It immediately riled Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), whose powerful House committee oversees operations. Issa has relentlessly investigated the investigation, questioning its accuracy and motivation. Lerner’s staff has turned over 25,000 pages of e-mails, memos and other documents that took her staff thousands of hours to unearth.
Issa, in a statement, said he has “seen some early good efforts” under Lerner’s leadership. But he expressed “substantial concern that the agency’s good-government mission is being tainted by improper political agendas.”
In response, said Lerner, “a lot of concerns were expressed about the agency under the previous special counsel. I have to live with that. I hope that over time the perception will change.”
So far, even some targets of whistleblowers say grudgingly that Lerner’s office is evenhanded. “When somebody’s accused of whistleblower reprisal, my sense is they’re being fair and reasonable with them,” said Bill Bransford, general counsel for the Senior Executive Service Association, which represents the government managers who often are accused of retaliating against whistleblowers.
Soon after she started, Lerner reassigned staff members to review a backlog of cases against whistleblowers — veterans hospital staff members reporting poor lab procedures, air traffic controllers claiming flight-pattern dangers — who were facing reprisals.
A Defense Department auditor demoted for blowing the whistle on her bosses about multibillion-dollar contracts being rubber-stamped to cut costs was exonerated. In November, the office got the panel that decides civil service law violations to reinstate the security clearance of a Marine Corps veteran punished for blaming top military officials for failing to speed the shipment of lifesaving vehicles to Iraq.
They were not as lucky with a scientist working for the Food and Drug Administration whose team found safety flaws with a mammography device to detect cancer and took them public.
The man was fired after poor evaluations, but the law exempts public health workers from whistleblower protections — an exemption Lerner calls “ridiculous.”
“If we don’t have a safe and secure channel in place, they have to go outside the system and use a source like WikiLeaks,” Lerner says.
As for the Dover scandal, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta was forced to retreat from his out-of-the-gate praise for the Air Force’s “thorough” probe and what he called “appropriate” discipline. He ordered top brass to reconsider whether tougher punishment against mortuary officials is warranted.
Meanwhile, Lerner is fighting for the mortuary workers who blew the whistle and were demoted.