For years there have been some half-hearted efforts in Congress to protect government employees who disclose corruption and malfeasance in their agencies. It’s high time for the efforts to become reality, and for Congress to actually protect those who witness wrongs and try to make government better or at least live up to its mandate.
Government whistle-blowers have been the backbone of government oversight and improvement for generations, often times at great expense to themselves and their families as they face retaliation in the form of harassment, intimidation in the workplace, and firings. Audrey Hudson’s piece Monday in The Washington Times showed what the absence of protection meant for those trying to improve deficiencies in the Federal Air Marshal’s Service.
Marshal Robert MacLean was fired in April 2006 “after blowing the whistle on the agency’s plans to eliminate protection on long-leg or coast-to-coast flights to save money.” That is astonishing considering the September 11 attacks and the subsequent congressional mandate requiring that such flights have air marshals. Don Strange was demoted and later fired in 2005 for challenging the marshal service’s boarding procedures and dress code that could have placed undercover officers at risk.
And then there are stories like George Taylor’s. After challenging what he called racist treatment of two of his men by a supervisor at Reagan National Airport, he was demoted from management to routine marshal duty and then retaliated against with a travel load so heavy that “he developed barotrauma - damage from barometric pressure - that ruptured both eardrums and caused his sinuses to collapse.” All of this occurred under former Federal Air Marshals Service Director Thomas Quinn, who has retired.
Ten separate organizations have sent a letter to President Barack Obama asking him to issue an executive order to review and restore the careers of whistle-blowers who lost their jobs under Mr. Quinn. We would certainly agree with that.
They also have sparked a new effort in Congress to pass whistle-blower protection legislation as an amendment to the economic stimulus package which passed in the House last week. There is a lot not to like in the stimulus bill, but this isn’t one of those things. This same legislation passed the House 331-85 in March 2007, but failed to become law after two senators placed an anonymous hold on the bill at the request of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. Outrageously, the civil division attorneys, who represent the U.S. government in matters of federal employees’ retaliation and harassment complaints and litigation, decided that they just didn’t want to have to deal with whistle-blower cases that could go to jury trial. We recognize that there are some - not many, we hope, but some - lazy, incompetent, nuisance employees who would love to abuse the legal system under this law, but the alternative is evident in the case of the air marshals. A properly constructed law should be able to separate the wheat from the chaff, and the heat from the chafe.
If FBI agent Coleen Rowley hadn’t blown the whistle on FBI intelligence deficiencies in the Zacarias Moussaoui case, or if she had been silenced by FBI top brass through intimidation and firing, how successful would the Bush Administration have been in thwarting attacks since Sept. 11? The government has to protect employees willing to put themselves at risk to uncover its own waste, fraud and abuse. True oversight is nearly impossible without them and their belief that they will be protected from harm for doing the right thing.
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