Bruce and Sara Schundler, who alleged they lost their seasonal jobs as rangers at Mesa Verde National Park for bringing attention to suspect spending by the park's former superintendent, have been vindicated by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel.
In a ruling last week, the OSC staff's investigation revealed that the couple was not rehired at Mesa Verde "in part because of their perceived whistleblowing."
The couple's struggles to investigate the spending habits of the former superintendent led to their decision to launch a website to chronicle their efforts, which involved a long and evasive process through the Freedom of Information Act procedures.
Bruce Schundler was subjected to a correspondence-heavy, administrative maze since requesting information on Mesa Verde's fiscal 2007 and fiscal 2008 budgets, the travels of its superintendent, and the number of unfilled vacancies at the park. Mesa Verde officials initially put off his first requests for the information, saying the staff was too busy to comply immediately
In its ruling, the OSC noted that the Schundlers "had spotless work records at Mesa Verde National Park..." In raising concerns about the then-superintendent's spending habits, they alleged that he had used National Park Service funds "to travel excessively to conferences and seminars, in support of a private company," the OSC finding noted.
"They filed Freedom of Information Act requests for information on the matter and also filed a complaint with the Inspector General. The (Office of Inspector General's) report found that the park superintendent’s actions 'created the appearance of a conflict of interest,'" the OSC noted. "The following season, the couple was tentatively offered seasonal park ranger positions again, only to see the offer rescinded.
"The OSC investigation showed that Mesa Verde management decided not to rehire the couple in part because of their perceived whistleblowing."
After the OSC investigated the matter, the Park Service "agreed to provide the couple with seasonal work at another national park of their choosing and to reimburse them for expenses incurred in anticipation of the rescinded rehiring."
“I’m pleased that the National Park Service corrected the actions its employees took against these park rangers,” said OSC Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner. “All federal employees have the right to blow the whistle on perceived wrongdoing without fear or retaliation.”