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by GAP Legal Director Tom Devine
Congress wisely included "best practices" whistleblower rights for all employees of contractors, state or local governments receiving the $787 billion stimulus. But it included nothing to protect federal workers in a position to expose stimulus fraud. What happened, and what can be done?
What happened was simple: Key Senate offices objected that the full scope of expanded federal rights only had been subjected to House hearings and not processed through the regular order. There was no time to argue. But the whole law was passed out of "regular" order. The same rules should apply to accountability decisions as to spending.
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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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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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By Adam Miles, GAP Legislative Representative. This article also appeared in the Fort Madison Daily Democrat (IN), Greeneville Sun (TN), Coeur d'Alene Press (ID), and the Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, VA).
A little-noticed congressional investigation has confirmed what whistleblowers have been warning for years: the Federal Air Marshals Service (FAMS) has been systematically exposing the identities of its own “covert” air marshals, who are in charge of overcoming terrorists in the next 9/11-like hijacking.
Anonymity is the only means by which air marshals can get the jump on potential hijackers. Without it, marshals have an “X” marked on their chests, leaving them and their weapons exposed. Yet FAMS undermines anonymity in numerous ways. One is the requirement that air marshals wear formal slacks and dress shoes, even on weekend flights to the southwest or Florida. Even worse, during check-in, air marshals are required to publicly display their credentials at least three times in the airport and are escorted onto flights in front of other waiting passengers.
The FAMS lodging policy groups large numbers of air marshals in a select few hotels, contrary to the government-wide policy of scattering undercover agents. Here, they are required again to disclose their credentials, but this time to uncleared civilian hotel staff. This is done to receive a “special” discount. However, the so-called “FAMS rate” is actually equal to the normal government rate, which marshals could easily receive without blowing their cover. The program led to at least one hotel advertising the undercover air marshal service as its “Company of the Month.”
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by GAP Legal Director Tom Devine and Federal Air Marshal Frank Terreri
A congressional investigation made public in late May confirms what whistleblowers have been warning for years: The Federal Air Marshal Service, FAMS, has been systematically blowing the cover of its covert marshals who are charged with overcoming hijackers to prevent another major terrorist attack.
The report by the House Judiciary Committee concludes that "it is unacceptable for FAMS management to be oblivious to the problems facing their organization. ... Any policy or procedure that potentially compromises the identity of a federal air marshal is a policy or procedure that compromises aviation safety and national security."
Anonymity is the only way air marshals can get the jump on a hijacker, and without it they may as well have an X branded on their chests. Amazingly, however, the committee found that FAMS sabotages its mission with requirements for air marshals to:
- Wear formal slacks and dress shoes, even on flights to Florida and the Southwest.
- Publicly display their law enforcement credentials at least three times in airports, routinely to personnel who do not have security clearances.
- Wait to be escorted onto flights directly before and in front of waiting passengers.
- Openly display their credentials (again) to uncleared hotel staff in order to receive a special FAMS rate - which is slightly more than the normal government rate.
- Stay clustered in the same hotel, contrary to the government-wide practice of scattering undercover agents, again to receive the nonexistent discount. (This resulted in one hotel boasting in July 2005 that FAMS was its "Company of the Month.")
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by GAP Legal Director Tom Devine and FBI Whistleblower Coleen Rowley. This op-ed also appeared in the Daily Sun News (WA), Lake Sun Leader (MO), Waynesboro News-Virginian, Cumberland Times News (MD-WV), Shawano Leader (WI) and the Capital Times (WI).
Last month, the Supreme Court ruled that public employees can be fired for carrying out duties essential to the proper conduct of their jobs. The Court's findings in Garcetti v. Ceballos mean the government must speak with one voice, even if that voice is a lie. But what about the truth, especially when the government falsifies or covers up its own betrayal of public trust?
Richard Ceballos was a Los Angeles county prosecutor who discovered a deputy sheriff may have lied to obtain a search warrant. After he alerted superiors, they ordered him to keep quiet. Nonetheless, as legally required, he notified defense attorneys of the evidence. In response, Ceballos was removed from the prosecution's team, demoted and transferred. In a 5-4 decision, the Court upheld this retaliation.
Discarding longstanding First Amendment free speech rulings that involve matters of public concern, the Court canceled that right where it counts most - on the job. This decision covers all government workers - federal, state or municipal.