A Metro employee was laid off for serving as a whistleblower regarding a troubled technology project, according to the transit agency's own findings.
The case of the information technology employee was one of seven that a new Metro panel has looked into for potential whistleblower retaliation in the past two years, the transit agency said Monday. It was the only case the agency agrees violated its whistleblower protections since the panel was formed in 2010.
Public records obtained by Government Attic, a nonprofit website that publishes government documents, show the review panel found that the worker's cooperation with the agency's inspector general auditors was "at least a contributing factor" in the termination of the worker in February 2010.
The worker had helped with a Metro inspector general report released in October 2009 that detailed massive problems with a $6.9 million information technology project to fix problems with Metro's PeopleSoft software. The project failed to finish on time or within budget, according to the inspector general.
The whistleblower retaliation panel did not give the employee his job back but instead ruled that the worker is a "capable person" who should be given "preferred consideration" for openings that the person was qualified for and that the application should be given "full and fair consideration."
Metro changed its policies for whistleblowers in 2010, after harsh criticism in the wake of the deadly June 2009 Fort Totten crash. Investigations into the crash exposed a culture of fear and retaliation within the agency, in which workers were hesitant to report safety issues or other problems.
Under the reforms, Metro established a panel of top executives to determine whether whistleblowers were retaliated against for reporting problems at the agency. The agency's inspector general now investigates reports of retaliation, then refers them to the panel, which has been made up of the chief of staff, the human resources' head and the agency's top attorney. That panel reviews the evidence, then can impose potential remedies.
The finding of retaliation in the 2010 case highlights yet another problem associated with a string of related technology contracts handled by the agency to work out problems with its $48 million PeopleSoft software. The inspector general has conducted at least three investigations into it or related projects. The latest contract was found to violate federal rules and is now being investigated by the U.S. Department of Transportation's inspector general.