Readers like Mandela column, but question IRS and NSA articles

Joe Davidson
Columnist July 1, 2013

The Federal Diary gets lots of reader reaction via e-mail, snail mail and online posts. Some of the comments are fit to print. Occasionally, we give readers a chance to speak out by publishing their remarks, edited for clarity and length.

Nelson Mandela

Many readers appreciated my column last week on “Lessons from the ultimate public servant: Nelson Mandela.”

Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about the federal workplace that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012. View Archive

Thank you for the article on Nelson Mandela, one of the true giants of the 20th and 21st centuries, and, I believe, one of the greatest men in history. Anything that can be done to increase knowledge and understanding of this forceful, humble and committed man is worth any effort.

As a white, conservative Christian, I am honored to know about this towering figure who is a model for all men and women.

Keep writing about him; if we are lucky, perhaps we will be blessed by another such person inspired by his example.

— Mark Hanchett,

Annapolis

Spitting contest

An article about a former Labor Department employee who won an $820,000 settlement from the agency should have had more information, says this reader.

Very nice piece that touches on a lot of things that are wrong with the whistleblower protection program, especially the vindictive nature of those up the food chain and the length of time necessary to bring this case to a legally enforceable conclusion. My suspicion is that the names of those up the chain responsible for Robert Whitmore’s (and by extension, the public’s) nightmare will never be released by OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration].

However, why didn’t you tell us who had the spitting contest? That seemed pretty straight forward. The public has the right/need to know who these children are who help interpret and carry out Congress’s laws.

— Clark Young,

Mount Vernon

There was much more I would have included in the article, including additional names, if I had had more time to work on the story and more space to print it.

Snowden whistleblower?

The basic premise of your column of Thursday, June 20 — i.e., that Edward Snowden is a whistleblower — is complete nonsense. (I can think of a better noun, but a family newspaper probably wouldn’t like it.)

A whistleblower is someone who exposes some type of fraud, waste or abuse in an activity that isn’t being managed or operated properly. In this case, we have classified programs that were created, implemented, staffed and funded by officials who were authorized to do those things and who knew and understood all the reasons for doing so. From all accounts, those programs were being operated and managed as intended. When a cleared government employee or contractor compromises such programs because of a philosophical disagreement, that isn’t whistleblowing, that is treason. The intelligence community needs to find a way to weed out any employees or potential employees who don’t understand the difference.

— Dennis L. Barton,

Silver Spring

Snowden worked for Booz Allen Hamilton as a National Security Agency (NSA) contractor when he released classified information about massive government surveillance programs. Barton, in a later e-mail, said he worked for a subsidiary of Booz Allen after retiring from a 30-year career with the NSA.

Don’t follow the hype

I didn’t expect your June 7 article, “Costly IRS conference’s waste undermines everybody’s credibility,” to rally to the defense of the IRS, but I did expect a more proactive approach to the situation from you.

First and foremost, all IRS employees are taxpayers, so, literally, they pay a portion of their own salaries.

Next, how long have we heard that the government needs to operate more like the private sector?

The problem expressed is that it’s inefficient and wasteful, because it doesn’t, but how many corporations have conferences for comparable numbers of employees that cost at least $4.1 million, including $50,000 for the videos?

How much is spent by lobbyists or interest groups to take only a handful of elected officials on “fact-finding” missions or think tank summits?

How much have the ability and propensity of those elected officials to sell their influence or profit from their insider information cost taxpayers?

Yet the honorable Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) says, “You cannot take the money of American workers and waste it.”

Congress wastes far more money every time it cuts the IRS’s budget because it brings in close to $7 for every dollar spent on it, waste included.

Finally, “government employees were staying in $3,500-a-night rooms,” but how much did those rooms actually cost the taxpayers?

Full disclosure, I work in the Office of Chief Counsel for the IRS and think that histrionics and hyperbole are allowing Congress to deviate from what the country needs it to do, what it was elected to do — create and pass legislation to fix the country’s big problems.

The media shouldn’t allow it to cloud and mask that most important of tasks with politics.

Lead, Mr. Davidson, don’t follow.

— Chris Hester,

Olney

The IRS can’t confirm the $7 figure but says it generates $4.65 for every dollar it spends on “enforcement actions,” which account for a portion of the revenue the agency collects.

Twitter: @JoeDavidsonWP

Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at wapo.st/JoeDavidson.

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