Washington, DC — U.S. Park Police Chief Teresa Chambers today petitioned the U.S. Office of Special Counsel to reinstate her immediately, according to legal filings released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
In her request for emergency intervention, Chambers’ lawyers argue that actions taken to prevent her from communicating with Congress or the media violate several federal laws and the First Amendment. The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) oversees compliance with federal civil service rules. OSC can ask the Department of Interior, the parent agency for the National Park Service, to “stay” any action against Chief Chambers pending an independent review by OSC. If the Department of Interior refuses the request for a voluntary stay, OSC can seek an order from the Merit Systems Protection Board, the civil service appeal body, to force reinstatement.
As part of the filing, Chief Chambers counsel points to laws protecting communication with Congress and its staff; several of the allegations lodged by Deputy Parks Director Don Murphy concern Chief Chambers providing information to Congress. To enforce this protection, Congress requires forfeiture of the salary of any official who “reassigns, transfers, disciplines, or discriminates in regard to employment right…by reason of any communication or contact with any Member, committee, or subcommittee of Congress.” In this case, the salary of Deputy Director Don Murphy would be returned to the taxpayers.
In addition, a supporting legal brief, composed by the Government Accountability Project, a non-profit whistleblower law firm, invokes federal whistleblower protection laws safeguarding any employee who discloses “a substantial and specific danger to public health and safety,” such as Chief Chambers’ expression of concern about dangerously low levels of Park Police staffing on expressways and parks in the Washington metropolitan area.
Scott Bloch is the newly confirmed Special Counsel appointed by President George W. Bush. The Chambers case will be the first high-profile decision that Bloch will have to make.
“The actions taken against Chief Chambers make a mockery of the merit system,” commented PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that Chief Chambers has been on administrative leave for more than seven weeks under orders not to grant any interviews. “How the Special Counsel handles this petition by Chief Chambers will send a message to all federal employees as to whether the new Special Counsel intends to be an active advocate for whistleblowers.”
Read the legal memo outlining the illegality of the “gag orders” issued against Chief Chambers