Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle were outraged over the Department of Energy’s (DOE) potentially illegal retaliation against a whistleblower who provided congressional staff with information.
Democrats and Republicans on the House science committee agreed the DOE probably intimidated and fired Dr. Noelle Metting, a radiation biologist at the agency, for talking to Congress about the department’s Low Dose Radiation Research Program. If true, DOE violated federal laws against whistleblower retaliation.
Democrats joined Republicans in criticizing DOE’s treatment of Metting.
“I think I know what bad management looks like,” Virginia Democratic Rep. Don Beyer said during the hearing. “I strongly support the right of federal employees to petition the government and speak openly about their work without fear of retaliation. I strongly recommend that the Department take a closer look at how they handle situations like the one we’re talking about today.”
“Unfortunately, what we will learn at today’s hearing is not an isolated incident,” echoed Georgia Republican Rep. Barry Loudermilk during the hearing. “It fits a pattern of intentional misinformation from Obama Administration officials.”
“While today’s hearing is disturbing in many ways, I am most concerned with this incident because it appears that unelected DOE officials sought retribution against a DOE scientist simply for respecting the Constitutional authority of Congress in order to advance political priorities,” Loudermilk said.
Lawmakers asked Metting to explain her side of the story since DOE declined to send her supervisors to the hearing.
“Congressional staffers requested an overview of the Low Dose Program, so my immediate supervisor, Dr. Todd Anderson, asked me to prepare a PowerPoint presentation, ” Metting said in the hearing. “During the briefing the following day, I presented the agreed upon material and answered accurately the many scientific questions asked to me.”
In October 2014, Metting briefed congressional staffers on scientific issues with the Low Dose Radiation Research Program, which was created to study the effects of very small amounts of radiation on biological tissue. The briefing lasted for several hours, and DOE scientists talked to staffers about the status of the program, scientific uncertainty in their research, and even upcoming legislation that would impact radiation research.
After the briefing, Anderson, and another DOE official, Julie Carruthers, accused Metting of “providing Congress with too much information” and “advocating for the program,” according to a letter obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation in February.
At that the time of the briefing, the House science committee was considering voting on a bill that would have required the National Academies of Sciences to create a report on low-dose radiation exposure.
“After the briefing ended and the Hill staff had left, Dr. [Julie] Carruthers accused me of advocating and lobbying for the program and being too enthusiastic about research results,” Metting said. “Thus began an unjust and painful saga of unrelenting intimidation. In just under one uncomfortable week, Dr. Anderson removed me from management of the Low Dose Program and detailed me to unclassified duties. My management obviously did not want me answering any more questions about the Low Dose Program.”
Six days after the briefing ended, Metting was fired and formally accused of “inappropriate workplace communication” for talking to Congress, according to the letter obtained by TheDCNF. The House science committee even suspects DOE may be destroying documents and information about the termination. Interestingly enough, the Low Dose Radiation Research Program’s website has a data sharing policy through which scientists are “encouraged to communicate with the wider community of concerned persons, so that current thinking and public debate incorporate sound science.” Most of the program’s research is publicly available online.
“A month later on December 4th, 2014 a notice of proposed removal was issued charging me with insubordinate defiance of authority and inappropriate workplace communication,” Metting continued. “I was put immediately on administrative leave and subsequently denied access to the contents of my former office.”
Federal law states “[t]he right of employees, individually or collectively, to petition Congress or a Member of Congress, or to furnish information to either House of Congress, or to a committee or Member thereof, may not be interfered with or denied.”
The radiation program studies the effects of small amounts of radiation on biological tissue. Roughly 40 percent of the program’s funds help support academic research projects with the rest supporting academic research at the three DOE National Laboratories. The research is used to analyze acceptable radiation doses during medical diagnostic procedures. It also has applications for industrial work near radioactive sources or potential doses received from a terrorist’s dirty bomb.
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