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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.

It’s time to blow the whistle on the federal whistleblowing community

2:37 pm in Uncategorized by MSPB Watch

Over the last few months, this website has taken a proactive approach to exposing the conduct of the Government Accountability Project (specifically through Tom Devine, its legal director), which, ironically, has been acting in a rogue and unaccountable manner. Here are some of the allegations lodged against it, none of which have ever been contested on the merits:

GAP is the whistleblower advocacy organization in the United States. It exercises unparalleled influence in Congress relative to whistleblowing issues. It has taken the lead in passing whistleblower legislation for the last few decades.

It has also helped thousands of whistleblowers throughout its 30+ year history.

With that kind of clout and record, it makes sense that GAP has a loyal following of whistleblowers whose lives could have been much worse.

But will these whistleblowers go so far as to look the other way or even attempt to stifle or derail other whistleblowers when GAP’s misconduct comes to light?

Sadly, the answer is yes.

Here are a few examples, with redactions to protect identities. Note that many of these emails were also sent to GAP’s board of directors and board of advisors. Read the rest of this entry →

Veal Pen Watchdogs Misappropriate Whistleblowers’ Support for Strong Bill to Advance Watered-Down Alternative

2:32 pm in Uncategorized by MSPB Watch

Beltway watchdogs the Government Accountability Project and the Project on Government Oversight are lobbying for the passage of a version of the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act which POGO claims is “the strongest version . . . [Senators and Representatives] think they can pass this week.” (GAP says virtually the same thing.)

In support, POGO links to an organizational letter it and GAP have drafted and circulated. POGO also links to an open letter by “prominent whistleblowers” who have “thrown their support behind this bill.” (Emphasis mine).

I can tell you that the open letter lobbies Congress to pass a strong WPEA and to specifically address five areas: retroactivity, jury trials, all circuit review, CUI/SSI loophole, and no summary judgment. The letter does not specifically support the version of the bill agreed upon these days, as described here. How do I know this? Because I wrote the letter, along with Tom Devine of GAP and Evelynn Brown of WhistleWatch.org.

That’s not to say that individual whistleblowers on it don’t support the current version, but we did not urge Congress to pass a bill that punts on jury trials and maybe also retroactivity and the CUI/SSI loophole and leaves the door open to summary judgment and revoking all-circuit review after 2 years.

Just to set the record straight, the open letter demands more than Congress is willing to pass at this time, and endorses nothing short of that.

So why is Congress not willing to pass a bill that’s as strong as we demanded?

###

Also, the CYA disclaimer that this is the “strongest version” of the bill Congress is willing to pass should have an asterisk after it, as in:

House and Senate cosponsors of the bills to strengthen protections for federal whistleblowers and taxpayers have reached an agreement and will offer the strongest version** of the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA) they think they can pass this week.

**In the absence of public outcry.

Update: Ms. Brown’s response can be found here.

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.

Dissenters’ Digest for June 10-23

3:00 pm in Uncategorized by MSPB Watch

Stonewalled, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA)

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.

Contempt: A House committee voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt for refusing to submit documents in connection with the Fast and Furious gunwalking scandal. President Obama invoked executive privilege, for the first time, to shield the documents from Congress. The measure may soon be presented to the House for a final vote. Meanwhile, Democrats are decrying the move as a political “witch hunt.”

Stonewalled: Senator Chuck Grassley is getting stonewalled by the Food and Drug Administration over an inquiry that it’s been spying on federal whistleblowers. The Senate and related House investigations were sparked by a lawsuit filed by six FDA whistleblowers who were allegedly targeted for surveillance. The National Whistleblowers Center is representing them in court. Relatedly, the Office of Special Counsel, which is also investigating the FDA over the same matter, released a memo this week to the federal government, urging agencies not to spy on whistleblowers. Doing so, the memo said, might lead OSC to conclude that retaliation is afoot.

Looking Backwards: President George W. Bush ignored a number of the CIA’s pre-9/11 warnings, according to new FOIA documents declassified and revealed this week.

Cover-Up: An Army Lt. General is accused of blocking a corruption probe in Afghanistan to help President Obama’s re-election.

Below the Fold:
Read the rest of this entry →

GAP and POGO are peddling misinformation about the disclosure of classified information and the WPEA. Why?

9:17 am in Uncategorized by MSPB Watch

Check out these articles and their comments:

http://pogoblog.typepad.com/pogo/2012/06/the-danger-of-hasty-anti-leak-legislation.html (pending moderation)

http://whistleblower.org/blog/42-2012/2055-lieberman-feeds-off-leak-hysteria-calls-for-de-facto-official-secrets-act#comments

Both make the same point: that no safe, legal channels exist for the disclosure of classified information. This is simply not true.

The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act would not create any such channels, because Section 119 of S. 743 would only modestly upgrade the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act of 1998 (which upgraded the Inspector General Act of 1978), but neither provided for confidential disclosure channels. And WPEA still would not.

Only the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 did so, by creating and authorizing the Office of Special Counsel to receive classified information, and guaranteeing confidentiality.

But it’s not convenient for GAP and POGO to say that now, apparently (despite GAP acknowledging it in 2006, on page 5).

Let them know you expect good government groups to be honest with the public:

dbrian@pogo.org

beae@whistleblower.org

How Obama broke his campaign promise to whistleblowers

7:14 pm in Uncategorized by MSPB Watch

Here’s a brief rundown: in 2007-08, Obama ran on a platform of open government, transparency, and protecting whistleblowers. He even relied on his experience as a whistleblowers’ attorney to prove his bona fides. He won.

Two activists in Guy Fawkes masks hold a sign of Bradley Manning.

Anonymous activists in support of Bradley Manning (Photo: Bradley Manning Support Network / Flickr).

Around February 2009, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had the opportunity to provide long-sought protections to whistleblowers through the stimulus bill. He blew it. Meanwhile, the Justice Department was in the process of prosecuting (or preparing the prosecution of) the highest number of whistleblowers in history. At the same time, the whistleblower community (and then some) got together to prod the Democratic-controlled Congress to complete a decade-long attempt to update the Whistleblower Protection Act. This was in May 2009.

Then the Senate released their bill, which was watered down and divided the community. The White House was backing away from Obama’s campaign pledge. The National Whistleblowers Center stood their ground, arguing that jury trials are crucial. The Government Accountability Project and a few others, including the Project on Government Oversight, wavered. (They also had access to the White House and plenty of attention (and cash) from corporate-funded foundations with ties to the administration.) A split in the community occurred, and the bill died. Another bill cropped up, but it’s virtually identical to the one that came before.

So here we are: divided, demoralized, and adrift. GAP, POGO, et al are still peddling a weak, if not harmful bill while trying to silence dissent.

Obama is still prosecuting whistleblowers.

Retaliation goes on. Corruption goes on.

There’s a name for the kind of co-option that took place in the past three plus years: veal pen politics.

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.