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Dissenters’ Digest for May 13-19

3:00 pm in Uncategorized by MSPB Watch

Whistle Suits (image: Truthout.org/flickr)

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

Federal Judge Strikes Down NDAA’s Indefinite Detention Provision: A federal judge in Brooklyn, New York struck down the indefinite detention provision of the National Defense Authorization Act, saying it constitutes an unconstitutional infringement on the First Amendment. The suit was brought by several journalists who feared their activities might fall under the reach of the law — substantially supporting al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces – without even knowing it, and facing indefinite detention for many years. The judge, Katherine Forrest, repeatedly offered government lawyers the opportunity to rebut the reporters’ fears, but they declined to do so.

Below the Fold:

–A Malaysian tribunal found George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfel, Alberto Gonzales, John Yoo, Jay Bybee, David Addington and William J. Haynes guilty of war crimes.

–The Washington Post editorial board calls on the Federal Aviation Administration to take whistleblowers’ complaints seriously.

–The ACLU is weighing in on behalf of Peter Van Buren, the State Department whistleblower who wrote a book and blog critical of his employer’s exploits in Iraq.

–A Homeland Security House subcommittee looks at corruption inside DHS.

–Employees at a nuclear waste site in Washington state are coming forward, saying too many shortcuts are being taken in the construction of a facility to dispose the waste.

–An FBI crime lab whistleblower’s 20 year campaign to expose and correct violations of defendants’ due process rights is beginning to bear fruit.

–House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa is alleging the Federal Maritime Commission may be “an agency in crisis.”

–Union protectionism in 1994 may haunt whistleblowers and the Office of Special Counsel in 2012.

–Several whistleblowers and advocacy groups will host an annual conference in Washington, D.C., May 21-23.

Send tips to tips@mspbwatch.net.

Dissenters’ Digest for May 6-12

4:00 pm in Uncategorized by MSPB Watch

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

Senate Passes the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012: In a rare show of unanimity, the Senate passed S. 743, the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, this week, the latest attempt to update the Whistleblower Protection Act in 13 years. The last attempt, in December 2010, was defeated by a secret hold in the Senate, according to the Government Accountability Project. Not all are enthused with the bill’s protections, which “fall[] short of the comprehensive whistleblower law reforms promised in the 2008 political campaign,” notes Stephen Kohn of the National Whistleblowers Center. Now it’s up to the House to pass their version, H.R. 3289, before the two bills can be reconciled and sent to the President’s desk.

OSC Reports the FAA is Slow in Correcting Whistleblower Complaints: In a rare move, the Office of Special Counsel combined seven whistleblower disclosures from FAA employees into one report to the President and the Congress, citing “an ongoing series of troubling safety disclosures by air traffic controllers and other FAA employees” which have not been rectified by the Department of Transportation. The Special Counsel stated that the “FAA has one of the highest rates of whistleblower filings per employee of any executive branch agency: OSC received 178 whistleblower disclosures from FAA employees since FY 2007, 89 of which related to aviation safety. OSC referred 44 of those to DOT for investigation. DOT ultimately substantiated all but five of those referrals — 89 percent – in whole or in part. In four of the seven cases presented today, the whistleblower had to make repeat disclosures with OSC because the FAA took inadequate steps to correct the concern or failed to implement any corrective action.” The Washington Post has additional coverage.

Below the Fold:

–An internal Pentagon report claims the DoD left whistleblowers vulnerable to reprisal.

–Two F-22 pilots who refuse to fly the aircraft appeared on 60 minutes, claiming a malfunction causes oxygen deprivation aloft.

–The above notwithstanding, the Air Force is in the process of disciplining the F-22 pilots. Congress is expressing concern.

–An EPA scientist who lost her job after blowing the whistle on health dangers to 9/11 first responders prevailed at the Merit Systems Protection Board and will be reinstated.

–The media is silent when the Obama Administration goes after whistleblowers.

–An employment lawyer looks at the fuzzy definition of “gross waste of funds.”

–Thomas Drake speaks with Eliot Spitzer about the DOJ being used to cover up crimes of the Bush and Obama Administrations.

–The FBI is the most effective lobbyist against whistleblower protections, according to a radio interview with National Whistleblowers Center Executive Director Stephen Kohn.

–Former Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary will file a whistleblower suit against the university over its handling of the Jerry Sandusky abuse scandal.

–The Fourth Circuit revives claims by former Iraqi detainees against contractors who are alleged to have tortured them.

Send tips to tips@mspbwatch.net.

NGO Watch: Beltway accountability groups ignore news that cabinet department has been violating a major whistleblower law for almost a decade

9:49 pm in Uncategorized by MSPB Watch

Almost a week ago, MSPB Watch and fellow advocate site Whistlewatch.org broke the news that the Department of Health and Human Services has failed to submit annual reports to Congress about whistleblower retaliation and discrimination data, each and every year since passage of the No FEAR Act of 2002. But it’s been a week and the top whistleblowing advocacy groups in the nation, the Government Accountability Project, the Project on Government Oversight, and the National Whistleblowers Center, have ignored this news since it came out. Nor does it seem that they discovered this violation at all in the past decade. Why?

Dissenters’ Digest for April 29-May 5

4:00 pm in Uncategorized by MSPB Watch

(photo: Steven DePaulo/flickr)

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

Torture is Back in the News: The Government Accountability Project calls for the prosecution of admitted CIA torturer Jose Rodriguez, who recently crowed about destroying 92 video tapes of torture footage in a new book. Separately, Rodriguez alleges in his book that Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi lied about tacitly approving waterboarding in 2002, according to the Washington Post. Further, UCLA law professor and torture memos author John Yoo is immune from liability in the United States for the torture of Jose Padilla, according to a recent opinion from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Below the Fold:

–The Administrative Conference of the United States is teaming up with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on regulatory reform. The Center for Progressive Reform objects.

–FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds overcomes FBI pre-approval for the publication of her book criticizing the FBI over 9/11 missteps.

–EPA whistleblower William Sanjour looks at why agencies fail to regulate properly, and offers prescriptive advice.

–The Department of Health and Human Services is in violation of the No FEAR Act of 2002, and has been since 2002, according to a recent Freedom of Information Act response.

–A federal court in New Orleans will preliminarily approve the $7.8 billion settlement with victims of the Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil spill.

–House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa is preparing a contempt of Congress charge against Attorney Eric Holder over the Fast and Furious gunwalking scandal.

–The Drug Enforcement Administration leaves a college student in a jail cell for five days without food or water.

–The Make It Safe Campaign, an umbrella group of whistleblower and government accountability advocates, is considering enfranchisement and open-process reforms following a general meeting last Tuesday.

Send tips to tips@mspbwatch.net.

Dissenters’ Digest for April 22-28

4:00 pm in Uncategorized by MSPB Watch

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

Congress Troubled by Suspicious Death of Russian Whistleblower: Congress seeks to use legislative authority to punish Russian officials allegedly involved in the suspicious 2009 death of Russian whistle-blower and lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, according to the The Hill. NPR reports that the bill in question could complicate US-Russian relations, jeopardizing Hillary Clinton’s 2009 “reset” with the Russian government. However, a person interviewed by NPR said a “reset … with Russian society” is required instead. The story of Magnitsky’s death has been chronicled in an award-winning documentary. Elsewhere, Firedoglake takes on the Congress for selective concern about civil and human rights.

Below the Fold:

–A whistleblower conference is scheduled for May 20-22 in Washington, D.C.

–A recently-unearthed FAA powerpoint presentation says the FAA “must evolve our safety oversight system and embrace the view that industry — not the regulator — is responsible for ensuring safety,” despite decades-old law placing safety regulation as the FAA’s highest priority.

–The first criminal charges are filed in the Deepwater Horizon gulf oil spill.

–Bradley Manning’s trial continues to be shrouded in secrecy.

–The Non-Federal Employee Whistleblower Protection Act reports out of a Senate committee. The bill would expand whistleblower protections for federal contractors.

–The House of Representatives passes the DATA Act, which would create a five-member commission to oversee federal spending.

–Vermont becomes the third state to call for a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United v. FEC.

–Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein vows to pardon Bradley Manning as president.

–A Countrywide whistleblower laments the lack of accountability and ethics in the financial sector.

–A Missouri bill to restrict common law whistleblowing protections is passed in the General Assembly. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Kevin Elmer, who has a record of sponsoring discriminatory and birther legislation.

–The Securities and Exchange Commission was accused this week of blowing a whistleblower’s cover. The SEC responds.

–The summary judgment provision in the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012 comes under scrutiny.

–A federal employment attorney advises employees to violate the law when ordered to by superiors (notwithstanding their conscience or oath to the Constitution).

–The Make It Safe Campaign will hold a general membership meeting this Tuesday, May 1.

Send tips to tips@mspbwatch.net.

Dissenters’ Digest for April 15-21

4:00 pm in Uncategorized by MSPB Watch

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

Justice Department Withheld Evidence of Flawed Forensic Procedures Used in Criminal Cases in the 1990′s: The Washington Post reports that the Department of Justice failed to notify defendants or their attorneys of possibly exculpatory evidence of flawed forensic procedures. FBI whistleblower Dr. Frederic Whitehurst disclosed improper procedures in the FBI crime lab almost 20 years ago, which led to a nine-year DOJ task force to determine if any defendants were wrongfully incarcerated. The Post notes in a separate article that the DOJ task force “operated in secret and with close oversight by FBI and Justice Department brass — including [then-Attorney General Janet] Reno and [FBI Director Louis] Freeh’s top deputy — who took steps to control the information uncovered by the group.” The National Whistleblowers Center, which counts Dr. Whitehurst as a director, has more coverage of this story.

Office of Special Counsel Roundup: The Office of Special Counsel issued a rare subpoena in the case of Pinal County (Arizona) Sheriff and Congressional candidate Paul Babeu, who is being investigated for violating the Hatch Act. The Arizona Republic reports that ”[t]he special counsel is looking into allegations that Babeu and several key aides were working on his congressional campaign with county resources or while on the clock.”

Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner is quoted in a Federal News Radio article about the GSA conference spending scandal. Lerner states that “[t]he value of this isn’t just about the $820,000. It’s really also about the scrutiny it brings to government waste by this one example. . . . Congress is holding hearings. Agencies now are going to be treading more carefully about the way they are spending money.”

Elsewhere, Senior Legal Advisor to the Special Counsel Jason Zuckerman speaks at a panel about ethical culture in government. Zuckerman notes that “[w]e are seeing a huge increase now in people who blow the whistle” and that “[w]e are getting about 2,800 in prohibited personnel practice complaints annually; two years ago, it was about 2,200. In 2002, it was about 1,600.”

Below the Fold:

–The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs reports S. 743, the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, to the Senate.

–The prosecutor in charge of the bungled Thomas Drake whistleblower prosecution is leaving the Department of Justice.

–A whistleblower who exposed GSA’s excessive conference spending testifies in front of Congress.

–Following the conference scandal at the GSA, the nonprofit watchdog Cause of Action wrote to OMB seeking a government-wide audit of agencies’ adherence to whistleblower laws. Separately, CoA is seeking from the Office of Special Counsel any whistleblower complaints it received about the GSA.

–LGBT activists plan to press the White House to sign an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from sexual orientation discrimination. Here’s a profile of one of the groups involved.

–A U.S. soldier blows the whistle on photos of troops posing with corpses in Afghanistan.

–A whistleblower from the Department of Veterans Affairs files a retaliation complaint with the Office of Special Counsel after disclosing “improper accounting measures regarding PTSD treatment of veterans.”

–Despite promising to strengthen the Federal Election Commission and “nominate members committed to enforcing our nation’s election laws,” President Obama has yet to come through on either promise.

–Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, launches a talk show on Russia Today.

–A State Department whistleblower alleges a high-level U.S. official engaged in sexual relations on the roof of the U.S. embassy in Iraq.

–The chief of police at UC-Davis is stepping down following a scathing report about the widely-condemned pepper spray incident there last November.

–A federal judge rules against CIA whistleblower “Ishmael Jones,” who wrote a scathing book without the agency’s permission. The whistleblower will forfeit all book profits to charity.

–NSA whistleblower William Binney discusses the agency’s billion dollar surveillance facility in Bluffdale, Utah.

–The Center for Progressive Reform looks at how OSHA became stymied by anti-regulatory causes.

Slate looks at how America came to torture its prisoners.

–An ex-UK ambassador comes out in support of Bradley Manning.

–The mastermind behind the Watergate efforts to discredit Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg has died at the age of 80.

–Walmart covered up a massive bribery scandal in Mexico.

Send tips to info at mspbwatch dot net.

Dissenters’ Digest for April 8-14

4:00 pm in Uncategorized by MSPB Watch

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

Foreign Press Covers Obama’s War on Whistleblowers: A Guardian (UK) article covers recent prosecutions of whistleblowers by the Obama Administration and discusses the general state of free speech and dissent during Obama’s reign. Separately, Russia Today interviews two whistleblowers’ lawyers from competing organizations and discusses the case of John Kirikaou, the CIA whistleblower and torture critic who was recently indicted for allegedly sharing secret information with reporters. NPR and Salon have coverage of that prosecution.

FBI Blocks Publication of Whistleblower’s Book Critical of Agency: A lawyer for FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds claims the FBI is blocking publication of his client’s book in violation of agency regulations, according to a press release by the National Whistleblowers Center. Edmonds, who worked as a contract linguist at the FBI, was fired six months after 9/11 following complaints to management about possible compromises to national security and shoddy wiretap translations, according to the Associated Press. Edmonds’ suit was blocked by Attorney General John Ashcroft, who invoked the controversial state secrets privilege. Edmonds has additional coverage on her independent media site, Boiling Frogs Post. She is also featured in this podcast interview by Peter B. Collins.

99% Spring: Real Grassroots Activism or Partisan Co-opting? The “99% Spring” activism training effort by MoveOn.org is seen as an attempt to co-opt the Occupy movement for Democrats’ electoral gain, according to an anonymous party activist. Mother Jones, which is seen with the same suspicion as MoveOn in the link above, offers one account of MoveOn’s training, but a different on-the-ground account is unmoved.

Updates in State Dep’t Whistleblower Peter Van Buren’s case: State Department critic and whistleblower Peter Van Buren is profiled by his lawyer, Jesselyn Radack of the Government Accountability Project, who is covering for Glenn Greenwald on Salon.com. Van Buren separately discusses a recent interrogation by Diplomatic Security. The State Department is moving to fire Van Buren for critical blogging of his employer.

Below the Fold:

JOBS Act encourages fraud in the financial markets, according to Rolling Stone columnist Matt Taibbi.

–The reputation of the late community organizer Cesar Chavez comes under scrutiny for questionable professional conduct.

–A fired SEC lawyer will have a chance to get his job back following a decision by the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

–A power struggle at a watchdog agency could undermine nuclear plant safety.

–The White House rejects requests to sign executive order prohibiting LGBT discrimination by federal contractors.

–A California state report blasts UC-Davis over pepper spray incident.

Send tips to info at mspbwatch dot net.

Dissenters’ Digest for April 1-7

2:00 pm in Uncategorized by MSPB Watch

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

Justice Department Indicts Former CIA Officer, Whistleblower, and Torture Opponent: NPR reports that John Kiriakou, a former CIA officer and outspoken torture opponent, has been charged with violating the Espionage Act by sharing secret information with reporters. The Government Accountability Project notes that Kiriakou is the first and only person to be indicted by the U.S. government who is associated with the Bush Administration’s torture program. GAP further notes that Kiriakou is the sixth whistleblower to be prosecuted by the Obama Administration. Emptywheel has additional coverage.

Watchdog Uncovers State Department Memo Casting Doubt on Legality of Bush Administration’s Interrogation Techniques: As reported by Firedoglake, a 2006 State Department memo casting doubt on Justice Department arguments approving the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” has been uncovered. The author of that memo, Philip Zelikow, was a counselor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. It is believed that the Bush Administration attempted to destroy all copies of that memo, but the non-profit National Security Archive obtained one from the State Department through a Freedom of Information request. Emptywheel has additional coverage. Zelikow’s memo can be found here.

New York Times Report Portrays FDA as Victim of White House Politicization: The New York Times reports that FDA officials were instructed to reverse decisions such as publicizing the caloric content of movie-theater popcorn. The overall tenor of the piece portrays White House officials as shrewd and pragmatic, with FDA officials seen as public-minded, if not “naive.” However, there may be some image management going on following recent and troubling reports of retaliation and spying on whistleblowers, who came forward to allege corruption within FDA and the improper approval of unsafe medical devices. The Office of Special Counsel has opened an investigation into these allegations. GAP and the National Whistleblowers Center have coverage of the FDA.

Below the Fold:

–President Obama signs the STOCK Act, requiring financial disclosure by members of Congress and federal executives.

–Lavish Las Vegas conference costs top GSA officials their jobs. Congress is said to investigate.

–The Obama Administration quietly appoints a new FAA chief counsel with extensive ties to the White House.

–EEOC is urged to tackle conflicts of interest in discrimination complaint process.

–The U.S. government aims to protect secrecy in Bradley Manning’s court martial.

–The Office of Special Counsel is currently experiencing an 8-9 month delay in processing FOIA requests, according to recent communications with its FOIA officer.

Send tips to info at mspbwatch dot net.

Anatomy of an Oversight Breakdown

5:39 pm in Uncategorized by MSPB Watch

Earlier today, a nominee of one party appeared in front of a lone Senator of the opposite party. These men traded cordial remarks while discussing the future of the nominee’s legal and political career. Mark A. Robbins, nominee for the Merit Systems Protection Board, appeared in front of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, which was represented solely by Senator Daniel Akaka.

Akaka began by introducing Robbins, who was flanked by his parents and many of his friends. After going over his resume, Akaka swore in Robbins and handed him the floor. Here’s what Robbins had to say.

This was followed by a few softball questions, and the matter was over and done with in less than an hour.

What did not take place:

Any serious discussion of the MSPB’s current difficulties, Robbins’ plans for helping to remedy them, and whether MSPB will fulfill its mandate as originally designed by Congress. To hear it from Robbins’ himself (and I was there), you would think that MSPB was doing just fine and was in no need of any course correction.

My blog – its very reason for existence – is proof to the contrary.

Sadly, Akaka played along with this charade, and the NGOs who deign to represent the whistleblower and good government community (and who indeed have a near-monopolistic hold on Congress’ attention) were nowhere to be found. Not one word has been uttered from the press shops of GAP, POGO, MISC, or NWC about Robbins’ nomination. Maybe maintaining cordial relations is more important than holding government officials’ feet to the fire; maybe discussions take place behind closed doors and out of public sight; maybe it doesn’t really matter who the nominee is as long as the whistleblowers keep coming in through the front door.

The Civil Service Reform Act was signed into law in 1978. At the time, it was landmark legislation that was motivated by the abuses of the Watergate scandals. The Whistleblower Protection Act was passed in 1989, a year before the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA has achieved public renown and near-constitutional status. No one would think of repealing it or letting its provisions go unenforced. But how many Americans have heard of the CSRA or WPA? How many know the turbulent history of the Office of Special Counsel, assuming they’ve even heard of it? How many realize that the WPA is one of the least observed laws in the U.S. Code?

It’s been over a dozen years since whistleblower legislation was passed by Congress. But do these new, enhanced laws matter if they can be gutted and ignored before the ink dries?

It’s not enough to pass new laws, or to make sure the ones in the books are enforced. If we really care about good government, it’s also important to raise the profile of these laws to near-constitutional levels. It starts by practicing transparency, by asking the tough questions regardless of impact on personal relationships, and by looking past transactional, beltway politics.

 

NGO Watch: POGO addresses OSC’s minuscule budget

11:17 am in Uncategorized by MSPB Watch

From the Project on Government Oversight’s blog:

Office of Special Counsel

By the numbers: FY2011 (actual): $18 million | FY2012 (est.): $19 million | FY2013 (request): $19 million

Analysis: Time and time again, federal employees have saved taxpayer dollars by blowing the whistle on wasteful spending practices within their departments and agencies. Federal whistleblowers also protect our interests by exposing threats to public health and safety.

Unfortunately, the “agency’s caseload is growing more than four times faster than its budget,” according to an FY2011 performance report. OSC is requesting a modest appropriation of $18.7 million for FY2013—slightly less than its request from the previous year.

OSC’s budget should be doubled, even tripled – not cut back. It’s good to see POGO come down on the side of more resources for this beleaguered agency. Specific numbers and more follow-through (e.g., open letters to Congress, petitions, etc.) would be good. As would similar steps by GAPNWCPEER, and the Make It Safe Campaign, among others.

See also: The White House requests $18.7 mil. for OSC, less than last year’s requested and appropriated amounts