An unnamed middle manager with the federal Human Resources Department whose staff sounded alarms about her conduct is the first person ever to be found guilty of wrongdoing by the five-year-old office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner.
Mario Dion, the man who assumed the job when the first commissioner left in disgrace, issued a report Thursday that found the manager of four HRSDC offices in Western Canada was guilty of gross mismanagement and misuse of public funds.
Among a long list of her transgressions, the woman, who is no longer in the employ of the department, purchased television sets that were found in her home, paid for personal massages for staff that were coded as office supplies, and approved purchases of items from her own personal business including water bottles (at a cost of $80 each), massagers and magnets for therapy that she used to balance her employees' magnetic fields, the report says.
Mr. Dion also says in his report that there was "considerable anecdotal evidence" that she had wrongfully disclosed personal information about workers' health and disciplinary proceedings to other employees, and that she used the passwords and access codes of employees who worked in different offices to make financial entries without their knowledge.
The file was referred to the RCMP in December, 2011 for investigation.
The staff told Mr. Dion and his investigators that the manager, who had been in her job for nine years when the first complaints were filed, had created an office that was rife with fear in which she yelled at her underlings and used abusive language.
"Many of the staff were frightened of the manager who they described as an autocrat and a bully who threatened reprisal against employees who questioned [her]" the report says. "There was fear that in the small communities in which employees resided that retaliation might spread outside the office and affect their family members."
It is for cases like this, in which employees fear reprisals, that the government set up the Integrity Commissioner's office in 2007 to take complaints from whistleblowers within the federal public service. But few investigations were commenced under former commissioner Christiane Ouimet, and none resulted in findings of wrongdoing.
Mr. Dion said that has changed. "We have 37 investigations that are under way at this time," he said in a telephone interview. "There will be several [reports]of this nature in the not-too-distant future."
The commissioner said he decided not to name the manager who was the subject of the initial report "on the grounds that it was not necessary in the public interest to do that."
But David Hutton, the executive director of Federal Accountability Initiative for Reform (FAIR) which advocates for whistleblowers, said the decision to cloak the wrongdoer in anonymity diminished the findings. And he pointed out that the woman was subjected to no apparent consequences as a result of her actions.
"It looks like another case of the wrongdoer getting a soft landing," Mr. Hutton said.
As a result of the investigation, Mr. Dion recommended the Human Resources Department implement tighter financial controls, that it retrieve all of its assets from the manager, that it account for all of the equipment in the all regional offices, and that it review its policies for the use of mobile wireless devices.
According to the report, the disgraced manager used her department computer and BlackBerry to conduct private business. A government printer and two pieces of office furniture purchased by the department were found in a fitness franchise she operated. And she kept a government vehicle that was intended for use by all of her employees at her house on weekends, which meant staff often had to rent cars.