A scientist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claims the agency cut his staff and denied him raises after he revealed that the CDC misspent more than $8 million in federal funds and misled Congress to conceal the diversion.
William C. Reeves, a branch chief of the CDC's National Center for Infectious Diseases in Atlanta, has filed a complaint charging the federal agency with violating the 1989 Whistleblower Protection Act. Reeves is asking the Office of Special Counsel to back his effort to cleanse his personnel record, restore staffing levels in the programs he oversees and win $300,000 in damages.
Reeves, at the CDC since 1989, shook the agency last year when he charged that it secretly diverted money Congress had appropriated for research into chronic fatigue syndrome and spent it on other programs. An inspector general's investigation confirmed in a report released in May that as much as $12.9 million approved for fighting the little-understood but debilitating disease was misspent or undocumented. The IG also said the CDC gave false information to Congress about where the money went.
Although the CDC's director has authority to shift funds among the agency's many programs, federal law prohibits lying to Congress. The CDC's misstatements angered some legislators and elicited an apology from CDC Director Jeffrey P. Koplan, who has not identified who was responsible.
A spokeswoman said earlier this week that no one at the agency had seen Reeves's complaint, so there would be no immediate response from Koplan or other CDC officials.
"If he has taken this into the legal arena, we should leave it there and shouldn't comment on a continuing investigation," said CDC's Barbara Reynolds.
Reeves oversees the chronic fatigue syndrome program as chief of the viral exanthems and herpesvirus branch of the National Center for Infectious Diseases. The center is part of the CDC, which is overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Reeves contends that since he began raising questions about the budget in early 1997, he has been given less favorable job evaluations, denied pay raises and received an undeserved formal reprimand. CDC managers also allegedly blocked his efforts to fill a key supervisory position on a virus research team.
He blames the retaliation on Brian Mahy, director of the Division of Viral and Rickettsial Diseases, and on James Hughes, who is Mahy's supervisor and director of the National Center for Infectious Diseases. Neither Mahy or Hughes responded to messages left Monday at their offices in Atlanta.
"Dr. Hughes has supported Dr. Mahy's retaliatory personnel actions and failed to take any corrective action," Reeves wrote in his complaint, filed July 20. "By doing so, he ratified the misconduct and continued perjurious reporting to Congress as to how the funds were used."
During his first six years at the CDC, Reeves said, he consistently received outstanding job performance ratings. But after he began raising questions about funding for the chronic fatigue syndrome program, Reeves said, Mahy called him into his office and abruptly issued a formal reprimand.
"I was shocked, since I had absolutely no warning that the issues in the reprimand existed," Reeves wrote. "Many of the allegations were misstated or untrue."
One allegation claimed that Reeves's co-workers had complained that Reeves intimidated them and was uninterested in some programs that he supervised.
In the following months, he said, Mahy gave him a poor job evaluation. Reeves filed a formal grievance challenging the rating, and a few weeks later circulated a memo alleging that the chronic fatigue program had been shorted on funding. Four months later, Mahy gave Reeves a job rating of "below acceptable" in professionalism.
Their relationship continued to deteriorate through July 1998, Reeves said, when he met with congressional staffers and auditors from the IG office at HHS.
Congress's investigative arm, the General Accounting Office, has since launched its own review.