A Web of Truth
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
Bunny Greenhouse was once the perfect bureaucrat, an insider, the top procurement official at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Then the 61-year-old Greenhouse lost her $137,000-a-year post after questioning the plump contracts awarded to Halliburton in the run-up to the war in Iraq. It has made her easy to love for some, easy to loathe for others, but it has not made her easy to know.
In late August, she was demoted, her pay cut and her authority stripped. Her former bosses say it's because of a years-long bout of poor work habits; she and her lawyer say it's payback for her revelations about a politically connected company.
Now Bunnatine Hayes Greenhouse is becoming one of the most unusual things known in the upper echelons of government and industry -- a top-shelf bureaucrat who is telling all she knows. For honesty's sake, she says.
"It's not a process for the weak-hearted," says Jeffrey Wigand, the former tobacco company executive whose high-profile whistle-blowing inspired the film "The Insider."
Greenhouse, whose case has also become a media event, unloaded more of her burn-the-house-down allegations on PBS's "Now" last week because, let her tell you, Bunny Greenhouse didn't grow up on the black side of the segregated tracks in Rayville, La., to run from a fight -- even if that includes the vice president of the United States.
"[Expletive] yourself!" former Halliburton chief executiveand current veep Dick Cheney snapped at a senator last year in an exchange related to Greenhouse's allegations.
"If prison inmates don't like the warden who keeps them from breaking out," Greenhouse says of her stewardship of Corps contracting, "do you replace the warden because the inmates don't like him?"
Ah. Metaphors equating the Corps of Engineers with prison inmates. Expletives. Vice president. Throw in a subtext of race, gender and war profits. You see the problem here.
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In the dazzling eye of memory, she can see the wiry object twisting there, perhaps in the lazy hours of a Sunday afternoon, when she pulled it out to admire it once again.
It was a bit of metal twisted in the shape of an eye, a gift from her big sister. It was kept, in a childhood pun, in a can: an Eye-Can . A reminder of can-do determination.
Lost in the middle of cotton country in the Louisiana delta at the mid-century, Bunnatine Hayes and her siblings clung to such self-confidence like a life raft. Their parents, Chris and Savannah Hayes, were uneducated and numbingly poor, stuck in a world run by richer, more powerful whites. They raised their children with a ferocious, almost frightening drive.