FROM THE ARCHIVE
Ex-employee says harassment started at top
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FEBRUARY 15, 2001

The plaintiffs in the billion dollar trust fund lawsuit on Wednesday backed up their charges of employee intimidation at the Department of Interior with a court filing alleging that retaliatory actions against a subordinate came from top Bureau of Indian Affairs officials in Washington, DC.

In a sworn affidavit, Donald Whitener, a 35-year Interior veteran, says the orders to strip a New Mexico employee of her duties originated with Hilda Manuel, former Deputy Commissioner of the Bureau Indian Affairs. Whitener says Manuel managed the BIA with an "iron fist" and initiated retaliatory actions against Mona Infield along with other senior management.

Infield has been at the center of the plaintiffs' allegations of employee harassment for almost a year now. While working at a BIA regional office in New Mexico, Infield in March 2000 criticized a planned move of the BIA's national records center from Albuquerque to Washington, DC.

Soon after, Infield was removed from her duties as a senior computer analyst, barred from her office, and "exiled" to her home. Whitener was deputy director of the Albuquerque regional office at the time and says Infield's criticism was the source of the actions against her.

"I and many other BIA managers understood that Ms. Infield was being punished because of her relationship with Cobell plaintiffs' attorneys and because she provided the court with detailed testimony that contradicted representations made by senior Interior Department officials and their lawyers," says Whitener.

Whitener also says he never received notice of a court order barring retaliation against employees for providing information related to the case. Judge Royce Lamberth issued the order in May 1999 but Whitener says he never saw it -- even up until the time he retired in June 2000.

An additional anti-retaliation order was just issued last week by Alan Balaran, the court-appointed special master to the case. Balaran said an employee at the Northern Cheyenne agency of the BIA provided him with information about the destruction of documents despite "fear of retaliation."

"Even though I'm providing this information to you and I feel that I'm doing the right thing, I still have a big of fear of retaliation especially as I have no protection," wrote the employee in a letter to Balaran.

During her tenure at the Bureau, Manuel reported directly to Kevin Gover, former Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs. Both are now employed at Steptoe and Johnson, a Washington, DC, law firm.

Relevant Links:
The Office of Trust Records - www.doi.gov/ost/ost_otr.html
Trust Management Improvement Project, BIA - www.doi.gov/bia/trust/tmip.htm
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton - www.indiantrust.org

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The Trust Fund Fiasco (Smoke Signals 1999)

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