Arlington cemetery management failed whistleblower

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Arlington National Cemetery management “demonstrated an obvious failure” when it fired Gina Gray, the cemetery’s former spokeswoman and a whistleblower, according to a Pentagon internal watchdog’s letter obtained by the Center for Public Integrity.

However, the inspector general’s office concluded that Gray was not a victim of whistleblower retaliation.

Gray’s disclosures sparked findings of widespread mismanagement, including misplaced and wrongly marked graves, at the nation’s premiere burial ground for members of the armed services.

Arlington National Cemetery managers “lacked knowledge of the disclosures” Gray had made when they fired her, according to the one-page letter. That means her whistleblower complaints “were not contributing factors in the personnel action taken against her,” said the letter from Donald Horstman, a Pentagon deputy inspector general. The Center obtained a copy of the letter from Gray’s lawyer, Mark Zaid.

A Congressional source said the inspector general did not confirm Gray’s whistleblower complaint “on a legal technicality because supposedly the supervisors did not know she had blown the whistle when they terminated her.”

“They were just unhappy that she (Gray) had questioned their authority and was pushing back on bad policies,” the source told the Center. A finding of retaliation against a whistleblower is important because it strengthens their legal case against a government agency.

A redacted version of the inspector general’s June 29 report called “Whistleblower Reprisal Investigation, Arlington National Cemetery,” will be released to the public as early as Friday, said a spokesman for the Pentagon’s inspector general. According to a summary of the Pentagon inspector general’s report obtained by the Center, Gray was fired because of “public affairs policy issues” that she raised during her first weeks of employment. The cemetery management “elected to terminate her, rather than make a reasonable effort to address those policy issues,” the summary document said.

The Pentagon watchdog recommended the Army consider “corrective action with respect to ANC officials responsible for handling Ms. Gray’s termination and an appropriate remedy for Ms. Gray,” according to the letter.

At a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Wednesday about the cemetery scandal, Democrat Vic Snyder of Arkansas raised questions about retaliation against Gray and grew frustrated with an Army official who testified.

Lt. Gen. Steven Whitcomb, the Army’s inspector general, limited his comments about the Pentagon inspector general’s report, saying only that it did not find whistleblower retaliation against Gray but declining to say whether her termination was inappropriate. “I can’t comment on a DOD I.G. inspection, sir. I told you what I think the bottom line findings were of it. There’s still an ongoing litigation that it would be inappropriate for us to comment on with Ms. Gray and the United States Army,” Whitcomb said.

Snyder responded that Whitcomb’s limited comments may have done “a disservice to Ms. Gray,” and also suggested that Whitcomb was not prepared for the high-profile congressional hearing.

Whitcomb “stated part one, but not part two,” regarding what the Pentagon IG found, said Snyder in comments to the Center. “It was obviously inappropriate.”

The U.S. Army is responsible for the management of Arlington National Cemetery.

UPDATE — 7/7/10: The Pentagon inspector general’s whistleblower reprisal report on Gina Gray is now available.

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