U.S. Park Police Chief Teresa Chambers didn’t know what to expect when she reported to the Washington, D.C., office of U.S. Park Service Deputy Director Don Murphy, on Dec. 5, 2003. "I had no idea I was about to walk into an ambush," says Chambers. But she could tell something was wrong when she noticed four armed Park Service agents flanking Murphy’s door. Murphy asked for Chambers’ gun and badge and handed her a letter, placing her on administrative leave pending a review.
few days earlier, Chambers had granted an interview to the
Washington Post in which she discussed Park
Police funding, citing a $12 million shortfall in 2004 and the need
for an $8 million budget increase in 2005. She based her comments
on a budget analysis by the Fraternal Order of Police, a union,
which cited that rising costs for homeland security were dragging
down park police services.
Two weeks after Chambers was
placed on leave, Murphy wrote her a letter saying she should be
fired for failing to follow orders and for her comments in the
Washington Post. Those comments, Murphy wrote,
constituted improper lobbying and disclosure of budget talks. Since
then, Park Service officials have declined to comment about the
For the next six months, Chambers sat at home,
preparing a legal challenge against the Park Service. During much
of that time, the agency ordered her not to talk to the press
"Employees who deviate from the company
line do so at great personal risk," says Jeff Ruch, executive
director of the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility,
a group that is providing legal assistance to Chambers, as well as
to 10 Park Service superintendents who say they fear for their jobs
if they speak out about problems.
In July, the Park
Service fired Chambers after she brought her lawsuit for
reinstatement to the Merit Systems Protection Board, a federal
group that protects government employees against managerial abuse.
In its preliminary decision, the board said it is unclear whether
Chambers is protected by the Whistleblower Protection Act. A
hearing is set for Sept. 8.
If she is not reinstated,
Chambers intends to appeal the case in district court. "I will take
(my case) as far as the courts will allow it," she says.
"It’s about federal employees being able to speak the truth