OSHA: EPA Must Reinstate Whistleblower

One hand of the government slapped another when the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) Philadelphia regional office ordered the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reinstate an investigator after he filed a whistleblower complaint.

Hugh Kaufman, who was a policy analyst for EPA's Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response and the EPA ombudsman's lead investigator at the World Trade Center, "suffered a continuing pattern of discrimination," according to Richard D. Soltan, OSHA's regional administrator.

Kaufman alleged EPA barred him from investigating complaints related to Superfund, "even though I'm doing a good job."

Its investigation determined that there was "no evidence of a valid reason for his removal from ombudsman support duties," said the agency, which investigated the case for about a year and generated a file one foot thick. It is OSHA's job to investigate and issue findings on whistleblower complaints related to working conditions.

Kaufman worked closely with former EPA Ombudsman Robert Martin, who resigned in April following the announcement by EPA Administrator Christie Whitman that Martin's office become part of the EPA Inspector-General's Office. Martin claimed the move was made to silence him. Peggy Boyer, the acting ombudsman, works out of the Inspector-General's office.

Both Kaufman and Martin were highly critical of safety and health efforts, or lack of effort, at the World Trade Center site. They held a meeting in February to allow residents and workers to address comments to city, state and federal officials. None of the invited officials - from agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the mayor's office and even EPA - showed up.

Martin and Kaufman appeared to be part of a group of EPA employees who felt Ground Zero was as contaminated, if not more so, than many Superfund sites, and should be treated as such. Prior to the February meeting, Martin threatened to tell attendees, "Residents, workers and Ground Zero platform visitors should wear respirators because of toxic air around the World Trade Center site and it would take multibillions of dollars to do what needs to be done in Manhattan."

A spokesperson for EPA said the agency will ask for a formal hearing before an administrative law judge. If the case remains unresolved, it could end up in federal court. If that happens, says Kaufman, he plans to depose EPA Administrator Christie Whitman and other senior EPA officials.

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