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His Case Left in Limbo, OSHA Official Getting Paid Not to Do His Job

Bob Whitmore hasn't been allowed to do his job as director of OSHA's record- keeping group since he was placed on paid administrative leave in July 2007.
Bob Whitmore hasn't been allowed to do his job as director of OSHA's record- keeping group since he was placed on paid administrative leave in July 2007. (By Wendy Galietta -- The Washington Post)
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By Joe Davidson
Thursday, February 19, 2009

The image of the government bureaucrat who does nothing all day is offensive and unfair, except in the case of Bob Whitmore.

The Labor Department pays him $150,000 a year, and he doesn't do a thing -- literally nothing.

Whitmore, director of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's record-keeping group, wants to work, but he has not been allowed to since July 16, 2007. That's when he was placed on paid administrative leave. The reason, according to a memo sent to him that day from Keith Goddard, OSHA's director of evaluation and analysis, is "allegations of disruptive and intimidating behavior."

More on that later.

The immediate question is not about what Whitmore did or did not do. The issue is why is he getting paid so much for so long for doing nothing.

Agency officials should fire him if his behavior warrants it. If, however, they can't come to that conclusion, and evidently they have not, then put him back to work.

Since Whitmore isn't using his office, his colleagues eat lunch in the windowless room, number N3507, in the Labor Department's headquarters at 200 Constitution Ave. NW. Some of his papers have been boxed, but otherwise the small space awaits his return. Pictures of his daughters grace the walls, as do their childhood drawings. There are team pictures of the 1997 Baltimore Orioles and the 1999 Ravens. A Johns Hopkins Medical Center baseball cap and a blue cotton United Steelworkers shirt are on the coat rack.

Above his printer is a cutout of Kenny McCormick, from the animated "South Park" television series. "He's my hero," said Whitmore, 61, because Kenny might die one week but he's back the next.

The calendar says 2007.

Whitmore's case points to a lack of pertinent guidelines on administrative leave. "It appears that there are no government-wide rules or regulations addressing the permissible duration of administrative leave," said B. Chad Bungard, general counsel of the Merit Systems Protection Board.

But agency officials should not need regs to define common sense. Department policy says administrative leave should be "reasonable and brief." Whitmore's certainly has not been brief. If officials think it's reasonable, they won't say why because they are not allowed to discuss individual cases.

Goddard's memo, supplied by Whitmore, says he "will remain in a paid non-duty status pending completion of my review of this matter."


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