OSC Seal

U.S. Office of Special Counsel

1730 M Street, N.W., Suite 300

Washington, D.C. 20036-4505

U.S. OFFICE OF SPECIAL COUNSEL CHARGES THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERIOR WITH VIOLATION OF FIRST AMENDMENT


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - 10/19/99
CONTACT: JANE MCFARLAND
(202) 653-7984      

    Today, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC), petitioned the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) for corrective action on behalf of Mr. Deane H. Zeller for violation of his First Amendment rights by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Department of Interior.

    OSCís petition alleges that Mr. Zeller was reprimanded and then reassigned to a non-supervisory position based upon the views he expressed in a letter to the editor that he had written to Government Executive magazine. Mr. Zellerís letter responded to an article on affirmative action in the federal government, which highlighted the opinions of a high-ranking Bureau official. In his letter, Mr. Zeller was critical of BLMís affirmative action policies. 

    Mr. Zellerís letter was published in July 1996 and the magazine identified him as ďDeane H. Zeller, District Manager, Salt Lake City District, Bureau of Land Management, Interior Department.Ē Approximately one month later, Mr. Zeller was issued a Letter of Reprimand (LOR) for ďusing [his] official title in [his] private capacity and in doing so, making statements contrary to Bureau policy.Ē

    In September 1996, the BLM Director sent a memorandum to all employees taking issue with the views expressed by Mr. Zeller in his letter to the editor. The BLM Director attached a copy of his own letter to Government Executive magazine that was subsequently published in November 1996. 

    In January 1997, BLM informed Mr. Zeller that it was permanently reassigning him from his supervisory position. At that time, according to OSCís petition, BLM officials made several verbal references to Mr. Zellerís letter to the editor as a basis for the reassignment. OSCís petition alleges that despite requests made during its investigation, the Bureau never produced any documents that supported a basis for Mr. Zellerís discipline and reassignment, other than his letter to the editor. 

    OSCís petition seeks a retraction of the reprimand and restoration of Mr. Zeller to his former position or an equivalent one.

    The U.S. Office of Special Counsel provides an independent avenue to protect merit system principles in federal government. OSC receives, investigates and prosecutes before the MSPB; allegations concerning the commission of prohibited personnel practices. Title 5, U.S.C., provides, ď[a]ll employees and job applicants should be treated in a fair and non-discriminatory way, with proper regard for their privacy and constitutional rights.Ē 

***