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DC Media Relays OPM Director’s Crocodile Tears for Civil Servants On Last Day in Office

2:16 pm in Uncategorized by MSPB Watch

Various publications covering the federal government relayed concerns by outgoing OPM director John Berry over the “denigrat[ion]” of public service while ignoring his role in the Obama Administration’s unprecedented assault on workplace protections for hundreds of thousands of civil servants, via Berry v. Conyers & Northover. (The “Berry” is for John Berry, on behalf of the Office of Personnel Management).

Whistle blowers

Whistle blowers

That case, which is currently on appeal, has generated the following comments:

Tom Devine, Government Accountability Project:

If the ruling stands, “the merit system will be history.”

Lynne Bernabei, Bernabei & Wachtel, PLLC:

[T]he Obama administration’s support of this position is an integral part of the administration’s increasing secrecy and support of a national security system that is unaccountable.

Judge Dyk, dissenting opinion in Berry v. Conyers & Northover:

The majority completely fails to come to grips with the [Civil Service Reform Act of 1978]. . . the majority’s holding effectively nullifies the statute.

Angela Canterbury, Project on Government Oversight:

Congress must legislate to overturn the wrongheaded over-reach of the Federal Circuit, . . . and to prevent agencies from arbitrarily labeling away the rights of civil servants.

None of the major publications that cover civil service issues mentioned that decision. Instead, we’re treated to this:

Federal Times, April 11, 2013:

After taking over OPM, Berry quickly became known for his optimistic and passionate speeches defending federal employees. As the political winds soured on civil servants in recent years, Berry continued speaking up for feds. At a March labor-management meeting, an angry-sounding Berry warned that the government risks becoming unable to recruit and retain a qualified workforce if it keeps freezing employees’ pay, cutting their benefits, and publicly denigrating them.

Government Executive, April 11, 2013:

Berry has been a vocal champion for federal workers during the last four years, and has a good reputation among lawmakers on Capitol Hill. His exit comes just as federal employees at a number of agencies are starting to feel the effects of sequestration, including furloughs.

The biggest offender seems to be the Washington Post, which served up the following:

Though Berry faced major headaches from computer systems and retiree issues, his greatest frustration was something more fundamental.

“I don’t know if we succeeded in beating back those small-hearted people who somehow feel it is appropriate to denigrate public service,” he said during an interview.

“I don’t know what sort of smallness of mind or heart motivates them, but they need to understand that public service matters. And these jobs are just too important to not be able to recruit the best and the brightest to do them. . . . Do you want Homer Simpson researching cancer for your children’s diseases?”

It was President Obama, Berry’s boss, who, with congressional approval, upset federal workers by freezing their basic pay rates, a freeze now in its third year.

Obama has proposed a 1 percent pay raise for next year, paired with a requirement that employees increase contributions to their pensions.

The freeze happened on Berry’s watch, but it was largely out of his hands.

Meanwhile, Federal News Radio covered its flank a bit by getting positive comments from stakeholders. None of these publications, however, mentioned the decision that could gut civil service protections for hundreds of thousands of employees.

It’s difficult to square Berry’s stated concerns for public servants in the media when he’s trying to strip them of their rights in court. It’s even more difficult to see what’s in it for the free press to give him a pass.
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What’s Missing from the Adulatory Coverage of Obama’s Whistleblower Protections

2:01 pm in Uncategorized by MSPB Watch

Several articles have emerged that contain praise from non-profit groups toward President Obama for taking steps to protect whistleblowers, albeit at a time when more whistleblowers are prosecuted by his administration than ever before. The coverage goes something like this:

Obama’s Justice Department is prosecuting a number of whistleblowers under the Espionage Act.

A government secrecy expert opines that this is unprecedented.

The article mentions Obama’s efforts to expand whistleblower protections through legislation or executive action.

Non-profit groups such as the Government Accountability Project and the Project on Government Oversight applaud Obama for doing more than any other president in history to protect whistleblowers.

What’s missing, however, is any discussion that such steps are mandated by law, specifically 5 U.S.C. 2301(c), enacted by the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978:

(c) In administering the provisions of this chapter—

(1) with respect to any agency (as defined in section 2302 (a)(2)(C) of this title), the President shall, pursuant to the authority otherwise available under this title, take any action, including the issuance of rules, regulations, or directives; and

(2) with respect to any entity in the executive branch which is not such an agency or part of such an agency, the head of such entity shall, pursuant to authority otherwise available, take any action, including the issuance of rules, regulations, or directives;

which is consistent with the provisions of this title and which the President or the head, as the case may be, determines is necessary to ensure that personnel management is based on and embodies the merit system principles. [Emphasis added.]

Key among those “merit system principles” is the protection of whistleblowers.

So is it a fact that Obama has ”done more to affirmatively protect whistleblowers than any other president,” as POGO’s Angela Canterbury recently stated? Yes.

However, it is not out of benevolence or favored policy, but his constitutional duty to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” The fact that a president is finally executing a 1978 law should not be news or grounds for applause. We elect presidents to execute the laws.

What’s newsworthy is why it took 35 years to get to this point.

POGO: the Obama Administration’s “issue validator” on whistleblowing issues

9:33 pm in Uncategorized by MSPB Watch

“Issue Validator”: That’s the term coined by Firedoglake for groups that bless bad administration policies through action or inaction to quell public outcry.

Here’s an example from the days of the Obamacare legislative fights:

One of the things that made a fight for a public option possible was because there were no “veal pen” validators occupying the health care space.  Nobody knows who HCAN is.  The White House tried to press the unions and other veal pen groups into service but progressives standing there ready to shoot on sight made everyone else back away for fear of losing their own credibility.

People think the “veal pen” phenomenon is insignificant, but it’s not.  The abortion fight — like the environmental fight — is extremely difficult to wage online, because you can’t activate those who care about the issue if the “brand names,” the issue validators, are telling them everything is fine either by action or inaction.

Here’s another example from when a liberal White House advisor was driven out by a Glenn Beck smear campaign:

They are the institutional liberal validators who telegraph to liberals that there are problems, that things are happening that are not good for them.  They are trusted to decode the byzantine rituals of government and let the public know when their interests are not being served, that it’s time to pay attention and start making a racket.  When they fail to perform that task, the public is left with a vague feeling of anxiety, intuitively understanding that something is wrong but not knowing who or what to blame.

Now compare with this statement by POGO’s Angela Canterbury about the recent White House policy directive regarding national security whistleblower “protections”:

We have repeatedly urged that anti-leak efforts include authentic protections for those who make lawful disclosures of wrongdoing in the intelligence community. With the stroke of his pen today, President Obama did just that and took unparalleled action to protect whistleblowers, for which we are truly gratified and grateful.

Here are some different reactions about this policy directive:

The ties between POGO and the Obama administration are not a secret. If POGO wants to be a cheerleader for the president, that’s their prerogative. But their power in being an “issue validator” comes from exploiting the public’s ignorance of the gap between their rhetoric and reality.

Don’t give them that power. Educate yourselves about POGO’s ways and motives in the whistleblowing space.

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 →

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.