The United States Education Department proposed this September to suspend a budget analyst for five days after she provided information to The Washington Post about the Trump administration’s 2017 budget before it was officially released. The attorney for Rebecca Delaney, the analyst in question, claims the suspension would amount to whistleblower retaliation.
Are disclosures to the press protected actions?
A letter from the director of the Budget Service about the proposed suspension says Delaney knew it was “unprofessional” to release the information as it was “subject to an embargo.” The letter also accused Delaney of “conduct unbecoming a federal employee.”
Neither Delaney nor the Education Department commented when the Post reached out. However, Delaney’s attorney called the letter “one of the starkest examples of direct retaliation for whistleblowing” he had ever seen. He claims the suspension threat was because Delaney blew the whistle, an act that is protected under federal law.
The attorney asked the U.S. Office of the Special Counsel to issue a stay of any disciplinary action. The stay request claims Delaney took the action she did because she believed the information contained in the budget was misleading. It also claims that while the information was indeed under embargo, there was no policy that explicitly prohibited the release of that information. Given Delaney’s concerns over the significant errors, dishonesty and misleading wording of the budget, she felt it was important to speak up.
The main question in this case would be whether disclosures to the press qualify as protected whistleblower actions. The Department of Education did not respond to questions about whether it has previously disciplined employees for providing information to the press.
For more information about how you can protect your rights when facing whistleblower retaliation, contact an experienced attorney at Kardell Law Group.