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FEC inspector general says top agency official duped her into releasing confidential criticisms

The employee comments obtained by Orrock and shared with top FEC managers don’t identify employees by name or title. That’s because McFarland’s office had redacted that and other potentially identifying information before giving it to Orrock, according to McFarland’s email to FEC staffers.

But the FEC is one of the federal government’s smaller agencies — it employs about 350 people — and top managers could conceivably identify who wrote certain comments based on which manager or agency functions an employee is criticizing. An employee’s writing style or figures of speech could also be giveaways.

This year, 185 FEC employees completed a survey on agency morale that the Office of Inspector General administered. The Office of Inspector General also personally interviewed 78 agency staffers and conducted four focus group sessions.

When the Office of Inspector General released its findings in July, it concluded that habitually bickering commissioners, ineffective managers and poor internal communication primarily contribute to many staffers bleak view of the agency and their jobs.

The FEC’s Office of Inspector General, as McFarland noted in her email, is required by law to “protect the identity of anyone who wishes to communicate with our office and remain anonymous.”

No response

Orrock, who oversees the FEC’s audit and reports analysis divisions, did not respond to several requests for comment. Nor did Alec Palmer, the FEC’s staff director and chief information officer.

But in an Oct. 20 email addressed to FEC staff, Palmer acknowledged that a “senior manager” had obtained the confidential employee comments and shared them with three other top FEC officials, including Palmer himself. The agency’s human resources director and deputy staff director for management are the other officials who received the comments, McFarland acknowledged.

“The intent of the senior manager was to better understand morale concerns in order to address them with the Labor Management Forum, and not to violate any employee confidences,” Palmer wrote. “On behalf of myself and the other managers involved, I apologize for any distress this has created.”

Palmer added that he takes “very seriously any allegations of retaliation against any employee at the agency” and that reports of FEC managers retaliating against FEC staffers “will be promptly addressed through appropriate means.”

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