then came a slew of psychological evaluations, with one contradicting the next, records show. His supervisors called him a difficult employee who had not shown remorse for misusing the car.

He took his case to an appeals board in the Energy agency — and was suspended indefinitely.

He was off the payroll for 13 months. Since then, he has been paid not to come to work while Energy officials held hearings, ordered him back to work, required him to be recertified, then told him he could not be recertified. Patrick appealed every action.

The Office of Special Counsel, which investigates retaliation against whistleblowers, concluded in a lengthy report last summer that the government violated federal personnel rules by imposing lengthy suspensions on Patrick with no resolution.

The Energy Department held another hearing last Oct. 31 to determine his status. Patrick says he has still heard nothing.

By  |  09:00 AM ET, 03/21/2012

 
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