July 12, 2010
Posted: 10:11 AM ET
By Scott Zamost
For months, we investigated claims that ATF agents were the victims of retaliation for speaking up about alleged abuses in the agency. Filing a complaint got you ostracized, agents told us.
Before our investigation, "ATF Under Fire" aired in May, the deputy director, Kenneth Melson, pledged to take any kind of alleged retaliation seriously, saying he would not tolerate it while he was in charge.
In the interview with Investigative Correspondent Abbie Boudreau, he was clear: "And if there's somebody that's afraid that they're going to be retaliated against if they file or they complain about fraud, waste, abuse or illegal conduct they can come and talk to me about it and I'll make sure that not only will the investigation be conducted, but they won't be retaliated against.”
Days before the story aired, Melson held his first webcast and told employees what he had promised to CNN: “I will not condone, or allow acts of retaliation by management for suggestions made by employees, expressions of concern, reports of misconduct – that’s not going to happen on my watch.”
And he's followed up with a subsequent webcast in which he said, "One of the things we've done recently is to talk to Internal Affairs because I know there have been some concerns about what has happened to complaints to Internal Affairs about things that they've seen going on in ATF. They are now going to make sure that every time they receive a complaint from anyone in ATF that they acknowledge the receipt of that complaint so you know it hasn't gone into a black hole."
Melson also acknowledged that communication with the department that handles discrimination complaints "can be improved." He said “so when someone files a complaint they will be notified and communicated with on a periodic basis so they know what (their) status is, what they can expect to happen in the next stage of their process."
After meeting with representatives of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, he said "we all were in agreement on what some of the concerns were and we expressed to them many of the things that we're doing in order to address those concerns."
Agents tell me that Melson is taking a proactive stance to address what they claim has been a culture of retaliation within ATF. They say the next several months will be critical to how this all plays out.
Vince Cefalu, the agent we profiled in our story who says he was retaliated against for speaking up, is optimistic. As he writes on the cleanuatf.org website, "There are many and multiple accounts around the country that suggest Mr. Melson is a man of his word and suggest the matter discussed on (cleanupatf.org) and in person with Mr. Melson are receiving review."
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