U.S. Office of Special Counsel
1730 M Street, N.W., Suite 218
Washington, D.C. 20036-4505
OSC: Customs Agency Responds to Whistleblower Complaints
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - 5/11/07***
CONTACT: Loren Smith, 202-254-3714,
WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) today transmitted a letter to the President detailing findings regarding allegations of violations of law, rule or regulation, gross mismanagement, and a substantial and specific danger to public safety at Sanford International Airport in Florida. Agricultural Specialists are employed at Ports of Entry such as Sanford, to detect and stop prohibited agricultural items that are potential carriers of animal and plant pests or diseases from entering the United States. Entry of these items can cause serious damage to America's crops, livestock, pets, and the environment.
The whistleblowers, six Agricultural Specialists, alleged that they were instructed to enter into a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) database false information concerning passenger screening. They alleged that they were told to enter generic information about passengers into the database, from stacks of passenger and crewmember declarations that had already been collected, such as race, length of stay, and number of bags. Their instructions were to enter “white, two weeks, two bags.” They also alleged that they were told to share passwords in order to complete these entries.
The Secretary of Homeland Security tasked CBP, Office of Internal Affairs, with investigating the allegations and writing a report. The report substantiated the whistleblowers’ allegations that personnel assigned to enter data were improperly directed to use default or generic data, and that authorized users were directed to enter data under another employee’s user identification number and password. The agency has taken disciplinary and corrective action in response to the findings of violations of law.
CBP Office of Field Operations is comprised of over 25,000 employees, with 18,000 CBP Officers and 1,800 Agricultural Specialists. Individuals now known as CBP Officers came from the U.S. Customs Service (USCS), the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and those employees now known as CBP Agricultural Specialists originated primarily from USDA.
After review of the information, the Special Counsel concluded that the agency’s report contains all of the information required by statute, and that its findings appear to be reasonable.
Special Counsel Scott J. Bloch said, “Passenger screening by CBP is one line of defense in our national security protections, which can ill afford cutting of corners. The whistleblowers raise issues important to our national security. The agency’s response to such concerns is critical in ensuring the public’s continued confidence in the safety and security of international air travel.”
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) is an independent investigative and prosecutorial agency and operates as a secure channel for disclosures of whistleblower complaints. Its primary mission is to safeguard the merit system in federal employment by protecting federal employees and applicants from prohibited personnel practices, especially retaliation for whistleblowing. OSC also has jurisdiction over the Hatch Act and the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). For more information please visit our web site at www.osc.gov or call 1 (800) 872-9855.
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