In 2003, Chambers told the Washington Post that her force was overstretched and underfunded in the wake of new post-9/11 demands. She said the force needed to be doubled in order to do its job, and to keep up patrols of high-crime areas under National Park Service jurisdiction.
Though she broke no federal law in making the statements, and alerted lawmakers and the general public to a real security shortfall, the Interior Department struck back. First they placed Chambers, the USPP’s first female chief, on unpaid leave, then fired her seven months later.
Chambers, who had been the first chief to come from outside the National Park Service, expressed disappointment. The Bush Administration hoped she would go quietly.
Instead, Chambers spent more than half a decade fighting to clear her name and get back a job she loved. On the day she was fired, she said, “While I am certainly disappointed in the actions taken today by the Department of the Interior, the public support that I have enjoyed from across the country has been overwhelming. It makes me all the more determined to stay the course, to fight the good fight, and to return to the honorable position as chief of one of the finest law enforcement agencies in the land, the United States Park Police.”
Most people would have given up, particularly because of the expense of navigating a maze of courts and administrative entities. In fact, if not for the financial help of her supporters nationwide, Chambers would probably have been forced to fold. Instead, the Merit Systems Protection Board finally ruled earlier this month that Chambers was improperly fired in an act of retaliation. She will get her job back by the end of the month, and will get back pay.
After the ruling, she told WTOP, “I don’t know that we can ever adequately describe all that we’ve been through, emotionally and financially. If this case will help other federal employees deserve the right to speak honestly and candidly and not be punished for that, then there’s some greater good to all of this.”
She told NBC4’s Tom Sherwood that “she realizes she’s become a symbol for any worker who loses his or her job unfairly.”
She has been serving as chief of police in Riverdale Park, a town of about 7,000, for the past three years, and will leave that job to return to her USPP post.
“I didn’t wake up one morning and decide to be a whistleblower,” she told the Post. “I went about my job every day, trying to live up to the ethics of a police chief, to be candid and to be supportive of my bosses, but also to look out for the safety and welfare of people who visited our parks and parkways, to make certain that those iconic statues are there for generations to come.”
Though it took years, Chambers has accomplished two very important things. She highlighted the real problems facing the Washington area’s security and public safety in a time of tight budgets and heightened fears, and she struck a blow for whistleblowers and truth in government. For both of these things, she deserves our thanks.
Follow P.J. Orvetti on Twitter at @PJOinDC