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Awaiting Answers from DOE IG on Whistleblower’s Accusations

A few months ago, the Project On Government Oversight highlighted the story of Dr. James Doyle to show the murky classification procedures and subpar whistleblower handling at the Department of Energy (DOE). Dr. Doyle was a 17-year contract employee with Los Alamos National Security, LLC (LANS) who found himself stripped of his security clearance and terminated from his job shortly after he published an article in early 2013 arguing the benefits of getting rid of nuclear weapon stockpiles. His story attracted the attention of the media and other concerned organizations, and sparked a conversation about academic debate, whistleblowers, and classification guidelines.

While the DOE ultimately denied Dr. Doyle’s attempts to appeal his termination, the Undersecretary for Nuclear Security, Frank Klotz, promised that the Inspector General would investigate the circumstances surrounding the termination as well as the alleged ambiguities of the classification procedures at the center of the allegations. In September, POGO and seventeen other interested organizations and individuals sent a letter to DOE Secretary Moniz and Inspector General (IG) Friedman. We expressed our disappointment in the way DOE handled Doyle’s appeals and encouraged the IG to include in his investigation whether the classification procedures were intentionally misapplied to stifle dissenting opinions. Although this investigation was promised two months ago, neither Dr. Doyle nor his lawyer has heard anything from the IG’s office.

Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) is also concerned about the delay. He sent a letter to Moniz pointing out that that this story shows a continuation of the “troubling trend of DOE contractors retaliating against whistleblowers.” Markey made a few recommendations for Friedman’s investigation and urged a quick resolution. He strongly suggested that the investigation include a look into the apparent lack of consistency in classification procedures that resulted in contradictory decisions between DOE and its contractors. Markey concludes with a call to consider ways to ensure that this case does not perpetuate a fear of retaliation among DOE employees and contractors.

The issues underlying Dr. Doyle’s story are significant and it is important that we do not let these accusations go unanswered. If DOE is purposefully misapplying classification procedures to steer the political conversation, this practice must stop. If the classification guidelines are simply inadequate to give proper guidance to classification officers, then they must be changed. If DOE is abusing its power to discredit, silence, and fire whistleblowers, then the leadership must be held accountable. However, we won’t know the answers to any of these questions without a thorough investigation by the Inspector General.

By: Elizabeth "Liz" Hempowicz
Policy Counsel, POGO

Photograph of Elizabeth Liz Hempowicz is Policy Counsel for the Project On Government Oversight.

Topics: Whistleblower Protections

Related Content: Inspector General Oversight, Los Alamos National Lab, Overclassification

Authors: Elizabeth "Liz" Hempowicz

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