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US Geological Survey director wrongly reassigned whistleblower, watchdog says

By Benjamin J. Hulac, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON — The head of the U.S. Geological Survey violated the whistleblower protection law by retaliating against an agency employee who had filed a complaint about his conduct, according to the Interior Department's internal watchdog.

USGS Director James Reilly reassigned the unidentified employee soon after he learned the employee filed a complaint against him with Interior, the inspector general said in a report Thursday.

It is unclear what prompted the employee to file the report against Reilly or the nature of the accusations, though Reilly at one point described the complainant as possessing an "evil streak" and said the employee "weaponized the IG process" against him, according to the IG.

A USGS spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the report and its findings.

The Interior Department has been under ethical clouds since the tenure of Ryan Zinke, the former secretary, and its current head, David Bernhardt.

Zinke was under multiple inspector general investigations when he resigned at the end of 2018, and it emerged four days after the Senate confirmed Bernhardt in April 2019 that he was under IG investigation due to "potential conflicts of interest and other violations."


Bernhardt was later cleared by the IG office of using improper influence over the regulation of several pesticides.

In May, the inspector general found that Assistant Secretary for Insular and International Affairs Douglas Domenech contacted an Environmental Protection Agency official in person and via email in 2017 on behalf of a family member pursuing a job at the agency. It also found that he promoted another family member's private wedding business to that EPA official.

The IG opened an investigation into the tactics of the U.S. Park Police, a division of Interior, over its role and activities in the clearing of largely peaceful protestors from Lafayette Square on June 1.

And in August, the watchdog said an aide to Bernhardt, Hubbel Relat, deliberately held back 253 "sensitive" records about the secretary during Bernhardt's confirmation process. That direction from Relat led to the denial of records about Bernhardt that were part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.


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