Category Archives: whistleblowers

A mind is a terrible thing to change

Socrates swallowed poison rather than humble pie

 

Charlotte Yee wants to change the perception that federal employees have a cushy jobs. She used to be an economist for the Bureau of Labor Statistics until a male superior chased her around a file cabinet last year. She filed a complaint with an administrative court where, she has come to discover, accusers have a one-in-four chance of victory — if they get to the appeal stage. Yee calculates that fewer than three percent of complaints get anywhere in the process. (note: the text that follows the hyphen was added after a correction from Yee, who is my friend. See details in comment number two below.)

Now Yee blogs on the the theme that, while federal employees may have cushy jobs, the price they pay is a slavish submission to superiors because they have no recourse to blow the whistle on malfeasance by superiors. In a recent posting Yee focused on the case of a plumber at a Department of the Interior facility near Lake Mead who:

gets accused of smearing doodoo on the toilet paper dispenser. The burden of proof is on the agency, which has to prove by a preponderance of the evidence, that the substance of the charge is more likely than not. . . . “[Ms. Carolyn Steward] was curious about what was in the neatly folded paper towel so she retrieved the paper towel from the trash and put it in a Ziploc bag.” . . . (the) guy gets canned . . . see it for yourself, I’ve printed it here in PDF

So why the painting of Socrates (above) drinking poison? I once read a book, “The Trial of Socrates,” that was written by now-deceased journalist I.F. Stone. He wondered how the Athenians, inventors or democracy, could have condemned this great thinker to death. I have linked to an interview in which Stone explains his forensic reporting on the trial, but it summarize, what he found was that Socrates was a member of what would have been the fascist clique of his day. And in a two-stage trial, after Socrates was first found guilty of sedition against Athenian democracy, he taunted and mocked his accusers. So instead of simply expelling Socrates from the city, the normal punishment, they ordered his death. One last juicy morsel. If you know the word “sophist” to be a person who specious arguments devoid of substance, dig this. Stone argues that it was Socrates who displayed that behavior. Plato, his disciple, hung the “sophist” label on the Athenian faction that defended the democracy. And it was Plato’s version of the trial that survived. Socrates got the last laugh. He lives forever in fame while his opponents wallow in shame!

Misconceptions can kill. Saddam Hussein has WMDs. Oh, wait, he doesn’t. Our bad. A group of teen-aged girls in Massachusetts made a pact to get pregnant. Or maybe not?

It’s so difficult to know what to think at times. Better not to think at all. Just shake your fist when Bill O’Reilly gets into his harangues. Those federal workers with their fat pension! If private sector folks can’t have ‘em, nobody should! The Austin Louge Lizards, a folk band,has a song about this intellectual race to the bottom. It’s called, “Teenage, immigrant, welfare mothers on drugs.” Hey, I hear those pregnant bitches are behind Al Qaeda, too!

 

 

 

 

Whistleblower conference Monday in DC

Two important whistleblower protection bills were signed into law last year (for defense contractors and
ground transportation security whistleblowers) and two more reform bills are awaiting legislative action. They will be the focus of a conference convened today by the Government Accountability Project. According to the press release:

Coleen Rowley is the keynote speaker of the event. Rowley, former FBI Special Agent and Minneapolis Chief Division Counsel, was one of three Time Magazine “Persons of the Year” in 2002. She blew the whistle on FBI Headquarters’ failure to act on information provided by her Field Office, pre-9/11, about terrorism suspect Zacarias Moussaoui.

Whistleblower bill needs tweaks, passage

Charlotte Yee writes in her Government Accountability blog that the Project on Governmental Oversight is prodding House and Senate leaders to reconcile some minor differences in their respective bills to give people more legal protection against retaliation when they step forward to expose government wrongdoing.

Yee, who is currently contesting the retaliation she endured when she reported a superior for sexual harassment, has discovered that federal employees must take their claims to a toothless and spineless administrative court called the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). She writes:

This bill can provide what is currently lacking — a venue for federal whistleblower cases to be heard in district court before a jury.

Help prod Congress by joining the letter writing campaign to pass the whistleblower bill. Empowering people to step forward is the best form of accountability.

Senators hear how DOD let tail bite tooth in Iraq

tn_dina.jpg Dina Rasor, co-author, Betraying our Troops

Dina Rasor is a Northern California woman who has been investigating waste and fraud in the Pentagon for going on 25 years. Most recently she is the co-author of “Betraying Our Troops: The Destructive Results of Privatizing War.” The book argues that an incredible and unmonitored expansion in the use of contract firms to supply U.S. troops with water, food and other supports led to unconsionable waste and worse — the endangerment of our field troops.

In milspeak logistics and supply functions are called the tail. Fighting troops are called the tooth. Rasor testified before a U.S. Senate committee in January. She said the Pentagon outsourced logistics to an extraordinary degree in Iraq. One contract (LOGCAPIII) had been a $60 million — with an M – deal under which Halliburton/KBR would support U.S. troops in the Balkans. Rasor told senators that “the Army took the LOGCAP III contract . . . and exploded it to replace the people and supplies that they did not have in the Army . . . To date, the LOGCAP III contact is estimated to have cost the Army $26 billion.”

The taxpayer might wonder whether the cost controls of the original contract were sufficient to monitor what amounts to a 430-fold increase in expenditures. But that’s only money. What should boil our blood is Rasor’s testimony about:

“a manager for KBR, who was contracted to provide food, water, supply transportation and other services to our troops in Iraq. He told a general at his Iraq base that unless KBR was paid for their submitted invoices, his workers would stay in their housing containers and do nothing until the money was paid. In other words, KBR was threatening a work stoppage in a war zone. This was not an isolated incident.” 

Scott Horton, a contributing editor with Harper’s Magazine interviewed Rasor and co-author Robert Bauman last fall. In that article Rasor said the Pentagon has attacked critics of its outsourcing program — most notably the military officers who have stepped forward to blow the whistle on contractor malfeasance.

“The primary whistleblower featured in our book, Major Rick Lamberth, has suffered retaliation and threats of his career being ruined by the Army if he continued to talk publicly about the problems. Harsh treatment and retribution has been a pattern against those who dare to blow the whistle about contracting problems for Iraq. There have been very few, if any, success stories for whistleblowers trying to expose fraud during this war.”

A year ago Congressman Henry Waxman introduced H.R. 985, the Whistleblower Protection Act. It has passed the House but it seems like it’s been stuck in the Senate subcommittee on government oversight since last June. We need this law. There is no way Congress or the media can penetrate the Pentagon. We need honest officers and civilians to step forward and reveal how these REMFs – “rear echelon mother figures” — robbed taxpayers and stabbed soldiers in the back.

Federal jobs: cush gig or lawless domain?

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My whistleblower pal says there’s no justice working for Uncle Sam

I have written about whistleblowers in this blog and have used them as sources for stories but I have never felt their plight. Until perhaps now. A few days ago I wrote about learning that Charlotte Yee, a former source from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, had started a blog FedHallofShame.com to expose the intimidation she experienced and considered routine for federal employees. I expressed concerned, not for any hurt or humiliation she may have suffered, but rather for the possibility that BLS, which calculates unemployment and inflation statistics, may have been cowed into cooking the nation’s books.

In a followup email,  I went so far as to tell Yee:

“. . . if you just happen to have worked in an office where people were bullied, so what. Life is tough and then you die.”

Yee included that, ahem, sentiment at the top of the blog entry in which she painted federal service service not as a cush gig with high pay and easy pensions but rather as a class of employees who do not enjoy any of the workplace protections of people in private sector employment, who have at the least the legal right to sue bad bosses, even if they can’t always afford a lawyer. She wrote:

“In the private sector, there are laws.  In the federal sector, is no law enforcement and no worker protection.  If you fancy your secretary in the private sector, be ready set aside a nice piece of your company’s revenues to pay her damages.  In the federal sector, help yourself.  Want to slug someone?  Ditto. 2+2= whatever you want it to be, boss. There are no punitive damages in the federal sector — that would be like suing the taxpayer — and compensatory damages are capped at $200,000. No attorney in their right mind would take a federal employee case . . . these cases . . . are heard in special federal employee courts by administrative judges who endure the exact same culture because — guess what — they’re federal employees too!

My former source a civil service whistleblower?

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Mark Twain derided “lies, damn lies and statistics.” A former federal number-cruncher explains why.

Since I became a daily newspaper reporter in the fall of 1992 I’ve always always tried to do the big picture story. And the best way to tell such stories is to get the 30,000 foot-high version by gathering the statistics and then coming down to ground level to find the anecdotes or the faces to bring the story alive. So I can remember back in the day relying heavily on a gentlemen named Sam Hirabayashi, since retired, who was the regional statistician for the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the federal agency which I have always considered second only to the Postal Service in terms of its useful in my life and career. For instance, the BLS, as it is called, calculates the unemployment rate and the inflation rate, vital data upon which the entire economy turn. (Click here for BLS mission statement and here for a Wikipedia entry on BLS.)

So I was blown right out of my blogger’s bathrobe this morning when I got a note from Charlotte Yee, who had been Hirabayashi’s replacement for the last several years until she left the agency in the spring, saying:

“I’m finally coming out about my past.  Four years ago, I was a non-frivolous whistleblower assaulted while at the Department of Labor.  And I’ve got news for you.  Under the Whistleblower Protection Act, whistleblowers are not protected from much.”

I called Yee’s assistance many, many times during 2004 and 2005, when I was covering economics for the San Francisco Chronicle. I don’t know and didn’t look to see how often I quoted her as opposed to asking her to create special spreadsheets for me, because I didn’t trust my own number-crunching capabilities. I used Yee less in 2006 and up through her departure in the spring of 2007 after I had moved from the econ beat back to covering Silicon Valley. I think I met Yee in person just twice, once early in my tenure on the econ beat and the second time when she emailed me one day at the Chronicle to say she would be leaving the agency and inviting me to visit her over at the new federal building, which I did, both to say goodbye to a valued source and to walk though what was then a newly-opened building.

And I can only hope you will believe me when I tell you that, until about 5:30 a.m. this morning, when I started reviewing my personal email account as I do before I blog each day, I had no idea that Yee had any complaint or grievance against the BLS. And now I wonder, as I want you to ask yourself as well, whether an organization with the culture of intimidation that she describes, has the BLS cooked the nation’s books?

I have distilled some of what Yee wrote in a comment appended to my Monday blog posting about a new whistleblower protection act introduced by Rep. Lynn Woolsey, a member of Congress from the Bay Area. I have assembled these clips from the blog that Yee started on Friday, Nov 2, FedHallofShame.com, in order to provide a summary of Yee’s tale:

“For ten years, I worked for the Bureau of Labor Statistics — a coterie of total eggheads who . . . were trying to figure out the 1,000th digit of pi.  At work, however, they were . . . individuals with no sense of purpose, no meaning to their work, and humiliated by superiors at every opportunity . . .”

When I hear stuff like that, my reporter’s skepticsm kicks in: was Yee a whiner and a malcontent? After all she never let on to me she had a gripe. Anticipating this, I suppose, Yee posted a link to her job evaluation. It seems OK to me. So let me continue from her whistleblower blog:

“I too was a non-frivolous whistleblower (the offender was given a golden handshake prior to the release of OIG’s report), assaulted while 3 1/2 months pregnant.  Although I don’t want to advertise the fact that federal managers can flog whistleblowers . . . Administrative Judge Ellison ruled that whistleblowers have no legal recourse from assault, false imprisonment and even torture . . .

“Once I started management, according to my superiors, my job was to do whatever they asked — and that included harassing my own employees . . . since no sane manager stays, employees have no one to protect them.  Now that I’m not there, I don’t know what happens to employees who accidentally burn pizzas.  (Really — I was asked from an extremely high level to take action against this atrocity . . . “

Let me also share Yee’s pointer to Salon’s recent article on whistleblowers. There’s more to say and think about here but I am out of time. And I am still somewhat stunnned. I’ve communicated with Yee by email since her departure from BLS and she has commented on MiniMediaGuy several times. But I need to get about my day and must set this aside for now.

New whistleblower act for private, state, local

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This is the real deal. A bill with teeth. Let’s help give it legs!

Rep. Lynn Woolsey has introduced a bill to give private sector, state and municipal employees greater protection against retaliation when they report illegal or unethical conduct by their superiors. The bill, titled The Private Sector Whistleblower Protection Streamlining Act of 2007  is the latest in a series of bills designed to help people who risk their jobs to report wrongdoing. (Read text of H.R. 4047). As currently written, the bill says:

“No responsible party (employer) shall take any unfavorable personnel action against a whistleblower . . . It is the sense of Congress that the provisions of this section and section 101 shall be construed broadly to maximize the Act’s remedial objectives and for the benefit of the public.”

The Government Accountability Project says the new law would create a uniform set of protections to replace “a crazy quilt of contradictory, hit or – usually miss protections tucked into specific public health and safety laws.” Woolsey’s proposal has 13 democratic co-sponsors.

Congress has been trying to strengthen whistleblower laws across the board, and with some success. For instance, an Accountability Project press release notes that President Bush recently signed into law enhanced whistleblower protections for ground transportation employees; the full Senate has approved stronger protections for defense contactors in the FY2007 defense bill; and the Senate Commerce Committee is trying to give whistleblowers in product safety similar help.

Better protections for whistleblowers are desperately needed. A while back I blogged a bit based on a Mother Jones piece about the ways whistleblowers have been targeted for punishment. In another blog I cite the case of a whistleblower who simply could not get media to pay attention to his complaint.

The best possible way to police the government – and with the Woolsey bill, corporations, as well,  – is to to protect people who risk their livelihoods and reputations to expose wrongdoings that would otherwise remain hidden. The National Whistleblower Center reminds us why:

“Employee whistleblowers now accounnt for the majority of all civil fraud recoveries obtained by the United States. For example between 2000-2006, the Department of Justics recovered $12 billion in civil fraud recoveries ($12,093,022,897). Whistleblowers were responsible for $7 billion ($7,972,051,660) worth of these recoveries, or 65.9 percent.”

Do whatever you can to keep up the momentum for whistleblower reforms. Write or call your congressional representative or write a letter to the editor. If you are an editor, write an editorial!