Dover Air Force Base mortuary employees, from left, Mary Ellen Spera, James Parsons, and Bill Zwicharowski are seen in Wyoming, Del. Federal investigators have concluded that Air Force officials at the military mortuary in Dover, Del., illegally punished four civilian workers for blowing the whistle on the mishandling of war remains. (Patrick Semansky / The Associated Press)
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The Office of Special Counsel has determined that Air Force officials violated whistleblower protection laws and retaliated against the employees that reported the mishandling of remains at the Port Mortuary at Dover Air Force Base, Del.
The office's report, which was provided to the Air Force on Monday, states that during 17 months in 2009 and 2010, three Port Mortuary officials retaliated against whistleblowers, with the employees alleging that they faced job termination, indefinite administrative leave and five-day suspensions, according to OSC.
"We applaud the whistleblowers for their courage in coming forward," Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner said in a release. "We expect the Air Force will now take appropriate steps to discipline the wrongdoers and deter future acts of retaliation."
Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley said that "there is no place for reprisal in the Air Force" and that they are taking violations of whistleblower laws seriously, and pointed to an internal Defense Department review of the report.
"Throughout this process, the Air Force remains committed to this mission as a solemn obligation," Donley said in statement. "We continue to care for America's fallen with dignity, honor and respect and provide care and support for their families."
The Air Force now has 30 days chance to review the OSC's findings and recommendations. However, if the Air Force doesn't respond or responds in a way that OSC finds insufficient, the office can pursue disciplinary action through the Merit Systems Protection Board.
After the 30 day window, the OSC expects to make the report publicly available, OSC spokeswoman Ann O'Hanlon said.
"We need to see an effort by the Air Force to make things right," she said.
In November, the Pentagon announced that it had appointed retired Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, the former commander of U.S. Central Command, to head the panel overseeing changes to the Mortuary Affairs Office.