Why Animals Continue to be abused: USDA Inspector Files Whistleblower Complaint with OSC
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Why Animals Continue to be abused: USDA Inspector Files Whistleblower Complaint with OSC

We are constantly being asked, "Why doesn't the Government protect animals according to the law?"  The simple answer is that government agencies don't do the protection and enforcement that they are charged to do.  This is confirmed in the following article which was sent to us on 11 Jan 2005:

January 5, 2005

Richard Botelho Jr, Animal Care Inspector for the United States Department of Agriculture, Animal Plant Heath Inspection Service, Animal Care agency, has filed a whistle blower complaint against USDA with the US government "Office of Special Counsel," dated January 4, 2005.

As an animal care inspector and citizen of the United States, Richard Botelho Jr, believes the public needs to be aware of the prohibited practices by the Animal Care's management at the eastern regional office. The OSC whistle blower complaint alleges multiple violations of federal regulations and law, gross mismanagement and waste of funds at Animal Care's eastern regional office in Raleigh, NC.

The Animal Care agency is responsible for enforcing the Animal Welfare Act, which is federal legislation that ensures the humane care and treatment of certain warm blooded and exotic/wild animals. Animal Care conducts routine inspections at facilities that use regulated animals in research, exhibited to the public, sold wholesale and retail and transported. Licensed facilities would include but not limited to zoos, circuses, wholesale dog / cat breeders, exhibitors, exotic / wild animal dealers and exhibitors to include transporters. Animal Care's Mission Statement: AC provides leadership in establishing acceptable standards of humane animal care and treatment and to monitor and achieve compliance with the Animal Welfare Act through inspections, education, and cooperative efforts. Unfortunately, records show in the last several years Animal Care in the eastern region has failed to use enforcement to achieve compliance as its last avenue.

This lack of enforcement has caused more prolonged health and welfare problems for animals that AC are required to protect by the federal Animal Welfare Act. The lack of enforcement has also caused more incidents with potentially dangerous animals and the public. Animal Care in the eastern region is failing to enforce the Animal Welfare Act, which is endangering the animals we are responsible to protect to ensure adequate care and treatment. Failing to enforce the minimum standards and regulations of the AWA, has harmful risks to the animals and to the public. Potentially dangerous animal are being allowed to be exhibited to the public without direct control of a handler(s), sufficient distance or barrier between the animals and the public.

The OSC complaint states the Eastern Regional Office allows licensee's with a history of repeat noncompliance's to operate without any legal action against such licensees. Evidence shows that Animal Care paid consultation fees to a licensee to consult with a facility which had a history of repeat noncompliance's. Repeat violators of the AWA are seldom given warnings. When legal action is taken against violators, only a fraction of the proposed fine is given by a stipulation agreement. The licensee does not have to admit to the history of repeated violations when they accept a stipulation agreement.. Even when the investigation shows the licensee has repeatedly violated the AWA, which affected the health and welfare of the animals and or public, Animal Care issues a warning or small stipulation. Facilities often accept these stipulations and continue to violate the AWA minimum standards and regulations year after year, stating its just the cost of doing business. Even after facilities pay multiple stipulations they continue to violate the AWA without any further action by Animal Care. USDA licenses are rarely revoked and rarely renewed, even when facilities have a history multiple repeat violations and not in compliance. Research facilities pay thousands of dollars in stipulations which usually cost the taxpayers, because the research with animals is mainly funded by the US government.

Inspectors request warning letters and investigations for repeat violators of the AWA from Animal Care management, only to never receive such requests and without any reply to the inspector. There are several lawsuits against Animal Care from animal welfare groups for allegedly failing to enforce the Animal Welfare Act, which may cost the taxpayers thousand of dollars in attorney and settlement fees. The eastern regional office has issued far less warning letter and stipulations than the western regional office. Recently there was an audit by USDA, Office of Inspector General of the eastern regional office, due to the lack of enforcement issued to facilities. This audit should now be available by FOIA.

The whistle blower complaint states the eastern regional office superiors hire inspectors in areas which are fully staffed. Inspectors with a lack of facilities and work are often sent to other inspectors facilities and paid for travel and lodging. Yet, other inspectors, with over a hundred facilities more than other inspectors, which have not inspected facilities for several years, are not given additional inspectors for their territories.

The OSC complaint states Inspectors are often approved to visit other cities and states, just to visit relatives or site see, as long as they conduct inspections in that requested territory. These visits are paid by Animal Care, the taxpayers dollars. In most circumstances the inspector assigned to that territory has never requested any additional help from his or her superior.

The whistle blower complaint states the eastern regional office of Animal Care purchases laptop computers, digital cameras, and other equipment when the current inventory are in excellent working condition. Unnecessary purchases are made before the end of the fiscal year to spend what monies are left in Animal Care's budget.

The OSC complaint states inspectors were verbally reprimanded and their complaints not heard by Animal Care management when they refused to join coworkers at a training course at Plum Island, New York, where animals were given a variety of diseases without pain management before their death. Animal Care enforces pain management at research facilities, however USDA fails to follow such standards during its own training programs.

The whistle blower complaint states an inspector alleges that Animal Care management gave direct orders to an inspector to expunge files which were FOIA from a federal agency due to an investigation of a human death at a research facility. Other requested records from USDA, FOIA, have taken over 2 years and requesters still have not received the FOIA nor the reason for the delay.

Inspector Botelho has been inspecting facilities for nearly 5 years in SW Florida. He has conducted an astounding number of inspection, nearly 1000 inspections which have uncovered over 200 persons operating without a USDA license, some for many years. He has been given all successful evaluations each year, has no prior discipline, and has an exceptional sick leave record.

Unfortunately, since Animal Care inspector Botelho has complained about the gross mismanagement in the last several years and filed numerous complaints against his supervisor and Director of the eastern regional office, he has been retaliated against recently to include one 14 day suspension unpaid for alleged improper conduct.

Five days after serving his first suspension, he was issued a proposed 14 day suspension unpaid for alleged improper conduct. The improper conduct Director for investigations division for RMSES, stated inspector Botelho used profanity during a telephone conversation. The telephone conversation was a complaint by inspector Botelho due to RMSES investigators calling his home during late hours, harassing his family and waking his children.. Inspector Botelho's first suspension states that he had 5 complaints against him for alleged inappropriate conduct from USDA licensees who have repeatedly violated the Animal Welfare Act and was issued either warning or stipulations. It appears that 5 complaints, which were here say, out of 1000 inspections is a very high percentage by Animal Care standards.

The eastern regional office Director has not disciplined inspectors with greater number of complaints initiated against them, to include Ethics violations (conflict of interest accepting gifts from licensees) AC management does not support their inspectors, but supports high profile licensees when complaints are initiated against them, especially if such facilities threaten lawsuits against the agency. There is a complaint procedure for licensees, however none for inspectors who often learn of complaints during an internal investigations or suspensions.

Management has unlimited funds for legal fees. Yes, their USDA attorney is provided free of charge for their gross mismanagement at the cost of the tax payers. There is seldom any accountability when government superiors are found guilty of discrimination or retaliation, except for future promotions. There is a free in-house grievance procedure for Animal Care employees, but it is evident that the decision would not be UN-bias, due to being made by the USDA administrator. Inspector Botleho has hired an out of state employment attorney in the last several months, which he has since paid over thousands of dollars in legal funds. It has been over two years since inspector Botelho filed initial complaints against USDA, APHIS, Animal Care. The US government being back logged with complaints and lack of staff has yet to set a hearing with a federal judge at the EEOC.

Congress needs to help federal employees do their job with dignity and respect, allowing them to file complaints in a timely and cost effective manner. Help is greatly needed for employees who file complaints against their superiors, due to the cost and time it takes for employees to receive their justice. Federal managers are allowed to issue discipline without pay and state that employees are guilty before employees can prove their innocence, costing thousands of dollars to them and their families. Most employees in inspector Botelho's situation give into management and drop their complaint because of retaliation and the lack of funds for legal representation. Since inspectors fear complaints against them and do not get support from the management, most end up picking their battles at certain facilities, turning their heads from citing enforcement resulting in poor work ethics. Other federal employees are given ultimatums to resign or be fired. Federal managers need to be accountable for their gross mismanagement. History shows that employees who file whistle blowers eventually will be wrongfully terminated, hopefully history don't repeat itself for inspector Botelho and congress will make some serious much needed changes in current federal regulations and laws.

Before Inspector Botelho filed this whistle blower complaint with the Office of Special Counsel, he has recently forwarded such similar complaints to his chain of command to include: Deputy Administrator, Dr. Chester Gipson, APHIS Administrator, Dr. Ron Dehaven, Ann Venneman, USDA Secretary of Agriculture, Agriculture Committee, Governor of Florida, Jeb Bush and President George Bush.

Hopefully his concerns and complaints will be heard by all animal lovers worldwide for the health and welfare of the animals regulated by USDA, APHIS, Animal Care. Animal Care inspectors need to be supported to enforce the Animal Welfare Act. Repeat violators of the AWA need to be issued the appropriate legal action by Animal Care management.

Inspector Botelho can be reached by e-mail at: critermanfl40@wmconnect.com .

Legal funds for animal care inspector Richard Botelho, Jr. are being accepted and can be sent to:

Mahoney & Mahoney. LLP
Attorney John Mahoney
1700 Rockville Pike, Suite 400
Rockville, MD 20852
(301) 998-6181

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