- The Washington Times - Friday, May 3, 2002

The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service yesterday agreed to pay back wages and to cancel suspension and demotion orders for two Border Patrol agents who told a newspaper about security problems along the U.S.-Canada border.
U.S. Special Counsel Elaine Kaplan said the INS violated the Whistleblower Protection Act and the First Amendment when the two agents, Mark Hall and Robert Lindemann, were ordered punished for their comments made after the September 11 attacks on America.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley, a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said earlier this month he was "shocked and angry" about the proposed discipline and demanded that the recommended suspensions and demotions be voided.
The agents, assigned to the INS field office in Detroit, 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.
They 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 the INS for failing to follow instructions not to talk to reporters and recommended for 90-day suspensions and one-year demotions.
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 also investigated the proposed discipline, 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."
Ms. Kaplan, whose office investigates claims of retaliation against whistleblower federal employees, said the disclosures by the agents "angered some Border Patrol officials, who viewed the public revelation of these issues as an act of disloyalty."
As a result, she said, they were reassigned, which caused them to lose pay, proposed for 90-day suspensions and recommended for one-year demotions.
She said the Whistleblower Protection Act made it unlawful for an agency to retaliate against employees for disclosing information they reasonably believe substantiates a specific danger to the public health and safety.
Similarly, she said, the First Amendment protects federal employees when they speak out on matters of public concern.
Ms. Kaplan said the INS agreed on April 26 to provide Mr. Hall and Mr. Lindemann with back pay plus interest, rescind and expunge from their personnel files the proposals to suspend and demote the agents, and to provide whistleblower protection training for all managers and supervisors in Michigan.
"Especially in these times of heightened concern about national security, it is crucial to protect federal employees like Mr. Hall and Mr. Lindemann when they shine public light on security concerns," she said. "Mr. Hall and Mr. Lindemann's efforts to bring attention to lingering security issues on the border in the wake of the September 11 attacks were hardly disloyal.

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