Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham will issue a department wide memo Monday declaring that discrimination against employees will not be tolerated, an aide said Saturday.
Allegations of racial profiling of Asian-American employees first arose after nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee was accused of spying for mainland China. The agency’s internal watchdog recently reported finding no evidence to support claims that four Asian-American workers were treated unfairly.
Abraham’s memo makes clear that “any practice of racial profiling shall be eliminated and prevented from occurring in the department,” spokesman Joseph Davis said. It continues: “Sound management must be practiced … to create and maintain a respectful and productive work environment free of profiling, discrimination and fear.”
Abraham would have gone ahead with the memo regardless of the finding by the department’s inspector general, Davis said.
The report appears to contradict a department task force’s investigation last year that found evidence of racial profiling and an “atmosphere of distrust and suspicion” toward Asian-Americans at the nuclear weapons labs.
The latest investigation, initiated in November by former Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, began after Asian-Americans in the department and outside contended that Lee was targeted because he was born in Taiwan.
Lee, a nuclear weapons scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, pleaded guilty in September to one felony count of mishandling nuclear weapons secrets. The government dropped 58 other counts. Lee, a naturalized U.S. citizen, never was charged with espionage but was jailed nine months before a plea bargain set him free.
The inspector general’s report was limited in scope and did not focus on the Lee case or the many racial profiling complaints made to the agency’s office that acts as an intermediary between disgruntled employees and their managers.
Instead, the investigation covered four Asian-American employees who said they were treated unfairly when they tried to renew their security clearances. Three eventually received clearances, and one employee had a security clearance revoked. None of the four filed a formal complaint of discrimination.
“We examined the general circumstances of these cases, and found that they did not support concerns regarding unfair treatment based on national origin,” Inspector General Gregory H. Friedman wrote in his report.
Friedman said Saturday the report “speaks for itself” and declined further comment. He did acknowledge in the report that his investigation was constrained by the responsibility of the ombudsman, Jeremy Wu, to keep confidential the complaints brought to him.
Wu did not return a message left at his home Saturday.
In the report, Wu told the inspector general’s investigators he believes there are “strong and continuing allegations about bias and profiling” in the department and that his office has received complaints ranging from allegations of insensitive remarks to abuse of authority. Wu told investigators that such complaints “emerged frequently.”
Indeed, Davis said he doubts there are only four cases and said Abraham, besides issuing the memo, may take enforcement actions in the future.
Abraham is working with Wu and Friedman “to discuss the issue of racial profiling, and collectively, they agreed the next best step was to set forth a sound policy statement on racial profiling,” Davis said.