By Alan Maimon
A bill aimed at enhancing federal whistle-blower protections appeared poised to pass Congress last month on the strength of years of aggressive lobbying and strong bipartisan support. But skeptics of the measure found something even more potent to derail it: WikiLeaks.
The defeat of the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's office called "crucial legislation," was perhaps a sign of the chilling effect on lawmakers of WikiLeaks' recent online publication of thousands of secret government documents. Or as supporters of the bill assert, it was an act of political gamesmanship.
In touting the need for stronger whistle-blower rights, open-government advocates have cited the cases of former Las Vegas-based Department of Homeland Security officials who lost their jobs after alleging agency abuses. A Review-Journal story in 2008 examined how Las Vegas air marshals who got in trouble with the law fared better in the workplace than agents who filed whistle-blower disclosures.
Tom Devine, executive director of the Government Accountability Project, said the bill offered federal workers safe internal channels to report waste, fraud, and abuse and, contrary to what some lawmakers thought, did not provide protections to employees who leak sensitive information to WikiLeaks or other entities outside the government.
By Joe Davidson
Teresa Chambers is back in her office.
Ultimately, she overcame an unworthy effort to boot her from her job as chief of the U.S. Park Police. She was reinstated Monday, bringing to an end a long, high-profile battle in which a whistleblower scored an uncommon victory over Uncle Sam.
Victories, however, are no longer as rare as they once were. The reason: The Merit Systems Protection Board, now with two Obama administration appointees, is decidedly more employee-friendly than it was two years ago.
Chambers's case illustrates the point.
It's been more than eight years since she was suspended, then fired, basically for her comments in a Washington Post article. She had the unfailing backing of Jeff Chambers, her husband of 25 years, who created a Web site in her support, free legal representation by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and good publicity. Not many whistleblowers have so many weapons.
Yet she wasn't allowed to wear the Park Police uniform for many years largely because the protection board twice failed to protect her. It was September 2006 when the board first ruled against her. A federal court then decided in her favor and sent the case back to MSPB, which went against her again in January 2009.
GENEVA - A $21.7 billion health fund championed by the rich and famous has come under harsh scrutiny amid revelations it's bleeding money to corruption. But fund officials and outside experts in the field have a stark message for global development: other aid agencies are in much worse shape.
"The others should follow our lead," the fund's inspector general, John Parsons, told a press conference Monday organized by the fund's top officials to discuss an Associated Press story about $34 million in losses in several African nations.
Investigations led by Robert Appleton, a veteran former U.S. federal prosecutor whom Parsons hired last fall to root out corruption, are showing that up to two-thirds of some grants provided by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria are lost to graft, with much of the money accounted for by forged documents or improper bookkeeping.
The fund rocketed to prominence with the backing of celebrity campaigners like Bono, who see it as an alternative to the bureaucracy of the United Nations.
By Jeff Stein
A former lawyer for Jeffrey Sterling, a onetime CIA officer who has been charged with leaking secrets to New York Times reporter James Risen, was questioned about his client before a grand jury last September, he says.
Washington, D.C. attorney Mark Zaid had represented Sterling, an African American operative for the CIA from 1993 to 2002, in a discrimination suit against the agency a decade ago. The CIA rejected Sterling’s final offer to settle the case, which was eventually dismissed by a court.
Zaid says he was subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury in Virginia investigating the leak case on Sept. 22 and was questioned ”for a couple of hours” by Justice Department prosecutor William M. Welch II.
Zaid would not discuss his testimony, which was first reported in the St. Louis (Mo.) Beacon, a nonprofit online publication staffed by veteran former editors and reporters from the longtime daily St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
But the Beacon, citing an unidentified source, said that “prosecutors questioned Zaid about Sterling's motive in allegedly leaking classified information about an intelligence operation in Iran to James Risen of The New York Times.”
By William H. Freivogel
Federal prosecutors took the unusual and controversial step of subpoenaing Jeffrey Sterling's lawyer to appear before a grand jury investigating the St. Louis man who has been charged with espionage for leaking secrets to the press, the Beacon has learned.
Mark Zaid, a Washington, D.C., lawyer who handles national security cases, was subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury to discuss events surrounding his representation of Sterling in a race discrimination case he filed against the CIA, say sources with knowledge of the case.
Prosecutors questioned Zaid about Sterling's motive in allegedly leaking classified information about an intelligence operation in Iran to James Risen of The New York Times, a source said. The indictment alleges that Sterling leaked the information to retaliate against the CIA for its refusal to settle his race discrimination claim and to approve a memoir he was writing.
The prosecutors' questions focused on motive and dealt with the circumstances of Sterling's case and contacts Zaid had with third parties, a source said. Zaid had tried to negotiate a settlement of Sterling's issues with the CIA. In addition, prosecutors questioned Zaid about actions he had taken on Sterling's behalf that led to testimony to a congressional committee and that promoted his racial discrimination case through the media, a source said.
Zaid's testimony was entirely about his contacts with third parties on Sterling's behalf and was outside of the attorney-client privilege, a source said.
By Robert McCartney
The first great irony in the Teresa Chambers case is that the former and almost certainly future chief of the U.S. Park Police has become one of America's most successful whistleblowers without ever having intended to blow the whistle in the first place.
The second is that although Chambers's recent victory in a seven-year legal saga is a triumph for truth in government, the battle also highlighted how hard it is to protect officials who dare to speak openly and plainly to the public.
Chambers - a cheerful, assertive career cop - waged a long, exhausting campaign on the way to last week's judicial order reinstating her as head of the Park Police. She was ousted in 2004 after she told a Washington Post reporter that her 800-person force needed more money to adequately protect the public.
For three years after that, Chambers and her husband, a retired police officer, worked 18 to 20 hours a day, seven days a week, to start building a legal case and a support network. She has personally answered hundreds of thousands of e-mails from backers.
"I used to print them out, but I've run out of boxes to keep them in," Chambers, 53, said in an interview. "I've probably lost years of my life as a result of it. The roller coaster, physically, mentally and financially, has been huge," she said.
Still, she said it was worth it. The outcome validated her original judgment that she had "a duty to tell folks the truth about how taxpayer dollars are being spent."
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The acting chief of the U.N. division that investigates wrongdoing in the world body is currently under investigation himself for allegedly retaliating against two whistle-blowers, according to a U.N. document.
Michael Dudley asked the U.N. Disputes Tribunal to suspend an investigation into the allegations — but tribunal Judge Marilyn J. Kaman, in a ruling released this week and obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, rejected his request "in its entirety."
Dudley questioned whether the whistle-blowers had acted in good faith and challenged the authority of the U.N. Ethics Office, which had determined that a "prime facie case of retaliation for each complaint existed." He claimed his candidacy for the director's position would be adversely affected by an "illegal investigation based on a malicious complaint" by an individual who had applied for the deputy director's position that he now holds.
Usually, the investigation division of the Office of Internal Oversight Services, known as OIOS, investigates allegations of retaliation and other internal U.N. cases. But because Dudley is the division's acting director and the whistle-blowers worked for OIOS, the Ethics Office asked Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to approve an alternative investigation — which he did.
By Matthew Heller
The hunt is on for the mystery senator who, using a last-ditch maneuver, killed a bill expanding protections for government whistleblowers as Congress was on the verge of passing the legislation after a 12-year lobbying effort.
Just before lawmakers adjourned last month, the Senate passed the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act by a voice vote. After the bill cleared the House unanimously with some amendments, it returned to the Senate for a final vote — only for a single senator to put an anonymous hold on it. The hold was enough to scuttle the bill because there was not enough time to overcome the steep legislative obstacles to remove it before the end of the session.
Now the Government Accountability Project, or GAP, has teamed with WNYC’s On the Media radio program to “out” the bill-killer. “We’re asking our listeners to call, write, email their senators and ask them ‘did you kill this bill?’” says WNYC, which will post the answers on its website. “Hopefully we can blow the whistle on the senator that would refuse protections to government whistleblowers.”
The bill strengthens legal protections for federal workers who report fraud and abuse through legal channels. In an Op-Ed piece for the Los Angeles Times, GAP legal director Tom Devine raged that the single senator’s move “personifies how a tyranny of one threatens congressional accountability … Special interests know that all they need to find is one senator with flexible ethics to anonymously kill whatever bill they don’t like.”
As of Tuesday, GAP reports, “Seven senators (or their staffers) have come forward to explicitly deny being the culprit.”
Click here to listen to the story.
The Code of Ethics Workgroup was charged with designing a new document to promote and enforce ethical government. Its’ results are under review by the new 11 member council, which has until mid March to adopt or revise the plan.
One of the nation’s foremost law and ethics professors, Richard Condit has studied the proposed local document. At a seminar in Cleveland sponsored by the League of Women voters, he praised key features such as adding an ethics board and requiring a registry for businesses working with the county.
He also offered recommendations and adjustments, such as better protection from retaliation - for employees willing to become whistleblowers. Condit is senior counsel to the Government Accountability Project, a whistleblower protection group based in Washington D.C.
By Tom Devine, Legal Director for the Government Accountability Project
It is ironic that a major anti-secrecy reform was thwarted by a single senator's secret "hold" just before Congress adjourned in December. Perhaps some good will come of this double-edged attack on the public's right to know — if it sparks reform.