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AF mortuary whistle-blowers retaliated against, Special Counsel finds

Jan. 31, 2012 - 06:00AM   |  
By ANDY MEDICI   |   Comments
An Army carry team carries out a transfer case at Dover Air Force Base, Del. An Office of Special Counsel report found that the Air Force improperly retaliated against four Dover civilian employees for revealing the mishandling of remains a the mortuary.
An Army carry team carries out a transfer case at Dover Air Force Base, Del. An Office of Special Counsel report found that the Air Force improperly retaliated against four Dover civilian employees for revealing the mishandling of remains a the mortuary. (Yuri Gripas / AFP via Getty Images)

The Air Force improperly retaliated against four civilian employees at Dover Air Force Base, Del., for revealing the mishandling of remains at the military mortuary there, according to an Office of Special Counsel report.

OSC said it may seek disciplinary action against three officials it said engaged in prohibited retaliatory activities against the whistle-blowers if the Air Force does not respond forcefully to the allegations.

The whistleblowers claimed they were improperly placed on leave, suspended or terminated for revealing the wrongdoing, according to OSC. Disciplinary action could include official reprimands, demotions, suspensions and even terminations, according to the OSC.

Any decision to discipline an active-duty Air Force official involved in the retaliation would be made by the Air Force, while the two civilians could be disciplined by the Merit Systems Protection Board.

In a November report, the OSC revealed that the remains of two F-15 crew members were lost at the Dover mortuary and a Marine's left arm was sawed off to fit into a military uniform without the family's consent, among other allegations. Four civilian employees at Dover informed the OSC of these problems .

Neither the Air Force officials who allegedly retaliated against the whistle-blowers nor the whistle-blowers were identified by OSC.

Air Force Secretary Michael Donley said in a statement Tuesday there is no place for whistle-blower retaliation in the Air Force.

"It is my intention to review this assessment, along with any actions taken based on the OSC reprisal investigation, and provide the Secretary of Defense with a final report on all disciplinary actions," Donley said.

If the OSC finds the Air Force response "insufficient or unreasonable," it can pursue disciplinary action against two civilian officials before the Merit Systems Protection Board. The third official is active-duty military, so OSC can only recommend that the Air Force discipline the official.

The whistle-blowers showed courage in coming forward, Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner said in a news release.

"We expect the Air Force will now take appropriate steps to discipline the wrongdoers and deter future acts of retaliation," she said.

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