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Written by GAP Legal Director Tom Devine and GAP Legislative Representative Adam Miles. Versions of this op-ed also appeared in: The Roanoke Times, Amarillo Globe-News, Philly Burbs, Northwest Arkansas Times, Scranton Times-Tribune, and Sheridan Press (WY).
Congress is about to get serious about attacking government corruption sustained by secrecy and enforced by fear. Before Christmas, the Senate unanimously matched House approval of legislation reviving the moribund Whistleblower Protection Act. The House and Senate versions need to be speedily reconciled and enacted. This would give federal employees genuine legal rights to be honest public servants on the job. Currently, they too often face the daunting choice of acting conscientiously, risking their career and livelihood, or towing the bureaucratic line, turning a blind eye to waste, fraud and abuse. It’s the public that will be the real winner when the reconciled bill becomes law. This is why the reform is nicknamed the “Taxpayer Protection Act.”
Whistleblowers use freedom of speech to challenge abuses of power that betray the public trust. They change the course of history by refusing to sacrifice their own principles, unwilling to go along with corrupt practices. By exercising their freedom to warn, they prevent avoidable disasters before all that is left is damage control.
Consider examples of how they have made a difference for America’s families. FDA scientist Dr. David Graham’s disclosures forced market withdrawal of the painkiller Vioxx, which caused over 40,000 fatal U.S. heart attacks after our government officially labeled it safe. Climate change whistleblowers like the White House’s Rick Piltz and NASA’s James Hansen exposed how gags, censorship and oil industry collusion turned some $2 billion of climate change research into anti-scientific propaganda and delayed urgently needed action. The Marines’ Franz Gayl demonstrated that hundreds of American combat fatalities in Iraq may be traceable to Pentagon mismanagement, which unnecessarily delayed delivery of mine resistant armored vehicles.
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This editorial was written by GAP Legal Director Tom Devine and GAP Legislative Assistant Adam Miles.
July’s hearing on the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) leads us to this conclusion: Special Counsel Scott Bloch is hopelessly over his head in his job to defend the federal civil service merit system. To restore legitimacy for the office, he must resign or be removed by the president for cause.
Bloch’s mission is to shield federal employees from retaliation and the civil service from political interference. But his mismanagement casts a cloud over OSC career staff members, who remain effective when allowed to do their jobs.
Productivity has plummeted, including a drop in help for whistleblowers. According to OSC’s own reports, the number of “favorable actions” OSC obtained for whistleblowers, its primary constituency, fell from 98 in fiscal 2002 — the last full year of the previous special counsel — to 40 in fiscal 2006. The figure of 40 is an inflated one considering that OSC broadened its definition of favorable actions in 2005.
The House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on the federal work force met July 12 on the agency’s reauthorization. But the hearing degenerated when Bloch was confronted with charges of authorizing the leak of a draft OSC report to the media.
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Written by GAP Food and Drug Safety Director Mark Cohen
Dan Troy laments the development of what he terms “a whistleblower culture” at FDA (FDA Webview, 4/12). The former chief counsel of the agency made this remark at the recent annual conference of the Food and Drug Law Institute. There is too much irony here: Ask an FDA scientist or medical officer what drove them to blow the whistle and they are apt to cite the anti-regulatory culture fashioned by this very same Dan Troy.
Troy was appointed chief counsel by George W. Bush in 2001, the first Bush appointee to the agency. He apparently had earned his stripes by aggressive advocacy on behalf of Pfizer while in private legal practice.
Troy was the FDA chief counsel who led the First Amendment charge against regulating misleading drug advertising. He was the FDA chief counsel who fished around for opportunities to intervene in state court suits on behalf of drug and device manufacturers against injured plaintiffs. He was the FDA chief counsel who, irony of ironies, wrote Retroactive Legislation, arguing that laws should only apply prospectively. Yet it is Troy’s Rule at FDA preempting prescription drug injury suits from state court — a rule issued after most Vioxx personal injury suits were filed — that now threatens to cause the retroactive dismissal of thousands of Vioxx injury claims.
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Written by GAP Legislative Representative Adam Miles. Note: A version of this op-ed also appeared in the following outlets: Salem Statesman-Journal (OR), The Courier (OH).
When asked why outpatient soldiers at Walter Reed hospital were willing to speak so candidly to the press about indefensible conditions, the reporter who broke the story responded simply, “Nobody listened to them for years.”
This is typical of any scandal involving a large, unresponsive bureaucracy. The neglect and mistreatment should have been addressed years ago, when more and more wounded began returning from Iraq. No one listened to the problems, or worse, there was no one for the troops to safely tell. So the problems lingered and worsened with time.
This lack of adequate responsibility and accountability is becoming a tragic habit. A litany of pre-9/11 warnings from national security whistleblowers was ignored, as were reports questioning levee stability in New Orleans prior to Hurricane Katrina.
Our soldiers, marines, sailors and airmen deserve a communications structure in which warnings spark responses, responses that can prevent disasters. That means Congress must change the 1988 Military Whistleblower Protection Act (MWPA) into a law that realistically helps whistleblowers.
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Written by GAP Legal Director Tom Devine
Effective congressional oversight requires safe channels for the flow of information. That means protecting whistleblowers, those who exercise freedom of speech when it counts, to challenge abuses of power that betray the public trust. They are the lifeblood for any credible anti-corruption campaign. Their rights will determine whether oversight uncovers the tip or the iceberg.
Last month, the House Government Reform Committee lived up to its name, unanimously approving legislation to replace the discredited Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA) with a gold standard for federal employee free speech rights. House leaders have promised an imminent floor vote to deliver on their commitment for government ethics reform. There is no time for the Senate to delay catching up. Over the next two years, every crucial political battle could depend on learning the truth from whistleblowers, so there is no excuse for delay with this reform.
Active voters get it. A February Democracy Corps survey found 79 percent of regular voters more likely to support a Congress that passes “a strong whistleblower law to protect government employees from retribution if they report waste or corruption.” This was second in importance to them only to ensuring that the bureaucracy spends money on what it was approved for, instead of itself.
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Written by GAP President Louis Clark. This op-ed also appeared in the Topeka Capital Journal and Radio Left.
As we all know, our nation's capital is blessed with magnificent structures. Many of these buildings are not only beautiful and historic; they also have come to represent the justice and democratic ideals that are practiced, sometimes, within their walls. The Capitol, the U.S. Supreme Court, and the congressional office buildings all reflect the noble principles upon which this nation was founded and later flourished.
But beneath this civilized veneer and symbolic celebration of fairness and democracy lies another reality. Miles of underground utility tunnels connect these and a few other federal buildings in a spidery web of pipes, spreading heat and cooled air, dispensing water, and removing sewage.
For the 10 maintenance workers who descend each workday into this labyrinth, life is hellish. They risk injury as chunks of concrete periodically cascade from crumbling ceilings. Temperatures are unbearable, frequently exceeding 150 degrees. Even worse, deadly asbestos permeates the atmosphere of the tunnels, along with poisonous levels of arsenic from welding fumes. The situation is so bad that the Capitol police refuse to patrol there - or even send dogs - despite the fact that the labyrinth is vulnerable to terrorist attacks.
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by GAP President Louis Clark. This op-ed also ran in the Topeka Capital-Journal and United States Guantanamo News.
A new book may shed light on President George W. Bush's true feelings toward whistleblowers, or at least toward those "leakers" who expose his administration's alleged illegal and questionable activity. According to the former Canadian prime minister's chief of staff, Mr. Bush explained how he would personally handle government leaks. Reportedly, Mr. Bush stated, "If I catch anyone who leaks in my government, I would like to string them up by the thumbs. The same way we do with prisoners in Guantanamo."
Although we can hope he was joking, the context of the statement and subsequent events demand that a hard look be taken at this remark. At the time of the meeting, March 2002, then-Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien was in the midst of a whistleblower-exposed public scandal that would eventually sweep his party from power. Mr. Bush was at the height of his popularly, only to experience a similar crippling erosion of his public standing because of both anonymous and public whistleblowers.
It is ironic that Mr. Bush would cite the federal government's mistreatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay for metaphorical purposes. At the time, few people other than the president knew how detainees were being abused at the facility. Two years after the start of the Iraq war, conscientious soldiers began to expose the routine torture of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib, and the Guantanamo alarms soon followed.