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FMCS director stepping down amid congressional probe

Nov. 27, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
By SEAN REILLY   |   Comments
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Federal mediator George Cohen (Brendan Smialowski / Getty Images)

George Cohen, the director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, will step down at the end of the year. .

While the agency is the subject of a recently launched congressional investigation stemming from a whistleblower’s allegations first reported by Federal Times, Cohen said Wednesday that there was no connection between that inquiry and his resignation, which he announced to his staff Monday and will take effect Dec. 31.

In a statement, Cohen said he had decided early this year to serve only through December after consulting with family and colleagues. Leaving at that point will coincide with his 80th birthday, some four years after he became the agency’s director, Cohen said, adding that he informally told the Obama administration of his decision early this month before getting notification of the House Oversight and Govenment Reform Committee inquiry.

As Federal Times reported in June, Berkina Porter, FMCS’ head of administrative services, charged that agency leaders sought to fire her for reporting abuse of purchase cards and other problems.

In a settlement reached earlier this year, the agency agreed to pay Porter $72,500, as well as keep her on the payroll for a year while she seeks another job. While Porter is pleased to see that management change is coming, “she believes that further inquiry and accountability must occur in order to protect the taxpayers’ interests,” her attorney, Kevin Owen, said Wednesday.

FMCS is an independent agency charged with helping to settle strikes and other labor disputes. Cohen had previously declined Federal Times’ request for an interview to discuss Porter’s allegations, but said in a June statement that the agency took “immediate actions” to address her concerns, including bringing an outside inspector general to conduct an investigation. That probe substantiated Porter’s allegations that agency employees had used purchase cards to circumvent internal controls and regular procurement channels.

Since the Federal Times story, the Washington Examiner, an online news outlet, has also examined Porter’s charges of mismanagement. In a Nov. 13 letter, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., the oversight committee’s chairrman, asked Cohen to turn over all documents related to the use of government purchase cards, along with records related to the employment status of Porter and several other individuals. There “appears to be a culture of waste and mismanagement at FMCS,” Issa wrote.

In his statement Wednesday, Cohen said the agency is “cooperating fully.”

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