All those Capitol budget hawks searching out waste, fraud and abuse should first find out why some mystery lawmaker killed a long-needed whistle-blower protection bill in the final hours of the last Congress.
The measure would have greatly bolstered Washington’s ability to recoup wasted multimillions by encouraging government workers to alert superiors to how bad things really are and guaranteeing that they won’t be punished for doing the right thing.
Both houses unanimously approved versions of whistle-blower protection in the lame-duck Congress in December. But just as the final compromise was about to pass, the 12-year campaign was snuffed out by a still unknown senator exercising an anonymous hold. The Senate could use its own whistle-blower right now to let the taxpayers and voters know who is to blame.
By Steve Karnowski
MINNEAPOLIS — Food industry workers who become whistleblowers gained protection against retaliation from their employers with a little-noticed provision in the sweeping food safety law President Barack Obama signed last month.
The Food Safety and Modernization Act is best known for sections that aim to prevent foodborne illnesses, allow the Food and Drug Administration to order recalls and make it easier to trace contaminated food to its source. But the law also protects workers at food companies regulated by the FDA from being fired, demoted or denied promotions or raises if they speak up about what they think are violations.
Protections mean little if the workers covered by them don't know they exist, so the Government Accountability Project, a non-profit whistleblowing organization that supported the new safeguards, was sponsoring a conference Friday in Washington to raise awareness. Lawyers, activists and government officials were expected to attend.
"Whistleblowers are the informational lifeline to warn the public when government-approved food might be a public health hazard," said Tom Devine, the group's legal director. "It occurs frequently because the regulatory system can't hope to catch all the violations through spot checks."
By Noel Brinkerhoff
Government whistleblower Robert MacLean has lost his fight to obtain documents from an agency that conducted retaliatory investigations against him after he accused the Bush administration of putting dollars before anti-terrorism measures to protect airline passengers.
MacLean was fired in 2003 from his job as an air marshal after he told the media of the Transportation Security Administration
(TSA)’s plan to remove air marshals from long-distance flights in order to save money. MacLean’s disclosure resulted in Congress criticizing TSA leaders, who then terminated the 10-year law enforcement officer for revealing the agency’s cost-cutting plans. TSA argued that MacLean should have known he was disclosing “sensitive security information,” despite the fact it was not labeled accordingly. MacLean appealed his dismissal to the Merit Systems Protection Board
, which ruled against him.
The whistleblower then filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement
(ICE) service to obtain documents pertaining to retaliatory investigations conducted by the Federal Air Marshal Service against him and several other whistleblowers. The request was denied.
ICE said it had located more than six thousand pages of material detailing the retaliatory probes, but that it would not release them because to do so would compromise “the privacy interests” of those who did the investigating.
The Government Accountability Project
(GAP) accused the government of misusing the FOIA to shield managers responsible for conducting “excessive and illegal investigations” of workers like MacLean.
“This decision is terrible,” wrote Shanna Devine, GAP’s legislative coordinator. “These continued witch hunts are even worse.”
By Sharon Weinberger
The military needlessly delayed by six months an urgently needed, nonlethal laser weapon that could have saved the lives of U.S. Marines and Iraqi civilians, according to a report released today by the Pentagon's inspector general.
"Delays left Marines deployed to Iraq in 2006 without a critical nonlethal weapon to more effectively perform security missions for nearly 6 months," Richard Jolliffe, the assistant inspector general, wrote in a memo accompanying the main report, which examines the Marines' effort to procure the lasers.
The problem dates back to a 2005 request by the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force in Iraq for nonlethal blinding lasers -- sometimes called laser dazzlers -- that could be used to warn drivers approaching military checkpoints. The U.S. military at the time was facing a rash of car bombs, which in turn prompted a number of cases in which civilians were shot after failing to heed Marines' warnings to stop.
Laser dazzlers were seen a way to solve two problems. The intense beams of light would alert drivers of a checkpoint. And for potential bombers who ignored those warnings, the lasers would temporarily blind them, making it harder for them to attack the checkpoint.
by Helena Bottemiller
The Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower organization, is hosting a meeting of legal experts, whistleblowers, and food safety experts in Washington, D.C. Friday to discuss the "far-reaching implications" of the legal protections for food industry workers included in the new food safety law.According to GAP, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act establishes the first-ever private sector whistleblower protections enacted specifically for the food industry. The new law allows whistleblowers to speak out about violations--involving FDA-regulated food products--at any point in the food supply chain without fearing retaliation.
"This is a sea change for the food industry," said GAP Food Integrity Campaign director Amanda Hitt. "The new law provides monumental reforms, and we're going to spotlight how the whistleblower provision is a huge step for private sector employees and its ability to protect consumers. Giving industry workers a safe channel to report bad practices is paramount to safeguarding public health."For example, according to GAP, protections would now extend to a line worker who is demoted for refusing to pack eggs he or she reasonably believes could be contaminated with Salmonella or to a peanut butter plant manager who is fired for providing FDA positive pathogen test results.
Click here to listen to the story.
When Franz Gayl went to Iraq as a civil servant science advisor in 2006, he learned of equipment shortages that were endangering soldiers. But when he tried to address these shortages through his chain of command he was ignored. By reaching out to Congress and the press, he brought much needed attention to these problems, but he also angered his superiors, threatening his career. Franz says that if the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act had passed, he would have had adequate protections against his treatment in the workplace.
Click here to listen to the story.
On January 27th, the Senate agreed to reform the practice of "secret holds," making it much harder for anonymous Senators to anonymously block legislation, like they did with the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, from reaching the floor for a vote. Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, who sponsored the reforms, talks about the origin of secret holds and the importance of the reform.
By Nicole Broder
The online jokes multiplied, naturally, after a radioactive rabbit was trapped on the Hanford nuclear site last November.
Someone called it "Money Bunny." Another said the rabbit — which apparently drank water from the site of a demolished building where nuclear weapons were once made — was 50 feet tall and answered to Harvey.
In truth, that contaminated critter carried a serious message: Hanford officials need to do everything possible to contain radioactive waste.
But that's not how it has worked, says Tom Carpenter, the founder of the Hanford Challenge, which advocates for those who stand up for safety at the site. Carpenter charges that Hanford has punished employees with safety concerns instead.
"It has happened many times," he said.
The nonprofit is hosting "Taking THE EDGE off Hanford," Friday night at Seattle's Richard Hugo House to fund its support of Hanford employees who believe they have been punished for whistle-blowing. (For information, go to www.hanfordchallenge.org).
By Joe Davidson
Sen. Daniel K. Akaka is starting his fourth year as chairman of the Senate subcommittee on the federal workforce. It promises not to be like the last.
Being chairman of the subcommittee this year means taking the point for Democrats as they deal with a beefed-up crew of Republicans who see budget cuts when they view a workforce that Akaka (D-Hawaii) has long championed.
"Senator Akaka's advocacy on behalf of federal employees has been heroic," said Beth Moten, legislative director of the American Federation of Government Employees. ". . . His leadership on our issues becomes all the more important because we expect to see the House pass a number of measures that are harmful to federal workers."
In each of the past two years, Akaka's voting record has been rated 100 percent by the National Treasury Employees Union, said NTEU President Colleen M. Kelley.
By Brandon Canevari
MANCHESTER - His friends, classmates and former Burr and Burton Seminary staff members remember him as person concerned with doing the right thing. So, for some of them it was no surprise to learn that Tom Drake - a 1975 graduate of Burr and Burton - took a stand a principle. However, that stand has led to a charge of mishandling classified information under the federal Espionage Act. Drake is only the fourth person to be charged under the act for mishandling classified information. Daniel Ellsberg was the first for disclosing the Vietnam-era Pentagon Papers, a case that was eventually dismissed due to governmental misconduct.
Since being charged under the Espionage Act, the Government Accountability Project, a non-profit organization that promotes government and corporate accountability by protecting whistleblowers, has started a petition to put an end to his prosecution.
According to a report in the New York Times. Drake - who was working at the time for the National Security Agency (NSA) in 2001 at the Signals Intelligence Directorate in Fort Meade, Md. - felt the government's eavesdroppers were wasting hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on failed hi-tech programs, known as Trailblazer, ThinThread and Turbulence.
Unlike Trailblazer and Turbulence, Drake felt ThinThread - a pilot technology program that filtered the telephone, e-mail and Web traffic the NSA collected, according to the Times article - was an effective program. However, the NSA chose to use Trailblazer, a program that according to the Government Accountability Project's Web site, was not only less effective and more expensive, but also raised concerns about privacy violations. The Trailblazer program was intended to analyze data carried on computer networks and could also be used to track communication methods such as e-mail or cell phones, according to the online encyclopedia wikipedia.com.
After taking his complaints to many factions within the NSA, including his bosses, the NSA's inspector general, the Defense Department's inspector general and the Congressional intelligence committees without success, Drake contacted a reporter at the Baltimore Sun.