- The Washington Times - Monday, April 10, 2000

Federal contractors say Clinton administration officials threatened to retaliate against them if they didn't go along with a cover-up of potentially incriminating e-mails linked to assorted Clinton scandals. Bonnie Kline, an employee of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), knows just what it's like.

A former computer-security expert at the agency, Miss Kline has had to endure a seemingly endless campaign of harassment and threats following her cooperation with a federal investigation of the agency. The stress has forced her onto medical leave, and the agency nominally responsible for protecting federal employees against such abuses, the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), has yet to complete a nearly two-year investigation into her case thanks to agency stalling tactics this from an administration that considers itself a friend of women.

Why? Congressional investigators believe agency officials feared that Miss Kline, a computer specialist, had access to e-mails involving dubious expenditures that could, and ultimately did, prove embarrassing to the agency. She was also a friend of another agency whistleblower, Jim Beers, who later helped the House Resources Committee track down those expenditures.

Her problems began in mid-1998 when USFWS officials unexpectedly dragged her into a meeting in which they warned her not to cooperate with federal investigators who had come to ask her how long agency e-mails and back-up tapes were stored. Miss Kline's superiors also wanted to know if it were possible to erase e-mails from the agency's systems, she says. She liked her job, and the agency apparently liked the way she did it, having honored her repeatedly for excellent performance. She felt obliged to cooperate with investigators, however, and the officials promptly carried out their threats.

They contrived excuses to reprimand her and to strip her job responsibilities from her. They isolated her at a hallway desk and made not-so-veiled threats against her. A federal hearing examiner ordered the reprimand rescinded and, further, insisted that the agency provide Miss Kline, a single mother, with a "safe work environment." Said the examiner, her supervisor, Louis Irwin, "was on the point of being out of control" in his dealings with her.

Miss Kline said that after testifying before the Resources Committee, a fellow employee threw a telephone at her, only narrowly missing her. When Miss Kline filed a complaint against the employee, the U.S. government actually substituted itself for the defendant in the case on grounds that the phone thrower was acting in the performance of her duties. Under the Federal Tort Claims Act, Miss Kline can't file a complaint against the government, and the court dismissed her case. Now on medical leave without pay, she says, "I am physically and financially destroyed."

And what is the Clinton administration, ally of feminists and foe of sexual harassment, doing about all this? Fish & Wildlife Service Director Jamie Rappaport Clark has serenely ignored Miss Kline's problems, saying she won't do anything to resolve them until apparently endless investigations into them by the OSC and the inspector general of USFWS' parent agency, the Department of the Interior (DOI), are complete. In a Feb. 15 letter to House Resource Committee Chairman Don Young, Mrs. Clark wrote, "[W]e feel the Service has acted within its personnel authority in addressing Miss Kline's employment issues." A spokesman for the OSC says it held up its investigation for more than a year because DOI officials in the solicitor's office said they were trying to reach a settlement with Miss Kline. Only there weren't any settlement negotiations going on. They were stalling.

Miss Kline undoubtedly made things worse for herself when she dared to testify about her treatment during committee hearings that turned out to be a major embarrassment to USFWS and Mrs. Clark. According to documents uncovered by congressional staff and an environmental watchdog group, the National Wilderness Institute, Fish & Wildlife officials were diverting excise tax revenues set aside for improvements in fish and wildlife habitat into recreational pursuits for agency staff, among them: liquor, jaunts to foreign capitals, an unauthorized slush fund for Mrs. Clark and more.

An investigation by the General Accounting Office into allegations of agency waste and abuse noted that "the combined experience of the audit team that did this work represents about 160 years worth of audit experience. To our knowledge, this is, if not the worst, one of the worst managed programs we have encountered." Don't take GAO's word for it though. Consider that the full House has just rushed through a reform measure on a vote of 422-2. (Democrats Maxine Waters and Jesse Jackson Jr. opposed it.)

To the extent that Miss Kline contributed to this outcome, she should be rewarded, not punished. USFWS should compensate her for what it has put her through, and Congress should see that this nominally female-friendly administration does so.

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