Fired whistleblower gets his job back

By Heather Richards | 02/05/2020 01:20 PM EST

The Interior Department is reinstating an employee who complained about environmental reviews of offshore drilling in Alaska.

The Interior Department is reinstating an employee who complained about environmental reviews of offshore drilling in Alaska. Francis Chung/E&E News

An Obama-era whistleblower, investigated and fired after raising red flags about violations for offshore drilling plans in the Arctic, has been granted his job back, the Office of Special Counsel disclosed yesterday.

A settlement with the Interior Department grants Jeffrey Missal his former post, a raise, a retroactive promotion, back pay, and $180,000 in compensatory damages and attorneys’ fees.

Missal, a regional environmental officer in Alaska for the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, had turned to the special counsel in 2016, saying he was retaliated against for questioning environmental reviews of offshore drilling plans in the Arctic.


Over a period of years, Missal had frequently raised concerns that the environmental process was being railroaded, noting in a 2012 internal email that BSEE was "getting ahead of ourselves" in rushing drilling permit applications for a redacted oil company, according to a special counsel report.

As Royal Dutch Shell PLC ramped up its plans to explore in the Arctic, Missal continued to flag National Environmental Policy Act compliance concerns to the Interior agencies overseeing leasing and permitting for offshore oil and gas development: BSEE and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

Feeling that his concerns were not taken seriously, Missal approached the Interior Department’s independent inspector general in 2014.

Within hours, a senior Interior official launched an investigation into Missal for misconduct related to using his home telephone, according to the Office of Special Counsel.

Missal was fired in 2016 for violating department policy, but the Office of Special Counsel took his case to the Merit Systems Protection Board and asked for a stay. After investigating the incident, the following year, the special counsel concluded that Missal was fired as retaliation.

In its report, the special counsel noted that it "strains credulity" to think the relation between the timing of Missal’s IG complaint and Interior’s investigation into Missal was simply coincidental.

"Retaliation can take many forms and is rarely straightforward," said Special Counsel Henry Kerner in a statement today. "After closely reviewing the facts in this case, it became clear that the investigation was launched in retaliation for the employee’s prior whistleblowing activities."

A spokesman for Interior referred comment to BSEE, which did not provide comment by press time.

Shell abandoned its Arctic drilling plans in 2015. The Obama administration later placed a moratorium on drilling in much of the Arctic that has yet to be lifted by the Trump administration, despite efforts.