Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Whistleblowers Unite For Justice

"When I see improprieties that are not keeping up with the expectations under the public trust, then I am not going to be quiet about it, regardless of the circumstances, then I'm not going to be asleep at the switch." Bunnatine Greenhouse, Federal Whistleblower.

A whistleblower is a person who publicly alleges misconduct by a group of people or an organization, usually one they belong to.

Whistleblowers may make their allegations internally, or they may go public and report the misconduct to police, lawmakers, lawyers, the news media or advocacy groups. They usually find much more support from outside the organization than within.

Bunnatine Greenhouse, the former chief contracting officer of the United States Army Corps of Engineers, was demoted in August 2005, after repeatedly expressing her reservations about -- and trying to block –military contracts being awarded in the run-up to the U.S-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Just prior to her demotion, she testified before Congress.

She called the no-bid $7 billion dollar contract awarded to Kellogg, Brown and Root, a subsidiary of the Halliburton company, to restore Iraqi oil, "the most blatant and improper contract abuse I have witnessed during the course of my professional career."

Dick Cheney, who was U.S. Vice President from 2001 to early 2009, was chairman and chief executive of Halliburton from 1995 to 2000. Greenhouse says she was up against "an old boys’ network" which took advantage of the pre-war situation to violate normal rules of competition.

She also complained that U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's office took control of every aspect of the disputed contract.

Greenhouse's attorney, Michael Kohn, says she was demoted because she followed rules which didn't suit the needs of those in power.

Those implicated have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, and said they were following the complex rules that govern contracts involving classified information.

Greenhouse was downgraded to a less senior position just as Hurricane Katrina hit the southern United States, leaving the Army Corps with a new person to handle billions of dollars for relief and reconstruction. To this day, she is fighting to get her old job back.

Attorney Michael Kohn is helping her do this. He is the president of the Washington D.C. based National Whistleblowers Center. He is also lobbying Congress to pass new legislation to protect federal whistleblowers, so that what happened to Greenhouse does not happen again.

Under the current system, he says, he has never been able to successfully defend a whistleblower’s rights. He hopes a new law would ensure jury trials, which he says are less prone to corruption, and less vulnerable to being manipulated by the people the whistleblowers are trying to expose.

This report by Dan Robinson about other federal whistleblowers was written in 2006, when employees in several government agencies tried to sound the alarm about what they saw as abuse of power. They were also demoted.