Patrick, 43, used to have one of the federal government’s more arcane jobs: driving nuclear materials around the country in unmarked convoys to support the nation’s weapons stockpile. He makes $47,000 a year. He is a former cop and Marine who rides a BMW motorcycle — and does not like bureaucracies too much.
After he broke the rules on driving government vehicles, he appealed a suspension, and his bosses tried to sack him. He fought back — and won.
That was more than four years ago. For three of them, Patrick has been paid to sit at home or sit at a desk doing nothing.
It has taken that long for his supervisors and top brass at the Energy Department to debate whether Patrick could continue in his job as a nuclear courier for the National Nuclear Security Administration.
They still haven’t decided.
Patrick’s story is one of dizzying accusations, counteraccusations, memos and appeals — of the “absurdities encountered by Alice during her mad tumble down the rabbit hole,” as the Office of Special Counsel, which investigates federal personnel decisions, put it.
Alice, of course, climbed out of the rabbit hole.
Patrick might have been wrong, but his bosses’ conduct was worse, the special counsel said in a ruling in August that concluded Energy officials violated Patrick’s rights to due process.
Energy officials told the special counsel that Patrick’s sensitive, high-security job justified their effort to push him out. But Secretary Steven Chu agreed to provide more protections for employees.
The trouble began in July 2007, when, on overnight rest during a courier trip in New Mexico, Patrick drove 340 miles without authorization to meet a friend for dinner. He was suspended for 30 days, a punishment his second-level supervisor called “serious overkill.”
He appealed to the Merit Systems Protection Board after telling his supervisor the trip was proper because other federal agents did the same thing. The board didn’t buy that. Around this time, he told the Energy inspector general that fellow couriers were drinking on the job, prompting an investigation. Patrick says these actions prompted his bosses to retaliate.
His certification to guard nuclear materials was revoked pending a review — making it impossible for Patrick to work as a courier.
A slew of psychological evaluations came next, 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 agency — and was suspended indefinitely following agency policy.
Patrick became an unpaid federal employee.
He returned from his post near a nuclear site in Oak Ridge, Tenn., to his home town near Canton, Ohio, rented an apartment and enrolled in community college under the G.I. bill.