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Watchdog: Follow the Money

Part Five: Wounded vet blew whistle on FMCS, rewarded with pink slip, harassment

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Last in a five-part Washington Examiner series, "Just Sign Here: Federal Workers Max Out at Taxpayer Expense." See the entire series -- and FMCS workers' salaries -- at this link.

Weeks after Tanya Pelcher-Herring told oversight bodies that the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service was breaking federal contracting rules and wasting tax dollars, the agency terminated her employment for not reporting to work.

Pelcher-Herring has one Ph.D. and a second in progress. She’s brave, enlisting in the Army with her husband, dealing with his death and sustaining her own respiratory injuries that make it impossible for her to speak some days, and on others, difficult just to breath.

But standing in front of the nine-story FMCS building in Washington, she can neither bear the way she was cast aside, nor comprehend how a bureaucratic culture of excess has gone on uninterrupted so long at an agency of which few Americans have ever heard.

The 230-person agency with a $50 million budget has “taken the phrase 'independent' in ‘independent small agency’ out of context to mean you can do whatever you want with no oversight,” she said.

It didn’t take long after Pelcher-Herring began working at the agency as a contracting officer in 2011 to notice some of the irregularities that the Washington Examiner has documented.

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Federal Workers Max Out at Taxpayer Expense

A five-part series by the Washington Examiner watchdog team
Tuesday: Bureaucrats at tiny agency buy legions of luxuries with purchase cards
Wednesday: Reckless FMCS spending goes straight to the top
Thursday: Implicated top officials forced whistleblower to retract complaint on purchase card fraud
Friday: At federal agency, officials cede authority to outsiders who write their own contracts
Monday: FMCS fired wounded warrior while she was in the ICU after she blew whistle
Data: FMCS salaries and bonuses
View the whole series

Got tips?

Do you know more about what's going on at the FMCS -- or any other federal agency? Contact Luke Rosiak at lrosiak@washingtonexaminer.com.

After bringing it up the chain of command resulted in nothing, she contacted the federal government’s Office of Special Counsel, which infuriated her bosses.

Not long after, her respiratory issues returned, forcing her to begin using up her vacation and sick days. Those ran out March 29, and an email pecked from a hospital bed on March 28 says this:

"Bob, I started this message )esterday - hands too shaky to make it work. I am an inpatient again w/VA - still in ICU… Personal bk berry cell phone battery dead - ble to get someone to retrieve this phone from car. . Will be back in touch very soon."

The agency wasted no time placing her on “AWOL status.”

She requested unpaid leave, but the agency denied it, rejecting several applications for consideration accompanied by documents provided by her VA doctor.

Out of the hospital but unable to make it into the office consistently, she asked to be able to work from home when necessary.

Her superiors denied that request, even though other employees worked remotely as they pleased, such as her supervisor, deputy director Allison Beck, who sometimes worked from her second home in Maine.

And if anyone’s job required them to be in the office, it was that of technology staffer James Donnen, who ordered tens of thousands of dollars of expensive computer parts, as if he was continuously upgrading bureaucrats’ desktops.

In fact, Donnen was having them delivered to his house in West Virginia, records show. He came into the office only a couple times a month.

“You and I both know the possibilities about reselling it that could have been going on,” Pelcher-Herring said.

In June of 2012, documents show, Beck proposed that she be "separated from service,” with the FMCS even contesting her eligibility for unemployment insurance.

Without an income, Pelcher-Herring moved to North Carolina to be with family. She filed a still-pending Equal Opportunity Employment complaint against the agency saying that laws designed to protect service-disabled veterans obligate it to provide accommodations.

Three times, the FMCS has offered to pay her to settle the complaint, but she’s refused, wanting an apology and for the agency to clean house, she said.

Officials with FMCS have shown willingness to spend significant amounts of tax money to free the agency of employees who have called into question its longstanding financial practices.

After Berkina Porter, the agency’s director of administrative services, tried to bring examples of wasteful spending to light, she was escorted out of the building by armed guards, and the OSC found that FMCS officials “took and proposed personnel actions at least in part because of" her whistleblowing.

In March, FMCS agreed to continue to pay Porter’s $136,000 salary while she looks for work, to pay her attorney's fees, and give her an additional $72,500 to settle the retaliation case.

Carol Booth, an accountant who also brought concerns outside the agency, retired just weeks after she was forced by Director George H. Cohen to retract the information she sent to the General Services Administration.

With three whistle-blowers gone, there is little indication that the spending abuses have stopped.

The agency’s problems start at the top with Cohen, chief financial officer Frances L. Leonard and others, but continue because of a “don’t say anything, you’ll get your pension in 20 years” attitude in their subordinates, Pelcher-Herring said.

“Collectively, if people stood up, it would stop,” she said.

How it began: Part 1: Bureaucrats at tiny agency buy legions of luxuries with purchase cards

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