Jay Solomon, administrator of the General Services Administration, announced yesterday that he had reinstated two GSA employes who had been fired after they complained about what they considered illegal and improper agency contract awards.
Solomon also announced that two other employes who had been demoted and whose pay had been cut after they criticized GSA procedures will be restored to their original seniority and pay levels.
"We want an atmosphere where employes can come forward within the system and speak freely to help us bring needed improvement to Gsa," said Solomon, whose agency is the focus of two Justice Department probes into corrupt contracting practices.
Solomon also pledged "to take action against those who try to curb this openness." He added he believed the action represents the first voluntary reinstatement of "whistleblowers" by a government agency.
In another action aimed at curbing abuses within the massive $5 billion-a-year federal agency, which is responsible for supplying office space and supplies to government workers, Solomon canceled a $9 million contract awarded by GSA last week to Art Metal Inc.
Art Metal, a Newark, N.J., manufacturer, has been GSA's primary supplier of metal desks, filing cabinets and bookcases for years. A July 3 Washington Post article described how Art Metal, which sells almost exclusively to GSA, repeatedly wins contract awards by bidding low and then providing furniture that fails to meet government specifications.
Art Metal products manufactured for GSA have in the past arrived from the factory with rusty or peeling finishes and locks that do not work, The Post found.
Solomon, who was reportedly upset that his agency continued to deal with Art Metal in the wake of The Post's stories about the company and its products, invoked a government procurement regulation that allowed the GSA to cancel the contract at the "convenience" of the government.
GSA had previously taken the position that it could do nothing to prevent Art Metal from obtaining contracts so long as it was the low bidder.
Solomon's actions concerning "whitleblowers" involved:
Robert J. Tucker, an employe of GSA's Boston region, who was fired after he alleged to the FBI that GSA construction contract awards were riddled with collusion, fraud, and favoritism;
Robert F. Sullivan, a GSA investigator who provided The Boston Globe with a GSA audit report substantiating some of Tucker's claims. Sullivan, assigned to review the case, had decided that the abuses would continue if they were not made public;
Wilton F. Shearin, a GSA construction engineer who was removed as a supervisor over construction of a federal building in Honolulu after he complained that the contractor was receiving excessive payments from GSA.
Albert F. Petrillo, a GSA personnel officer who resigned after he refused to obey an order from Robert T. Grfifin former GSA deputy administrator that he had perceived as illegal. Griffin was recently ousted as Solomon's chief deputy.
In testimony before the Civil Service Commission, Petrillo quoted Griffin as telling him that he wanted Petrillo to demote William A. Clinkscales Jr., GSA's chief internal investigator, because Clinkscales was "too aggressive in some of his investigations and actions."
He said Griffin spoke approvingly of Clinscales' boss, Robert E. Reeb, as being more "wishy-washy."
After refusing to move Clinkscales from his position on the grounds the action would violate personnel regulations. Petrillo resigned from GSA. He was later reinstated by Griffin at a lower pay rate after he filed suit against GSA.
Griffin, in an affidavit, has denied he ever made such remarks to Petrillo. He said he only wanted to reorganize Clinkscales' office and did not even know the internal investigator would be affected.
Each of the employes cited by Solomon will be given a salary level at least equal to their former pay rates.