- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 6, 2002

The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service has scrapped plans to suspend and demote two Border Patrol agents who told a newspaper about security problems along the U.S.-Canada border, says a U.S. senator.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley, a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who told INS Commissioner James W. Ziglar in a letter last week he was "shocked and angry" about the proposed discipline, said yesterday the agency had decided to reverse itself.
Mr. Grassley warned Mr. Ziglar against taking action against the agents, whom the Iowa Republican described as being protected under the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989, a bill he helped write and pass.
Agents Mark Hall and Robert Lindemann, based in Michigan, were recommended for discipline after they told the Detroit Free Press that Michigan's border with Canada lacked the resources to adequately protect the United States from terrorists.
The agents told the newspaper that Michigan's 804 miles of shoreline border were guarded by 28 field agents, one working boat, several damaged electronic sensors and one broken remote camera. They were cited by INS for failing to follow instructions not to talk to reporters and recommended for 90-day suspensions and one-year demotions.
Mr. Grassley said INS will provide both agents back pay plus interest for the loss of special pay and will rescind and expunge four disciplinary proposals suggested by key leadership executives at the agency.
"This is obviously the right thing for the INS to do," Mr. Grassley said. "Any federal employee who knows about homeland-security problems that aren't being addressed and brings them up is providing an invaluable service to the public. They deserve praise and support, not pay cuts and demotions."
Mr. Grassley noted, however, he remains "extremely concerned" that INS plans to deny a request made by the Office of Special Counsel to provide whistleblower training for all INS managers and supervisors in the Detroit sector and the Eastern regional office.
"This case shows that bureaucrats at the INS either don't respect or don't understand the protections afforded under the Whistleblower Protection Act," Mr. Grassley said.
Mr. Grassley, ranking member of the Judiciary subcommittee that deals with crime and drugs, asked Mr. Ziglar in the letter to tell him what disciplinary action he plans for the Border Patrol and INS supervisors.
"The INS has enough to worry about with keeping the nation's borders secure and preventing more embarrassing mistakes without plotting retaliation against whistleblowers," he said.
Mr. Hall is president of the local Border Patrol agents' union.
INS spokesman Russ Bergeron has said the agency does not discipline employees or prohibit them from speaking to the media, but those who do must follow established procedures. He said employees have a responsibility to "ensure that the safety of fellow officers and private citizens, as well as the service's national-security efforts, are not compromised by comments made to the media."
The Justice Department's Office of Inspector General, which investigated the proposed suspensions and demotions, said in a March 4 memo to INS: "We seriously question the decision to propose discipline against Hall and Lindemann and believe it would not be upheld."

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