A whistleblower who reported misconduct at Canaveral National Seashore has won a retaliation ruling against the U.S. Department of Interior, Florida Today reports. The former employee filed a suit in 2011 alleging misconduct, including contracting violations and nepotism.
According to Florida Today, the whistleblower reported to the OIG in 2011 that the park staff conspired to hire vendors without competition in the construction of a storage facility and other work. Allegedly, the staff split $18,000 into increments of $2,000 or less. Some of the work was given to relatives, the suit alleges. Under federal procurement rules, single purchases are limited to $3,000 for supplies, $2,500 for services and $2,000 for construction. Purchases must be put out for competitive bid if these limits are exceeded.
In November 2012, the OIG found that two park employees violated federal policy and ethics rules; by making “split purchases, they circumvented procurement regulations. The U.S. Assistant Attorney did not pursue criminal prosecution. The OIG also found that the superintendent of the park failed to address the whistleblower’s concerns, despite being aware of the allegations as early as May 2011.
The whistleblower worked a s biological science technician at the park. In December, a federal civil service judge in Atlanta ruled that the park retaliated against her via assault, harassment and adverse personnel actions for reporting the contracting violations. The U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board ruling became final this month when the parks service decided not to appeal.
While the 2011 whistleblower suit has come to end, Florida Today reports that the park is again under federal scrutiny due to similar allegations of improper purchases. According to the whistleblower, the illegal procurement continued even after she filed her lawsuit. This prompted a second investigation by the U.S. Department of Interior’s OIG. According to allegations filed in October, the park staff continued to make split purchased in 2014 on roughly $25,000 in construction projects. The projects involved the demolition of a lifeguard building, sign modifications and screening, septic, roofing and other work.