An Interior Department employee has been forced into poverty while her superiors allegedly seek retribution with threats, intimidation and withholding her pay after she cooperated with federal investigators and testified before Congress about corruption within the department.
Bonnie Kline is still employed as computer specialist in the Interior Department^s US Fish and Wildlife Service but she has been "drydesked" or not allowed to work. Since then she has been depending on the financial support of friends while battling the federal government in a case of alleged harassment filed under federal whistleblower laws.
With her security clearance and expertise, Kline had access to essentially all available computer records in her department, including those sought by investigators seeking evidence in the case of USFWS whistleblower James Beers.
The US Office of Special Counsel (OSC), representing Beers in his whistleblower case against the agency, was seeking archived computer records supporting his claims that USFWS officials had misused Federal Aid funds.
Under the Federal Aid Program, funds collected through excise taxes on hunting and fishing products were to be used for conservation programs among individual states.
Instead, officials allegedly diverted the money to so-called slush funds. According to Beers, USFWS officials plotted with animal rights groups to undermine the hunting and fishing conservation efforts of the agency^s employees.
Kline testified in a recent congressional hearing that senior officials at the USFWS headquarters in Arlington, Virginia escorted her onto a private balcony on June 17, 1998 to coerce her to not cooperate with an investigation into the agency^s suspect spending habits.
During that impromptu meeting, Kline^s bosses allegedly threatened to destroy her career if she cooperated with OSC investigators or if she responded to a subpoena issued by Congress in Beers^ case, which also drew the attention of Rep. Don Young (R-AK). Young is chairman of the House Resources Committee that has direct oversight of the USFWS.
"I was told that the subject of the investigation was extremely serious and ^went right to the top.^ I was not to allow myself to be involved in these matters in any way," Kline said. "I was then offered a substantial pay increase if I moved to another job immediately, but without my security access and access to Fish & Wildlife Service communications. And to this date I am still denied that access."
Kline ignored the threats and chose to cooperate with OSC investigators, prompting USFWS officials to seek retribution, according to Kline.
On August 7, 1998 Kline found a note on her desk insinuating physical harm. "I then discovered at that point that all of my e-mail pass codes were gone and the code to the safe storing the secured communications and back-up tapes of communications had been changed," Kline testified before Congress.
When it became apparent that her livelihood was at stake, Kline sought legal protection and representation from the OSC, just as Beers had done.
Kline said the retribution she suffered ruined her health and destroyed her "hard-earned financial credit and reputation." Kline said her two children are "confused and frightened" by the punishment she received in return for her honesty. Kline said she has been forced to live below the federal government^s definition of the poverty level.
Kline said she has been subjected to "continuous threatening verbal and physical gestures and bullying" from her supervisors. "I am constantly subjected to humiliating remarks by my supervisor in front of my friends and fellow employees, including disparaging remarks about my clothing and physical appearance."
USFWS officials have allegedly ignored orders from administrative court judge Bruce Johnson that reprimand letters be "rescinded and removed and expunged" from her personnel file.
The OSC investigation of Kline^s complaint continues but not without roadblocks. Agency officials "are only trying to delay the investigation with hopes that I will become financially and emotionally destroyed, and will eventually fade away," Kline said.
Beers testified before the Resources Committee in July alleging that he was forced from his job after he became increasingly concerned that the USFWS was misusing federal aid funds.
Beers was reluctant to approve "an application from an anti-hunting and anti-State Fish and Wildlife Agency group that wanted to put together and distribute anti-hunting literature."
"I found the (application) I reviewed ineligible on four points from the Federal Register, one was sufficient to bar it from funding," Beers said. "I was badgered and intimidated to change that finding. On one occasion I told a manager to fund it if he wanted to, I would not change my recommendation as the regulations required."
Beers was assigned to coordinate the federal government^s efforts to deal with a threatened ban on all US fur by the European community if the United States refused to ban the use of "leg hold traps," a movement allegedly driven by animal rights activists.
Beers said he learned from colleagues that his work was being undermined by his own agency while he represented the US on the International Standards Organization (ISO) Technical Advisory Group on Humane Trapping Standards.
"I was hearing from long-time co-workers that there were secret meetings between USFWS and animal rights representatives to agree to strategies to undercut our efforts with the Europeans and ISO. Whenever I asked about this I was greeted only with smiles and statements that there was nothing to it," Beers said.
As his situation worsened, Beers testified that USFWS officials wanted to move him to a "non-existent, lower graded" position in Massachusetts.
"I was locked out of my office, the police came to the building to keep me from entering and I was threatened in an unmarked envelope left in my front door on a Sunday morning with the loss of my retirement for five years and the loss of my health coverage forever if I did not retire immediately," Beers said.
Beers said he spent the last eight months of his employment "at home with no work from or communication with USFWS."
His case was eventually settled out of court.