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National Whistleblowers Center explains roots of divisions and setbacks in the federal whistleblower community

3:03 pm in Uncategorized by MSPB Watch

Here it is.

Key passage (emphasis mine):

On February 1, 2007, whistleblower organizations met together as the Make it Safe Coalition (MISC) and agreed that we would support only bills that were improvements on the current law and contained no backward steps for anyone. Those goals were almost met on January 28, 2009 when the House of Representatives voted for strong whistleblower rights, including full federal court access for all federal employees.

However, over the summer of 2009 things started to go wrong. In negotiations the NWC attended with representatives from the White House and Congress, it became clear that some in the Senate did not support full protection for federal employee whistleblowers. Additionally, the White House retreated from earlier pledges to support a strong federal employee whistleblower law, and instead explicitly stated in private meetings that they would oppose full court access and due process protections for national security employees.

Things took a further turn for the worse in August of 2009 when the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs “marked-up” and approved the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act. At the committee meeting the Senate sponsors stated that their bill was the “best” whistleblowers could get, and the community needed to get behind it.

In response to the Senate Committee mark-up, the MISC Executive Committee endorsed the bill. However, the NWC saw a number of defects in the legislation that made it impossible for us to support passage of that version of the Senate bill. Instead, we became the “skunk at the picnic” and were placed in a very difficult position of having to publicly oppose that version of the bill.

Veal Pen Watch: Good government groups all but eject whistleblower from coalition for asking too many questions

6:29 pm in Uncategorized by MSPB Watch

(photo: chmop / flickr)

The groups that comprise the steering committee of the good government group coalition, the Make It Safe Campaign, are:

  • –ACLU
  • –Government Accountability Project
  • –Project on Government Oversight
  • –Union of Concerned Scientists
  • –American Federation of Government Employees

Here are the details:

Evelynn Brown, a federal whistleblower and CEO of her own whistleblower support group, has been lobbying the MISC SC to become more open, transparent, responsive, and accountable. She asked for basic things like sharing the email list serv, getting rid of a 24 hour comment review period, having a whistleblower on the steering committee, having minutes of meetings made available, etc.

For whatever reason, today the committee decided they’d had enough. They said her comments had become increasingly antagonistic, uncivil, inaccurate. They won’t specify what was inaccurate about it, I asked. Her comments were civil but firm.

I think the person behind this is Tom Devine, GAP’s legal director. There is an authoritarian streak about him. I’ve already asked for his resignation and started to give detailed reasons why. He’s burning up his goodwill quickly. Censoring and exiling whistleblowers is a big no-no in our small community.

Here’s the banishment and what triggered it, below. Reprinted with permission. Read the rest of this entry →

Coalition of open government groups publishes censorship guidelines for whistleblowers’ speech

9:42 am in Uncategorized by MSPB Watch

The Make It Safe Campaign, founded by the Government Accountability Project, has recently published long-requested guidelines dealing with intra-group communications. Here they are:

MISC Steering Committee Guidelines

MISC Steering Committee Guidelines, created 3.25.09

History of Coalition: Comprised of many groups whose interests span federal, corporate, environmental, consumer safety, etc. whistleblower protection

The coalition is broken into two levels of involvement:

  1. Steering committee. Frequent meetings and updates.
  2. Broader coalition of approximately 50 groups that engage in sign-on letters, receive announcements through our MISC listserve, etc. Quarterly meetings and updates.

Establish a steering committee within MISC for consensus and consistent coalition messages. Steering committee meetings will be held on an as-needed basis.

The steering committee must establish;

  1. what is our legislative priority within the working group
  2. when we represent the coalition and when we don’t: Must clarify in any context, from Hill meetings to media, that unless there was a previous consensus by the steering committee, each individual is speaking in their own capacity or on behalf of their individual organization, but does not represent the coalition

There must be “rules of the road” for how we present ourselves as a coalition v. an organization.

We should try to reach consensus with interested groups in the coalition on specific issues when possible, but again, cannot speak on behalf of entire coalition unless there is a consensus.

The steering committee needs to at least know about other bills or efforts that effect whistleblowers; is there a consensus, does steering committee have a role? Is it conducive, hurtful, or neutral to whistleblower protection?

When Hill meetings are made on behalf of MISC, there must be at least 3 representatives from the steering committee in attendance and one of them is responsible for reporting out to group.

Hill communication should be funneled through the pioneer contact within the steering committee, unless approached by the staff directly.

The MISC listserv is open to all members. Messages must be whistleblower-related and factual. Attacks against individual members or member groups are not tolerated. All listserv messages must undergo a 24-hour steering committee review period to confirm it meets the listserv criteria. Messages from a member of the steering committee must also undergo the 24-hour review period. [Emphasis added.]

These guidelines, supposedly created back in 2009, are very troubling. (There’s no archived copy in the Wayback machine, as far as I can tell, which raises a question about the factual accuracy of the 2009 date…)

What happens if a member submits a comment that, say, exposes the founder’s public statements that contradict each other? Is that an attack? Is it factually accurate? The founder wouldn’t think so, but then again he’d be a judge in his own cause. What’s the appeal process, if any?

What if a member wants to lodge a grievance that the Steering Committee is not acting in the best interests of the coalition? Is that an attack? Who gets to decide what’s factual or “appropriate”?

Also, more basically, why must a comment be approved? Why the prior restraint? It would be unconstitutional if a government agency did it; isn’t it hypocritical to impose that requirement here? What’s the concern, if not to control the flow and content of information?

There are less paranoid ways to minimize unjustified disruption (not all disruption is bad!). Give warnings, give some due process, and then ban anyone who continues to engage in trolling behavior.

Finally, the power to ban comments means that the censors must respond to grievances about their own conduct, in an honest and forthright manner. Otherwise, one can imagine the membership revoking consent and going elsewhere. The principles behind the First Amendment still apply in any bureaucratic context… the desire to be heard, to have one’s grievances redressed… the desire not to be treated like a subject… Ignore these at your peril, MISC.

Why is whistleblower advocate Tom Devine trying to revise history?

12:38 pm in Uncategorized by MSPB Watch

Tom Devine of the Government Accountability Project has an unfortunate habit of being loose with the facts and revising history. It happens in private, but more problematically it also happens in public, where public records contradict his past statements (including, oddly enough, an article from just last month. More on this below).

Election of Remedies

Here’s one example, in the context of objecting to a proposed MSPB rule that would limit whistleblowers’ rights. (I wrote about that rule herehere, and here).

This is an excerpt from Devine’s rulemaking comment about the election of remedies issue found in 5 U.S.C. 7121(g)(3):

In proposed sections 1201.21(d) and 1209.2(c) and (d), the Board would strip agencies of the burden to prove the merits of its charges against employees who file Individual Rights of Action (“IRA’s) or the reasonableness of its penalty, including whether termination or another personnel action “will promote the efficiency of the service.” The Board’s rationale is that the changes are necessary to comply with 1994 amendments to the Whistleblower Protection Act (“WPA”) requiring employees to make a choice of forum. Those amendments are codified in 5 USC 7121(g)(3). Unless modified, this regulation could force employees to choose between their rights under the WPA, or their rights under the rest of the Civil Service Reform Act. There is no sound basis in policy or law to force that choice, which in terms of damage to the merit system would far outweigh the nuts and bolts benefits in the proposed regulations.

In overview, the Board’s job is to protect the merit system. While it is necessary to comply with statutory requirements, the Board should not engage in any nondiscretionary actions that shrinks the scope of the merit system. That is what has happened here.

First, the provision in the 1994 amendments was meant only to apply to employees in collective bargaining agreements. (“CBA’s”) It provides no authority to shrink the rights of others not covered by CBA’s. Nor is there any policy basis to strip OSC complainants of civil service merit system rights that govern all other Board proceedings. The choice of forum provision was enacted to prevent duplicative, parallel due process proceedings conducted by the Board (either through a direct appeal or OSC-based complaint), at the same time as a labor management conducted by the Federal Labor Relations Board through its arbitrators. There is not a word of legislative history, or any record at all, that it was intended to require inconsistent standards for employees who start with the OSC, compared to starting with the Board. Nor is there any record basis that the amendments force the Board to discard the efficiency of the service standard or create an exception to the overriding requirement of 5 USC 7701(c)(1) that an agency must prove performance-based charges with substantial evidence, and misconduct based adverse action by a preponderance of the evidence.

Indeed, the Board does not have that authority. Prohibited personnel practices are an additive basis to reject an agency action [“notwithstanding paragraph (1)”], not substitutive. Congress has not created an “WPA OSC” exception to section 7701(c)(1), and the Board cannot do so on its own.

If the Board feels compelled to adjust regulations for the 1994 amendments, it should act in a way that minimizes dilution of the merit system. To the maximum extent possible, restructuring hearing procedures should not affect overall agency burdens. To illustrate, if an agency cannot prove the merits of its charges, that factor combined with protected activity and knowledge should satisfy the nexus element for a prima facie case of retaliation as a matter of law. As a matter of law, it also should defeat the agency’s clear and convincing evidence defense of independent justification, based solely on the strength of evidence criterion to assess the agency defense.

Similarly, there is no authority in law to remove an employee for reasons that do not promote the efficiency of the service. Correspondingly, the final regulation should specify that as a matter of law if there is protected activity and knowledge, a personnel action that does not promote the efficiency of the service establishes compliance with the nexus element for a prima facie case of retaliation, and as a matter of law defeats the clear and convincing evidence defense based solely on failure to meet the discriminatory treatment criterion.

In short, it is unnecessary to overturn longstanding Board case law and doctrines of jurisprudence, merely for compliance with a 1994 WPA amendment passed to avoid duplication between arbitrations, and OSC or Board rulings or hearings. If the Board feels compelled, however, to act within the law it must make corresponding adjustments so that it does not arbitrarily force employees pursuing their WPA rights through to Special Counsel to sacrifice the most basic rights of the civil service system. [Emphasis added.]

Here’s the relevant portion from AFGE’s comment:

AFGE opposes the Board’s proposal to limit the issues before the Board when an appellant chooses to pursue an Individual Right of Action appeal. The proposed rule is an overly harsh rule that, as the Board admits, reverses longstanding Board law. It also leaves an appellant with no way to keep a case whole when the appellant chooses to pursue a claim with the Special Counsel. This makes no sense and, AFGE believes, is contrary to the statute. Nothing in 5 U.S.C. 7121(g) requires this result, and the Board’s rule will subvert the will of Congress by discouraging employees from seeking the assistance of the Special Counsel. The Board should not make this change. [Emphasis added.]

Union Protectionism

These two comments are rebutted by the legislative history of H.R. 2970, a 1994 law that amended the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 (and by extension the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978) to “further protect Federal employees who report misconduct from reprisal for that action.” In reality, though, Congress added the election of remedies provision to serve the interests of two unions (AFGE and NTEU) at the expense of the Office of Special Counsel, and by extension at the expense of federal employees.

At the time it was supposedly no big deal, because OSC was a trap for the unwary and advocates sought its abolition. So a couple of unions kneecapping OSC to divert union or future union litigants away from them (and thus ensure their sustainability by being the only viable option for employees under duress) was understandable.

Tom Devine, also at the time, made a couple of comments to preserve OSC’s viability but did not raise further concerns.

The provision passed but MSPB did not attempt to amend their regulations to reflect it until this year.

Here’s what Congress, the Special Counsel at the time, AFGE, NTEU, and Devine said about 5 U.S.C. 7121(g)(3), on September 14, 1993. Pay close attention to whether “the provision in the 1994 amendments was meant only to apply to employees in collective bargaining agreements,” as Devine now argues, or whether it was conceived to apply to all federal employees.

Rep. Pete McCloskey (page 2):

In addition, the bill would give Federal employees alternative venues to seek resolution of disputes that might arise in their case. This change will not only give employees who do not want to seek corrective action from OSC a choice of where to seek redress, but it should provide an incentive for OSC to improve its performance in the eyes of Congress and Federal employees. If the changes are enacted, and OSC continues to be perceived as hostile to complainants, Federal employees may stop seeking help there and OSC’s role in the context of whistleblower protection will cease to exist.

Kathleen Day Koch, then-Special Counsel (page 7):

As I state earlier, Mr. Chairman, I have not addressed those sectons of the bill that do not directly impact OSC. However, I do have a concern with Section 5(d) of the bill which would appear to diminish the protections currently available to whistleblowers. The bill as drafted would force whistleblowers to choose between coming to OSC and going directly to the board.

The bill would not allow whistleblowers to exercise the independent right of action they currently have which allows them to take their rcase before the board after coming to OSC. I believe that the current independent right of action provision which was added by the Whistleblower Protection Act is an effective measure for ensuring maximum consideration of whistleblower claims and should be maintained. [Emphasis added.]

Mark D. Roth, AFGE (pages 16-17):

AFGE views the alternative forum option offered by the bill as a direct acknowledgement that the OSC has failed to act in a timely and effective manner in too many of the situations brought before it, to the detriment of those the office is charged with helping. The beauty of this bill is that it simply allows individuals raising allegations of prohibitive personnel practices to obtain relief elsewhere.

This option is crucial where, as here, the avenue presently in place, namely the OSC, has proven itself unsympathetic or ineffective. I would stress that the bill neither allows multiple bites of the same apple nor does it abolish outright the OSC.

Again, this parallels in many ways the administration’s current reinvention effort which requires various centralized regulatory agencies, like the GSA, GPO, and OPM to, “compete.” Although many OSC customers have called for the sunsetting of that office, we believe that by breaking up the Special Counsel’s monopoly and requiring that office to compete with others, this bill may provide that office with the necessary incentive to provide a quality product in order to survive or it will see its whistleblower market go elsewhere.

We support many features of the bill. We just want to briefly mention two features that we think are extremely significant and that is, one, the bill’s express language guaranteeing that employees charging a prohibited personnel practice may utilize negotiated grievance procedures and two, the direct empowerment of arbitrators to order corrective action and stays from those practices and/or discipline in meritorious cases.

Grievance and arbitration is a proven mechanism. It allows for swifter and less costly resolution of prohibited personnel practices than either the courts or the OSC and MSPB can provide. Thus, the resulting law would allow for the swift correct of the practice and discipline of those who are found guilty of committing it. [Emphasis added.]

[Roth's written statement is also worth reading, on pages 18-19]

Tim Hannapel, NTEU (pages 20-21):

We are also very much in favor of the bill’s attention, as Mr. Roth just testified, to the role of the negotiated grievance procedure for resolving disputes that arise in the workplace. . . . Together with the recognition of the plenary powers granted to the arbitrator, the salutary objectives of that grievance procedure would be much easier to realize. We believe that the combination of these significant improvements should lead to greatly expanded protections for whistleblowers. . . . Third, we suggest that even more attention be paid to the negotiated grievance procedures, possibly by making it the exclusive administrative remedy for items that fall within its scope, and this would honor the significance of the labor/management relationship that is embodied in the collective bargaining agreements. . .

To be fair to Hannapel, he focused his comments on union issues – the negotiated grievance process. When Rep. McCloskey asked Hannapel to clarify (page 24), Hannapel answered:

For people who are in a bargaining unit, rather than going to the Office of Special Counsel or to the MSPB, they would be required at the administrative level to use the grievance procedure.

McCloskey followed up on this issue with Tom Devine, whose statement did not mention the election of remedies issue:

[Rep. McCloskey, page 33:]  What about Mr. Hannapel’s comment a short time ago that for covered employees, perhaps those four options [OSC, MSPB, union, federal court] should for the time being exclude the MSPB and OSC initial coverage and focus on obviously encouraging the collective bargaining grievance process while still allowing the de novo right in the Federal Court?

[Tom Devine, pages 33-34:]  We think that his point is well taken, that the latter two options are the best routes for an employee to have a fighting chance of defending his or her career successfully. We favor the idea of managed competition, however, which doesn’t force an employee to go one route or the other, but maintains the option of choosing an alternative.

[McCloskey:] As you know, my bill has the four options basically, but should we restructure the process for the [union] covered employees, just have the two options to start with?

[Devine:] We think that the way the bill is drafted, by maximizing your choices, it also maximizes the chances that you will be able to defend yourself somehow.

McCloskey’s version and Devine’s response, minus the federal court option, is what was enacted in 5 U.S.C. 7121(g)(3). This exchange makes clear that Congress contemplated forcing employees to choose between OSC, MSPB, and a union, regardless of one’s union membership. Devine did not raise any consequence issues at the time.

The Art of Spinning

Devine is also now attempting to reframe the issue from one of Congress forcing employees to choose between a union, an MSPB direct appeal, and an OSC complaint, to one of Congress not having intended to “require inconsistent standards for employees who start with the OSC, compared to starting with the Board,” because if they didn’t mention it, they must not have meant it.

It’s a crafty argument, but ultimately it fails because the inconsistent standards issue is a consequence of forcing employees to choose between fora. Congress need not, and certainly does not, anticipate or speak about every foreseeable and unforeseeable consequence of their main policy choices. Moreover, they rely on subject matter experts to raise these issues for them. In this case, that would have been Devine himself, or the Special Counsel.

Notably, the Special Counsel at the time, Kathleen Day Koch, raised the issue of consequences when she said:

The bill would not allow whistleblowers to exercise the independent right of action they currently have which allows them to take their case before the board after coming to OSC. I believe that the current independent right of action provision which was added by the Whistleblower Protection Act is an effective measure for ensuring maximum consideration of whistleblower claims and should be maintained.

She may not have gotten it exactly right, but that’s the problem with predicting consequences.

By reframing the issue from one of Congress making broad, structural changes, to one of Congress neglecting to speak about one of several consequences of their broad decisions, Devine tries to cast doubt about the validity of the plain language of the law. He is trying to redefine reality.

All the other issues Devine mentioned (interaction with section 7701, efficiency of the service) are problems that arise when a rights-limiting provision is introduced into a rights-enhancing legislation; it’s going to be awkward, no matter what. That doesn’t mean the original decision to limit whistleblower rights wasn’t intended by the unions or Congress.

Prior Inconsistent Statement

Oddly enough, Devine’s comment is also contradicted by… Devine’s recent public statements. Here is what he told Bloomberg BNA in a June 12, 2012 article (subscription required, though available in full here) (full disclosure: I work at BNA, though not in the employment division. These are solely my own views):

Tom Devine, legal director at the Government Accountability Project, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that represents federal whistleblowers before the board, told BNA June 7 that, with the exception of the change affecting federal whistleblowers, the MSPB proposed regulations are “stuffed with nuts and bolts changes that would make the board more user-friendly.”

Although the whistleblower provisions will make life more difficult for federal whistleblowers and their legal representatives, Devine said, “it’s difficult to criticize the board for conforming its regulations to clear statutory language, even after an 18-year delay.

“The next step is obvious. When Congress reauthorizes spending for the Merit Systems Protection Board, it should modify the statute,” he said. “There is no excuse for whistleblowers who process claims through OSC to have second-class rights, but the problem is not with the proposed rule—it’s with how Congress wrote the 1994 law.” [Emphasis added.]

Final word: If Devine and AFGE truly feel that 5 C.F.R. 1209.2 is not in accordance with the law (assuming it’s enacted as proposed), they should file suit, challenge it under the Administrative Procedure Act, and let a federal judge look at all the facts and arguments. If that judge finds that 5 C.F.R. 1209.2 was mandated by 5 U.S.C. 7121(g)(3), or is a reasonable interpretation thereof, then I would imagine that Devine and others would seek a legislative change.

Or they could avoid getting exposed by a judge and seek legislative change directly.

Either way, will Devine and other responsible actors acknowledge their role in this fiasco? Based on his conduct, I wouldn’t bet on it.

Read more public comments here.

Dissenters’ Digest for July 8-21

10:00 am in Uncategorized by MSPB Watch

Dissenters’ Digest takes a look back at news stories covering whistleblowers, watchdogs, and government accountability. Look for it every other Saturday evening at www.dissentersdigest.com.

Chilling Effect: Acting ATF Director B. Todd Jones spoke in an internal video to ATF employees where he appeared to admonish his subordinates not to blow the whistle outside the chain of command, lest they face “consequences.” He did not mention they have the right to do so under numerous laws, including the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 and the Lloyd-La Follette Law of 1912, which allows civil servants to communicate with Congress without prior restraint. Sen. Chuck Grassley and Rep. Darrell Issa are investigating.

If Nixon had Keylogging Software: The New York Times reported last week that the Food and Drug Administration’s suspected surveillance of whistleblowers is bigger than previously believed, and includes tracking of sources outside the agency.

The FDA reportedly has developed an “enemies list” to push back against negative coverage of its oft-criticized review of drugs and medical devices. The list includes not only scientists employed within the FDA, but also congressmen, journalists, and outside medical researchers. These efforts have resulted in the collection of some 80,000 pages of documents that include private emails to Congress, draft whistleblower retaliation complaints, and communications with journalists and attorneys.

Senator Chuck Grassley took the lead in expressing outrage against what he previously called FDA’s “Gestapo” tactics.

Grassley’s review includes a demand for the legal memo authorizing the spying campaign, which began in mid-2010. Expect the focus to shift to FDA’s past and current chief counsels.

What’s In Your Wallet?: The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau announced its first enforcement action: a $210 million settlement with Capital One for deceptive marketing practices.

The allegations include misleading consumers about the benefits of Capital One products, which were not always depicted as optional. Some consumers were knowingly sold products they could not utilize, and others succumbed to “high-pressure tactics” to buy add-ons like payment protection and credit monitoring. In some instances, Capital One enrolled consumers in products without their consent, or led them to believe there was no additional cost.

Capital One will fully refund its customers at a cost of $140 million and pay another $25 million to the CFPB and another $35 million to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, totaling $210 million.

In other news, in-house corporate attorneys are concerned about CFPB enforcement actions.

Full disclosure: I have a Capital One card in my wallet.

Below the Fold:

–An environmental watchdog takes a look at Governor Romney’s anti-civil service track record in Massachusetts.

–24 percent of Wall Street executives believe they need to break the law to succeed; 16 percent would commit insider trading if they could get away with it, according to a survey done by the whistleblower law firm Labaton Sucharow.

–The Justice Department and the FBI are reviewing thousands of criminal cases to determine whether any defendants were wrongly convicted because of flawed forensic evidence. The whistleblower who first brought this to light almost 20 years ago will be monitoring progress. Legislation has already been introduced.

–A Navy whistleblower is now in charge of investigating whistleblower cases in the Defense Department.

–Penn State officials knew.

–A federal district court judge blew the whistle, in a way, about coercive plea bargain tactics that demand waiver of appeal rights in lieu of going to prison on unreasonably heavier charges.

–Some news outlets let political operatives approve quotes before they appear in print. Why not also let them write the articles?

FDA isn’t the only agency snooping on its employees.

Treasury officials, unauthorized gifts, prostitutes, and golf.

–The American Federation of Government Employees reached an agreement with the TSA to provide TSA officers personnel appeal rights at the Merit Systems Protection Board.

–The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission approved an 18-year-long race discrimination class action lawsuit brought by U.S. Marshals against the U.S. Marshal Service.

–The White House issued a memo to strengthen the rights of service members who return home and seek to reintegrate into the working force.

Send tips to dissent@dissentersdigest.com.

Dissenters’ Digest for May 20-June 9

4:00 pm in Uncategorized by MSPB Watch

(photo: caribbeanfreephoto/flickr)

Dissenters’ Digest takes a look back at the week’s stories covering whistleblowers, watchdogs, and government accountability. Look for it every other Saturday evening at www.mspbwatch.net/digest .

Beyond Reproach: Efforts to pass the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act came under scrutiny this week after it was disclosed by the lead lobbyists that the bill will not contain any jury trial provisions, a long-sought reform. The admission came after the Make It Safe Campaign Steering Committee objected to an open letter to Congress which highlighted flaws in the current bill. However, grassroots efforts, led by this author, pointed out that the Steering Committee has failed to engage the whistleblower community and the public in its lobbying activities, as well as practice transparency and accountability, the values it publicly champions. It remains to be seen whether the Steering Committee will take heed of suggested reforms, the rejection of which may well cost it considerable influence and credibility with the lowest common denominator that truly matters: federal whistleblowers.

Below the Fold: Read the rest of this entry →

Veal Pen Watch: Why the MISC Steering Committee is the wrong group to represent whistleblowers in Congress

6:40 pm in Uncategorized by MSPB Watch

The bottom line is that groups like POGO, ACLU, AFGE, and UCS have other business in Congress and cannot risk exposing/cajoling/strong-arming politicians on whistleblower issues. This is why I was asked to help kick-start a grassroots lobbying campaign, to give cover to GAP and MISC to get better protections. Except, when it really counted, GAP caved to the other groups’ reticence to do anything but settle for weak provisions.

The whistleblower community needs somebody in Congress who isn’t afraid to name names. There is no substitute for jury trials. If any politician is against them, they should be required to say so, and why, in the light of day, and then answer to his or her constituents.

That GAP, POGO, et al are throwing in the towel should serve as a wake up call to federal whistleblowers everywhere.

POGO will have to choose between whistleblowers and Congress

7:26 pm in Uncategorized by MSPB Watch

POGO’s Angela Canterbury, Director of Public Policy, sits on the Make It Safe Campaign’s (MISC) Steering Committee. Fellow whistleblower Evelynn Brown and I wrote a grassroots whistleblower letter about the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act. Here it is. We asked Tom Devine, Legal Director of the Government Accountability Project, to send that letter to the MISC general membership for signatures (GAP is the gate-keeper of the MISC list serv; we don’t know who’s on it, despite asking for the contact list for over 6 months).

Per GAP’s usual protocol, they send such requests to the Steering Committee for 24-hour approval. POGO’s Angela Canterbury wanted to attach a note from the Steering Committee along with our letter. I placed certain conditions on it, and now I’m waiting for POGO and/or GAP to respond.

Here’s the email chain:

Angela Canterbury, Director of Public Policy, Project on Government Oversight:

This letter seems much more reasonable, but Tom, please ask them to make the edit below.I think there ought to be a Steering Committee message to this effect that accompanies the letter.Something like:

The Steering Committee supports and has fought hard for the reforms highlighted in the letter. We have been told repeatedly by Senate and House members that these are not passable in this political climate. It is indeed not a favorable climate for federal whistleblowers. In fact, we are surprised to have any access to court at all given the House leadership’s opposition to the idea. But though we have been repeatedly told that the bill goes as far as it can go, it does not mean we shouldn’t keep asking for what’s right. However, that is with a caveat: there will come a time when we will need the support of all of us to get some reforms through to help as many whistleblowers as we can. There will be a moment when the perfect will become the enemy of the good. We hope that at that time, all federal whistleblowers will stand in solidarity with one another to get a law that serves as many as possible.

If you agree, Tom or Shanna, will you please let David and Evy know that we’d like to send this note along with the letter?

Me:

I will consent to Angela’s note to go along with ours only if she names the politicians who do not support jury trials and who insist on summary judgment. That message will then be made public. If not, let me know if our message will go through anyway, and if not, why. That message may be made public as well, at my discretion.

Will POGO cover for House members who oppose basic due process rights? Will the Steering Committee censor our letter from MISC members? Remember, they are self-proclaimed transparency and accountability advocates.

This is what political malpractice looks like

2:22 pm in Uncategorized by MSPB Watch

An obsequious message from the Make It Safe Campaign Steering Committee, carrying water for unnamed House Republicans:

The Steering Committee supports and has fought hard for the reforms highlighted in the letter. We have been told repeatedly by Senate and House members that these are not passable in this political climate. It is indeed not a favorable climate for federal whistleblowers. In fact, we are surprised to have any access to court at all given the House leadership’s opposition to the idea. But though we have been repeatedly told that the bill goes as far as it can go, it does not mean we shouldn’t keep asking for what’s right. However, that is with a caveat: there will come a time when we will need the support of all of us to get some reforms through to help as many whistleblowers as we can. There will be a moment when the perfect will become the enemy of the good. We hope that at that time, all federal whistleblowers will stand in solidarity with one another to get a law that serves as many as possible.

Yes, let’s keep “asking” for Magna Carta rights for another 30+ years. Maybe this time things will be different.

 

If the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act fails, what will have caused it?

9:00 am in Uncategorized by MSPB Watch

If WPEA fails to pass, or does pass and causes harm to whistleblowers, will anyone have predicted it?

S. 743/H.R. 3289 is the latest attempt to pass the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act. Here are the past attempts. Apparently the past four attempts were stymied at the hands of holdouts in the Senate. The last attempt, S. 372 in December 2010, was blamed on a secret hold cast by Republican Senators. But that narrative conveniently ignores the fact that the Senate and Administration had the chance to pass it in February 2009 as part of the ARRA stimulus package debate, only to be killed by Senator Susan Collins. And it ignores why the bill was pushed all the way to the end of the Congressional term, empowering hostage-takers who placed the secret hold literally in the last hour of the session. At some level, that falls on Harry Reid, who has control over the Senate calendar, and who didn’t schedule debate until December 2010.

It also doesn’t help that the whistleblower community was divided back then, and continues to be, over what’s in the bill. The current sticking point is the summary judgment provision. We’ll see in a couple of years whether it’s a big deal when pro se whistleblowers at the MSPB get handed one defeat after another for being outmatched by professional agency counsel and biased MSPB judges. It’s not difficult to predict the outcome.

But more important is the process by which the professional advocates decide what to lobby for and how to lobby for it. The umbrella organization responsible for WPEA is the Make It Safe Campaign, created by Tom Devine of the Government Accountability Project. MISC is an ad hoc coalition of non-profits, whistleblowers, labor unions, and organizations. There is a steering committee composed of representatives from the Government Accountability Project, the Project on Government Oversight, Union of Concerned Scientists, American Federation of Government Employees, and the American Civil Liberties Union.  This is the largest and most prominent organization that speaks for whistleblowers on Capitol Hill, but no whistleblower is on the steering committee. Absent explicit request, there are no minutes kept and made available to the general membership, and members must go through the steering committee to communicate with each other, submitting their notices for 24-hour approval. There is no general membership contact list available, despite some of us asking for over 6 months. The National Whistleblowers Center used to be on the steering committee but resigned in protest after being excluded from legislative planning. NWC has opposed S. 372 and may oppose S. 743 due to the summary judgment provision.

If WPEA fails to pass, or if it passes and harms whistleblowers, it cannot be said that everything was tried but was met with irrational opposition in Congress. The fact is that not everything has been tried. The community has not been empowered or enfranchised for long-term input and decision-making. The public hasn’t been reached in an effective way. The advocates try to insert legislation in low-key ways, rather than empower a movement. The norms of transparency and reasoned debate are proving to be illusory.

If WPEA fails to pass or fails as law, now you will know why.

Update: Some whistleblowers issued an open letter to Congress yesterday, which was requested and steered by Tom Devine, only to have him request that we not publish it after the MISC Steering Committee got cold feet. Apparently Congress expects applause and cannot tolerate being criticized for passing a bill that fails to grant real due process (i.e. trial by a jury of one’s peers, which goes back to the Magna Carta of 1215 A.D.). The details will be omitted for now but the events of the past couple of days exemplify Sibel Edmonds’ post that the professional advocates sell whistleblowers down the river behind closed doors when it really counts.