The chief House watchdog said the Federal Maritime Commission “may be an agency in crisis,” raising concern in a letter that staff members opposed to a Port of Los Angeles employee-driver mandate might have been bullied by supervisors.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif, wrote FMC Chairman Richard Lidinsky Jr. that commission economists Roy Pearson and Robert Blair were reportedly mistreated after they objected to banning owner-operators from providing drayage service at the Port of Los Angeles. A federal court of appeals in September struck down the mandate in the port’s clean-trucks program, blocking a Teamsters effort to use the environmental program to unionize harbor truck drivers. A FMC spokesman said the agency was cooperating with the investigation.
“Commission insiders allege that the politicization of the commission’s core functions and administrative decisions have contributed to a climate of fear and intimidation among agency managers and staff,” Issa wrote in the May 9 letter.
The Office of Special Counsel is investigating allegations that Pearson and Blair faced retaliation for testifying that the provision would stifle competition, “unreasonably increase transportation costs,” and wouldn’t add any environmental or public health benefits. The Natural Resources Defense Council filed a Freedom of Information Act request for FMC documents with the aim of showing that “external influences” impacted the FMC scrutiny of the mandate, the letter said.
“One of your first acts as chairman was to insert yourself into the nonpartisan FOIA process by ordering that six boxes of Blair’s work paper concerning CTP be sent to your office for review. You made this request despite the fact that these resources were the subject of ongoing litigation between the FMC and the Natural Resources Defense Council,” Issa wrote Lidinsky.
Issa said Lidinsky reportedly told the supervisor of Blair and Pearson “to keep an eye on them,” and that Blair, who formerly worked for the World Shipping Council, was a “spy for the carriers.”
Issa said Lidinsky e-mailed the following after a presentation by Pearson: “I’ve had several complaints concerning (Pearson’s) ‘performance’ at meeting yesterday —which fell somewhere between a red brick poly in Liverpool or a too-clever-by-half over the hill vaudevillian who once read a book. He took way too much time on a very busy day, too obtuse charts and his never-ending sneer toward the bench. Who vetted his performance time? I will decide in the future what time he has. Take this up with his supervisor."
Issa said salary raises tied to performance for Blair and Pears were kept to the minimum, and Lidinsky tried to reduce their raises further despite them both receiving “outstanding” work performance ratings. Austin Schmitt, the supervisor of Pearson and Blair, might also have faced retaliation for defending them, Issa wrote.
“In addition to adverse personnel decisions taken gains them, the committee has learned that agency management subjected Schmitt, Blair and Pearson, along with three other FMC employees, to covert surveillance of their computers and e-mails by means of software called Spector 360,” according to the Issa letter.