REPS LIEU, CHU AND 29 MEMBERS CALL FOR IG INVESTIGATION INTO COMMERCE DEPARTMENT CONDUCT TOWARD SHERRY CHEN

May 23, 2018
Press Release

WASHINGTON - Today, Congressman Ted W. Lieu (D-Los Angeles County) and Congressional Asia Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) Chair Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-CA) led a letter with 31 Members of Congress calling on the Department of Commerce's Inspector General to open an investigation into the Department's handling of disciplinary actions taken against Sherry Chen, a National Weather Service employee. In October 2014, Ms. Chen was targeted by federal investigators for alleged espionage. The Federal Bureau of Investigation later dropped all charges against Ms. Chen, but NOAA still chose to issue a Proposed Disciplinary Action against her which resulted in her termination.  Ms. Chen then appealed her case to the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), an independent, bipartisan board charged with safeguarding the rights of civil servants, and an MSPB judge recently ruled that Ms. Chen was the “victim of a gross injustice.”

In the letter, the Members wrote:

  • It does not appear that anyone at the Department has been held accountable for the pattern of misconduct in Ms. Chen’s case.We remain concerned that her case reflects systemic problems at the Department and warrants further review.We specifically call your attention to an April 23, 2018 decision (Docket Number CH-0752-17-0028-I-1) issued by Chief Administrative Judge Michele Szary Schroeder in which Judge Schroeder ruled in favor of Ms. Chen, an award-winning former GS-12 hydrologist at the NWS, and rejected many of the allegations against her. The decision determined the Department did not have cause to terminate Ms. Chen’s employment and therefore should reinstate her employment at the NWS, give her back pay, and cover her legal fees – all of which has yet to happen.

  • Historically, it is uncommon for MSPB to rule in favor of an appellant - the success rate is less than 2 percent.In this case, not only did Ms. Chen receive a favorable ruling, but Judge Schroeder issued a 135-page point-by-point decision detailing the mishandling and failings at multiple levels at the Department, including by the Office of Security, Office of the General Counsel, Workforce Management Office, and top leadership of NWS and NOAA.Specifically, Judge Schroeder determined that Ms. Laura Furgione, the proposing official for the Department, and Vice Admiral Michael Devany, the deciding official for the Department, were “digging in” and “more concerned about being right than doing the right thing.”The judge found it “troubling” that Department officials failed to include a dozen sworn declarations from Ms. Chen’s co-workers that were “clearly relevant” to the termination decision, thereby suppressing critical evidence.Judge Schroeder also concluded that “based on the unyielding nature of their testimony, I would not have been surprised if they rejected that 2 + 2 = 4.”

  • Judge Schroeder’s decision suggests that the Department may have engaged in gross misconduct against a Chinese American employee on the basis of her race.If left unchecked, such systemic misconduct risks jeopardizing the Department’s integrity and creating a hostile work environment for Asian Americans and other minorities across our government, undermining its ability to recruit top talent.

  • No federal employee - or any American - should be viewed by our government as more suspicious because of their race or ethnicity. We thank you for your attention to this important matter and look forward to working with you to protect the liberties of all Americans.

READ THE FULL TEXT OF THE LETTER HERE

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