PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - The newly appointed administrator of the Bonneville Power Administration has been replaced in the midst of an inspector general's investigation into allegations that veterans were not given proper preference in hiring, and managers may have retaliated against employees cooperating with the investigation.
An email from a deputy secretary of Energy to BPA employees on Monday said the acting deputy administrator, Elliot Mainzer, has been named acting administrator on an interim basis.
The email from Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel B. Poneman does not mention Bill Drummond, who was sworn in as BPA administrator by Poneman on Feb. 7, or give any explanation for his replacement.
But the announcement came out a day prior to an inspector general's report finding there was evidence BPA was not giving federally required hiring preference to veterans.
The report _called a management alert_ emphasized that there were concerns some employees were disciplined who had cooperated with the inspector general's investigation, or who had raised concerns over the hiring practices.
Drummond's replacement was first reported by The Oregonian.
Energy spokeswoman Niketa Kumar said in an email that the department could not comment on personnel matters, but noted that the department had made an official response to the inspector general's investigation.
The July 15 letter from Energy Department Chief Human Capital Officer Robert C. Gibbs said that on July 10, the deputy secretary directed the BPA administrator to "take no adverse personnel actions against BPA's Human Capital Management employees, to immediately suspend any such actions that had already been taken," and to tell any employees who had been suspended to return to work immediately.
The deputy secretary also directed the administrator to tell employees that they can cooperate freely with the inspector general's investigation without fear of retaliation, the letter said.
Drummond sent an email to BPA employees last week saying they should never be afraid of retaliation, particularly when asked for information by the Department of Energy or the inspector general. BPA employees go through annual ethics training.
The letter added that the deputy secretary had ordered an immediate review of BPA management, and was sending a special team to BPA headquarters in Portland to carry that out.
The report from Inspector General Gregory H. Friedman said the investigation was ongoing, stemming from an anonymous June 2012 complaint about prohibited personnel practices. The department's personnel office notified BPA of the allegations in February, a month after Drummond's appointment.
The investigation so far has found that Bonneville "engaged in prohibited personnel practices" in 95 of 146 cases, or 65 percent, between November 2010 and June 2012. The practices involved modifying the classification of which applications were best qualified after they were received, resulting in the "inappropriate exclusion of veterans and other applicants" from consideration.
The continuing investigation was looking at why the issues were not addressed "in a timely manner" after they were discovered by Bonneville.
The report noted that investigators were not yet ready to conclude whether retaliation was taken against employees, but "we are deeply concerned."
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, sent a letter to Poneman asking for documents related to any retaliation against BPA employees.
""The fact that Department officials may be engaged in retaliation against whistleblowers courageous enough to report improper hiring practices is, as the OIG wrote, deeply concerning," Issa wrote. "If true, this is something the Committee will not tolerate."
BPA is the Northwest's federal nonprofit agency that produces, distributes and sells electricity from 31 hydroelectric dams and a nuclear power plant. Workers at BPA are federal employees.
Drummond was managing the Western Montana Electric Generating and Transmission Cooperative in Missoula, Mont., when he was named to the No. 2 position at BPA in August 2011. He took over the top spot when longtime BPA administrator Steve Wright retired.
Mainzer has been with Bonneville since 2002, and took over as deputy administrator in February. The position oversees finance, strategy, legal, public affairs, risk management, compliance, governance and BPA's power, transmission and corporate organizations.
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, chairman of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, issued a statement saying veterans' hiring preferences were the law, and retaliation against whistleblowers "in any way, shape or form that affects hiring veterans cannot be tolerated."
The Oregon Democrat added he was encouraged the Obama administration was taking the allegations seriously, but the Energy Department "must ensure" BPA immediately begins following the law on veterans' hiring preferences.
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