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Probe finds Dover supervisors targeted whistleblowers

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The Office of Special Counsel has determined that supervisors at the U.S. Port Mortuary at Dover Air Force Base, Del., retaliated against four employees who tried to expose wrongdoing at the facility.

Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley said that he and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz agree there is no place in the service for this behavior.

"Reprisals against employees are unethical and illegal and counter to Air Force core values," Donley said in a written statement. "We take violations of the law seriously and have appointed a two-star general to review the report and take appropriate action."

Four employees of the Port Mortuary attempted to address shortcomings at the facility, which handles the remains of all American service members who are killed or die overseas. The special counsel found that mortuary supervisors illegally retaliated against the employees with actions that included firings, placing employees on indefinite administrative leave and imposing five-day suspensions.

Now the Office of Special Counsel is seeking corrective action for the whistleblowers and disciplinary action against agency officials, and is working with the Air Force to provide relief to the whistleblowers, officials said.

The Office of the Special Counsel is an independent federal investigative and prosecutorial agency. Specialists at the office receive, investigate and prosecute allegations of prohibited personnel practices, with an emphasis on protecting federal government whistleblowers.

This action is separate from an Air Force independent assessment that Donley ordered to examine disciplinary actions taken at the mortuary.

"It is my intention to review this assessment, along with any actions taken based on the OSC reprisal investigation, and provide the secretary of defense with a final report on all disciplinary actions," Donley said.

Retired Army Gen. John P. Abizaid is chairing a Defense Health Board examination of processes and procedures at the mortuary. He will brief members of the board during their meeting in San Antonio on Feb. 21, and will have his final report to Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta by Feb. 29, officials said.

Article by Jim Garamone, American Forces Press Service