May 26, 2010

Bureaucrats and Bullies

Posted: 04:52 PM ET

It seems like every time we turn around there’s another report about a student being bullied at school. You’d think when a bully gets older, that kind of behavior would somehow go away. But maybe it doesn’t.


Recently, I interviewed a special agent with ATF. He’s been at the agency for nearly 24 years. Most of his time there was spent going undercover. He’s worked on cases involving white supremacist groups and the Hell’s Angels and murder for hire. If anyone were capable of intimidating someone or being a bully, I would think it would be him. But he told me he feels that he is the one being bullied by “bureaucrats” at ATF.

Vince Cefalu has filed a bunch of complaints dating back to 2006. But he says the one that really got him in trouble was his whistleblower complaint.

Cefalu says he was working in the property department and noticed there was missing equipment. He says he told his superiors about his discovery and they told him to “shut up.” He reported his findings anyway, and he said that is when the retaliation and bullying really began. He became an outcast. He says he was given a desk job, with no real responsibilities. All he does is sit there for eight hours, and then leaves. He says he considers this kind of work, the worst kind of punishment, and feels managers at ATF are trying to bully him into leaving the agency. It hasn’t worked yet.

Kenneth Melson, who runs ATF as deputy director, told me there hasn’t been retaliation since he took over last year. He says he will not tolerate reprisals against employees.

I’m interested in hearing more about adult bullies. Have you ever encountered a bully at work? If so, what happened? Has anyone ever tried to bully you into quitting your job? Do you know of other federal agencies where employees feel bullying and retaliation is a part of the operation?

Filed under: Abbie Boudreau • Special Investigations Unit • Uncategorized

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Steve   May 26th, 2010 5:53 pm ET


You need to look into U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE. I was bullied by my supervisors there because they just didn't personally like me. Contact me if you want to know more.

Kathy Isabell   May 26th, 2010 8:41 pm ET

I had the same thing happen to me at the USDA. After an off-duty incident involving the police, I was exiled to a field office in Powell, WY where for 3 years I had no duties. I eventually retired on medical. There were many more incidents which I can't describe here, horrible traumatic things which happened to me & my family. No matter, the point is that no one is immune from the government.

Administrator   May 26th, 2010 8:59 pm ET

Bureaucratic bullying is actually quite common in federal agencies. I've been with the Federal government for over 20 years and I've never been with an agency where it did not exist. It's just more intense and visible in some places than others.

As for me personally, I was on a team of four in a DoD agency where we were bullied by a manager. No one above this person had the stomach to take him on so we all just suffered. I remember walking into a team member's office most mornings and seeing her in tears at her desk after taking a hostile message from her boss. This employee was eventually transferred at her request. The other two got out as well, which left me alone on a floor in our building. Isolation became my punishment. Despite repeated requests to move, I was denied. And, similar to your story above, I was given nothing to do all day. Drives you kinda crazy, I learned (the hard way).

I began applying for other positions within the agency but my boss was able to "spin" the decision-makers against me. Despite my perfect written records (I have never been disciplined for anything), I was stuck.

I began applying for jobs in other parts of the country within my agency, flying out (at my own expense) to interview. But it was useless. My boss kept me from being released to go anywhere. But adding insult to injury, I was told I could move several times and was even given specific assignments. My family (of five) would prepare for the move, look into the housing market and schools, etc. But then we were told the move was not going to happen after all. Major disappointment.

This happened four times until it became clear this was part of the bullying. An attempt to force me to leave. I did so about a year and a half ago. Fortunately, I've been much happier ever since. Ironically, in my current position with another agency, I investigate whistleblower allegations.

There's much more to this and I'd be happy to go over in more detail if you are interested in pursuing.

Bureaucratic bullying is common.

Moms Opposed to Bullying   May 26th, 2010 9:27 pm ET

Adult bullies are everywhere! I am a student, a mother, and author of a blog called Kindergarten Bullies at , and I believe, as do many, that child bullies grow to be adult bullies, who them acquire positions of power. The way we socialize our children, and how we socialize as adults in front of our children is the problem, and nothing will change until we change that. Adult bullying is becoming more visible and one can find many resources at the WorkPlace Bullying Institute
Furthermore I spent 7 years working in the Corrections field and witnessed adult bullying on a dialy basis, in some form or another. It is particularly visible if one believes that the field of Corrections is flawed and there are changes that could be made that would benefit society.

Misha   May 26th, 2010 10:38 pm ET

The ATF managers need to be fired for not doing their job. As managers they need to give assignments to their employees and manage them. Making sure everyone is occupied and doing their work. It's their fault this agent was sitting at his desk and getting paid for nothing, when in fact he should be investigating crimes. This nation got a lot of organized crimes polluting our country. It would be nice if AFT uses their agents to dismantling org. crimes. I think it was good that this agent came forward. The people that need to be fired is the managers themselves for their failure on the job.

My father is a director at a state government agency and he says as managers you need to be respectful, open-minded, motivational, and neutral. Don't buy into the politics rather just do your job. My father greets and meets with all his employees everyday and he creates a positive atmosphere. Every employee is an asset and he recognizes their uniqueness and what they bring to the job. He makes sure everyone is doing their job and he takes his supervising seriously. He says in this ATF situation its the managers that need to be fired for their failure of duties.

John   May 27th, 2010 9:39 am ET

Take a look at eBossWatch and their list of America's Worst Bosses. There are tons of people who have rated their bully bosses there.

Estlanee   May 27th, 2010 12:22 pm ET

Remember when you could not get a job because you were inexperienced, now your experience is dated, out of date, or not current. What's the difference? They do not want you, but are willing to pay $72/Hr for an 8 hour time out.

J Doe   May 27th, 2010 1:05 pm ET

I worked for the U.S. Department of Labor – Office of Labor Management Standards for a few years and encountered very similar kinds of bullying. Despite several complaints, conversations, and grievances by many different employees – nothing was done. Often times the blame was re-focused back on staff and managers spent more time protecting themselves and their behavior than doing the work they were supposed to do with taxpayer dollars. Supervisors above this manager did not want to "rock the boat" or take responsibility for the managers they supervised. The end result was a culture of fear and anxiety with the only escape being a transfer or leaving federal service.

Additionally, it was sad to see so many people with no prior health issues, including myself, require medication and or therapy just to get through the day. Unfortunately, there are many stories within this office that exemplify various forms of office-place bullying that border, and sometimes cross, the realm of legality.

Taxpayers should be outraged that these kinds of managers are weakening the civi service by forcing some of our best and brightest workers into other industries when their talents and experience are so desperately needing in this aging workforce.

Harles   May 27th, 2010 2:03 pm ET

Retaliation for filing complaints about criminal behaviour, discrimination, retaliation, etc. is quite common within ATF. Promoting problem managers has been the common solution in dealing with their behaviour, while retaliating against those who dared to file a complaint is how street level agents are handled. I filed 2 EEO complaints against a supervisor who had over 23 EEO complaints during his 20 yr unremarkable career. Eleanor Loos, Richard Hearst, Larry Ford, the EEO Branch, and many others failed to investigate the complaints I filed, but ultimately found a way to retaliate against me. Eleanor Loos then dragged the procedure out costing me money with privately hired attorneys, she blatantly lied to a Federal Magistrate Judge, an AUSA, and my Attys in regards to ATF documents and ATF written policies, and still ATF managed to "win". Loos and Hearst have years of experience in coaching management to retaliate against employees, to lie to the administrative and civil court judges, to withhold documentation, and to drag out proceedings for years. The Professional Review Board and Deciding Official system does not follow established orders if someone needs to ensure that an employee is "saved" or "sacrificed". Retaliation against some, Promotions with bigger paychecks for others. Prime examples of the effort to continuely promote problem managers are AD Ford and SES SAC Horace. ATF Internal Affairs and DOJ know of many managers who have been promoted instead of fired and prosecuted for criminal behaviour. The former female SES SAC of Atlanta Field Division trafficked firearms onto airlines for professional basketball players, but was allowed to stay until she could retire on a hefty SES government retirement package. Agents within ATF have been subjected to retaliation under every administration, but nothing within the institutionalized thinking of Management ever changes. In the meanwhile, the small agency of ATF continues to make great criminal cases against dangerous criminals violating federal gun, explosive, arson laws, in addition to protecting the southwest border and serving overseas to assist the military with explosives. The Agents care about the work, the management cares about their careers and will crush anyone in the way of their promotions. As to Loos and the ATF Attys who undermine the judicial system, maybe DOJ will investigate every case she ever handled, then correct her misdeeds while prosecuting her and having her disbarred.

agent   May 27th, 2010 5:48 pm ET

Abbie – I am also an ATF Agent who was retaliated against by management. You may contact me for more information.

basicone6   May 28th, 2010 2:37 pm ET

How can we contact you?

Helen Frith   May 28th, 2010 9:07 pm ET

What next? Will you be checking up at a later date to see if anything has been done about the way the ATF is managing its staff? I know Postal workers who have similar stories. What a shame our tax dollars are being mismanaged and the Government workers who want to do an honest job are undermined!

Rick   May 29th, 2010 10:23 am ET

I was a special agent with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service who was fired after 16 years of honorable service. My downfall is when I reported a cheating incident at the academy. I was told by superiors to cover-up the incident and to destroy any notes I had regarding the incident. When the incident was investigated by the IG my superiors found out that I had not destroyed my notes. My Cheif said I had disobeyed a direct order from a superior. From that moment on I was labelled "not a team-player." When I later reported to the Deputy Chief (now the Chief) that a retired Special Agent in Charge had absconded with both government and evidential guns, I was told he would "look into it." Two years later I reported this to the IG. When an NGO did a FOIA for the report I was told that my superiors was going to find out what I had reported to the IG and I had better be prepared for retaliation (I was told this by the Department of Interior's Solicitor's Office). Two years later I was fired. And these are the people who swore an oath to uphold the Constitution and protect America's wildlife, what joke. And by the way, the cheater, he recently just got promoted.

Baic   May 30th, 2010 7:53 pm ET

That Vince guy should get a hair cut and quit whining.......i cant stand people making that amount of money and play the poor pitiful me game . As a private mediator i never believe one side of a conflict until i hear both sides and my experience has shown that the truth lies in the middle somewhere. The media needs to realize that the government cannot comment on individual open cases due to the privacy act so it always sounds much worse than it is.....

I also know that there are some true blue whistle blowers out there but they make up a very small percentage of folks who actually file for whistleblower protection. I have seen many government workers abuse this statute along with EEO complaints for getting bad evaluations, being transferred, or being disciplined in some manner........all i can say is by the looks of this guy i would bet there is some dirty laundry in his own closet.

M   June 3rd, 2010 3:45 pm ET

I've worked for ATF for over 17 years and it seems that senior management is really out of touch or out of control. Since ATF's Director position has become a political position, many self-promoting senior managers have manipulated and lied to the men in those positions who came from outside ATF, like Melson.

Part of the problem is the insistance on the part of some narrowminded/old-school people in the Bureau that you need to go through your chain of command. Complaints and whistle blowing, even speaking to the Director are by their very nature outside the "chain of command." Director Melson needs to learn the lingo of ATF to realise that this term is used to criticize employees who want a better Bureau and are not satisfied when their mediocre to incompetent supervisors who stifle empoloyees and their ideas and opinions.

He should read all the greivances filed by employees to see how ATF employees are being abused by their supervisors and the "because we said so" responses that are issued and never address the problems.

nw   June 11th, 2010 8:53 pm ET

Looking forward the story. While bullying is a mainstay of many work places, it appears to have increased with the increase in unemployment. With fewer employment options, employees are afraid to jeopardize their jobs by rocking the boat with whistle blowing, and bullies leverage that fear to their advantage. is a practical resource I've used to build skills to address bullying in the workplace. I sincerely hope your focus on this issue elevates awareness within companies and organizations and among employees. As a society, we're very clear on what constitutes discrimination and have laws to protect employees and citizens. But that clarity and protection must be extended to include the demoralizing and devastating effects of workplace bullying.

hassan aghgih   June 21st, 2010 4:30 am ET

Dear Sir/Mam

The Gulf bp oil spill disaster made me to design a means and plan how to stop the oil gush in the gulf of Mexico. Please be kind enough to help me find the right person to contact with and give my plan to help get rid of this global disaster and save the environmental catastrophe.
your kind attention and prompt reply is highly appreciated.
with the best respect and regards

hassan aghgih   June 21st, 2010 4:33 am ET

dear sir or madam

I have got a good and sure plan to stop the bp oil spill in the gulf of Mexico please help me to find the right person to give my plan and design to save the environment from this global disaster.
your help is already appreciated

best regards

cyberwarrior   July 1st, 2010 12:52 am ET

Unfortunately bullying of this type exists not just in the ATF.
It exists in the business world and elsewhere, such as the Army Reserves' 90th Regional Support Command, 360th CML Co, 460th CML Bde.

Daniel Wexler   July 1st, 2010 1:17 am ET

I am a high school teacher in the Milwaukee Public Schools. Unfortunately I can't discuss the events that occurred because I am not allowed by contract to discuss matters in a public forum that would put the school system in a bad light without risking job termination. Fortunately I had a great lawyer who made the opposing parties look embarrassingly small and petty and I was able to keep my job.

mollybrown   July 3rd, 2010 4:53 am ET

Bullies are alive and well in the federal civil service.. I am a senior-level employee of Homeland Security with 15+ years of federal civil service and retired as a military officer.. Homeland Security, like several federal agencies, tries to hide the negative issues that go on within their Agency. In my case, I was abused and threatened by a field office director and assistant director in the Atlanta Region to the extent that it resulted in my suffering from physical and emotional side effects. I refused to return to the abusive work location because of the horrible conditions in which I was subjected to and the fact that I was being forced to do clerical work in spite of the fact that I am a high-level, 15+ year federal employee. Today, I was fired for speaking out about the abuse and reporting to senior management what was going on at the Atlanta field office. I would like to take my case public and tell my story—not for personal gain—but because I believe that the general public needs to know about employee abuse that goes on within federal agencies, like Homeland Security. In my entire 34 year career (federal civil service, military, and commercial), I had never encountered such abuse and discrimination and lack of management oversight. For doing my job and reporting what I found out, I was subjected to verbal abuse, retaliation, and refusal by the field office to allow me to do my job as a senior management and program analyst. Employee abuse and coverup within the federal government agencies is rampant and largely goes unreported for fear of retaliation.

Manny HM   July 8th, 2010 7:59 am ET

The employee being bullied should start documenting those hostile acts, using journals, voice recorder, records of assignments, etc. Witnesses are important though not really necessary when the evidence speaks for itself. Co-employees are probably scared too. The best approach I believe is to go to the boss of your supervisor's supervisor (2 levels above). Ask help from the union if available and proven to be effective.

John Benwell   July 8th, 2010 3:24 pm ET

I am wondering if reprters are bullied by editors.

In particular I am wondering why CNN is not covering the charges of voter intimidation by black panthers.

tannedhide2010   July 8th, 2010 11:24 pm ET

I think 'Pyschological Abuse' should be part of the Employment and Human Rights Acts to stop 'adult bullies'. l have found they are usually from environments of violence, neglect, and taught no values towards their fellow human beings. l had to confront a boss one day by asking, are you harassing me? to get him to stop ridiculing my job functions and assumptions of a lack of education of which I had more than him. lt can be a very terrifying position to find oneself if in somewhat lonely offices.

Sandy   July 21st, 2010 12:39 pm ET

I've been bullied and gang stalked for over 8 years. It started in the Hamptons when a woman was afraid her boyfriend had an interest in me, which he didn't...but she spread rumors about me in town, and made my life miserable. I had just gotten divorced, recovering from Breast Cancer, and this women banded with a lot of influential people to destroy my reputation. She and this band of people provoked me on roadways, (called gang stalking), and created emotionally irreversible traumas for me financially, and emotionally that has to this day plagued me and left me crazed. What made matters worse was her dad was an FBI Agent, and she was an important Broadway Star. I continue to have issues with this 8 years later. I have lost credibility in my career, and in my personal life. Someone should investigate these types of human dignity infringements that destroy life's...My life is destroyed as a result of this constant harassment and
intrusion into my privacy

bullied2   July 29th, 2010 10:29 am ET

I think bullying is a typical way of doing business in the government.
Those things described in your artical are business as usuall where I have worked for 33 years at the USDA.

ImmalaZenRern   August 2nd, 2010 3:19 am ET

You have so many fantastic ideas, but I have a question – do they work in practice? You know, “An idea that is developed and put into action is more important than an idea that exists only as an idea.”

ImmalaZenRern   August 2nd, 2010 6:19 am ET

Thanks for posting, as I have been looking for this topic for a long time.

Cant give it   November 13th, 2010 1:02 am ET

It doesn't do any good to document anything! I had pictures, facts, dates, places, names and receipts. I am under a gag order not to give any more info. But DOD is just as bad or worse than the rest of all Gov. agencies. After 30 years of Civil Service and with all the proof I had I broke even and they are letting me retire after enduring 8 years of this crap. All the federal attorneys in this area are bought and paid for so you can't win. Civil Service is nothing but another welfare program where they teach every one to lie, cheat, and steal. If you don't lie, cheat, and steal then you are the bad guy! And heaven help you if you want to do a good job and you have good work ethics. All of Civil Service should be contracted out! If the American Tax payers ever knew how much corruption, stealing and crime there is in Civil Service it would make them sick.

marie   January 24th, 2011 9:03 pm ET

I have been employed with a huge NY health system for almost 7 years.
A new manager was hired about 2 year ago after my former manager was forced to resign after almost 20 years. She simply asked for one month off to finally spend some time with her mentally compromised child.
I supported this new manager by helping her train the new staff, although they had their graduate degrees. I decided to pursue my graduate degree 2 years ago. I told her that I was about to start my clinicals and that I was looking for a placement. She offered to speak to another colleague from another site to supervise me. I thought it was agreat idea that I didn't have to take time off from work for my internship.
A few months ago I finally decided to take a two week medical leave, which unfortunately turned to a month because I simply could not drive to work after the 2 weeks my doctor initially told me it would take to recover. When I called to tell her I couldn't come back, she went off on the phone, telling me that she would lose her mind if she couldn't take her vacation because I couldn't come back. She even questioned my doctor's competency. I told her that I am the one who underwent the surgery not my doctor.
Once I came back, she stopped talking to me, excluding me from meetings, accusing me of not doing my work and even removed documents from a medical chart and later asked me to bring a delegate to accuse me of falsifying documents after I replaced the form.
Two weeks later and one month into the semester, I received an email (cc: to my manager) from my internship supervisor (the other health system employee), informing me that she could no longer supervise me due to other pressing matters.
I began to panic but I email her a "thank you" and l left it alone. I called the school and informed them of what happened.
My manager sends me an email 2 weeks later telling that I could no longer see the patients that she had assigned me to work with since I had no supervision.
They attempted to reach this woman for almost 3 weeks without success. After they sent her email asking for a meeting, she informed them that she didn't want to meet.
I am left stranded. It's mid-semester when evaluations and mid-term grades are due.
My manager continued to criticize everything I did. She was relentless.
I contacted my union and explained what was going on. Since my manager had asked me to bring a delegate every time she reprimanded me, the delegate saw that she'd accused me of not doing my work even before she checked the charts to see if they were done. I filed a complaint against with HR. The site HR person tried to defend her. My union rep finally told her that he wanted to meet with Corporate HR on this matter because he felt that the site HR manager was "choosing not to see what was going on."
Meanwhile, I had to find a new internship placement but valuable time had been wasted. A month and a half.
HR offered to have my manager supervise me and the school agreed. I panicked and told them NO WAY.
The end of the semester came and I was forced to get an I for the course, despite the fact that my professor knew what was happening.
My professor told me that I needed to make up almost 300 hours in less than a month. To make up that time I would have to intern 40 hours a week for eleven weeks and work full time. Something is wrong with this picture.
I called HR and told them that the school needed a letter to say that I was being granted these hours by today. I was asked to produce proof that I interned those hours. I retold my story (which they already knew). I even offered to make up the time, if they would submit the letter to the school. I also told them that I was not going to roll over and let these 2 women take away 2 years of study from me. I am due to graduate in May. It is now 8:50 pm and no response. I don't know if I should contact them again, wait, contact my union or obtain legal counsel.

Joe   March 4th, 2011 7:43 am ET


You have hit the nail right on the head!!!

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