Federal Diary: A Whistleblower Makes Herself Heard

Bunnatine H. Greenhouse lost her Army Corps of Engineers job after objecting to large noncompetitive Iraq contracts.
Bunnatine H. Greenhouse lost her Army Corps of Engineers job after objecting to large noncompetitive Iraq contracts. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)
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By Joe Davidson
Thursday, June 11, 2009

Don't be fooled by Bunnatine H. Greenhouse's nickname.

"Bunny" might have a soft and cuddly side, but it's her watchdog self that got her in trouble.

When Greenhouse blew the whistle on noncompetitive multibillion-dollar contracts to Kellogg Brown & Root, then a Halliburton subsidiary, for work in Iraq's oil fields, she thought she was following her oath of office.

But instead of being honored for doing her duty, Greenhouse, with two decades of government contracting experience, was drummed out of her position in 2005 as chief procurement officer for the Army Corps of Engineers, pushed from the Senior Executive Service and stripped of her security clearance after she refused to retire with grace.

While Greenhouse, 64, continues to fight for personal vindication, her focus now is on the defense of whistleblowers in general. The vehicle for that is the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee on oversight of government management, the federal workforce and the District of Columbia is to hear testimony on the bill this afternoon. "It's the only right move to do at this time, because federal employees must be protected," Greenhouse said in an interview yesterday.

One protection that Greenhouse wants -- and a provision that whistleblower advocates consider the litmus test for a meaningful bill -- is the ability for whistleblowers to go before a jury with their allegations that they have been retaliated against for raising charges of fraud, waste and abuse in government operations.

A provision allowing jury trials is included in House legislation that Greenhouse testified in favor of last month. But it is not included in the Senate version that will be discussed today.

Whistleblowers need "full access to court to enforce their rights through a jury trial," said Tom Devine, legal director of the Government Accountability Project.

But the Obama administration, which is generally sympathetic to whistleblower rights, has not embraced the concept of jury trials to protect those rights. When Rajesh De, a deputy assistant attorney general, testified before the House, his testimony was notable for what it didn't say about jury trials.

"So far, the administration seems glued to the fence on that issue," Devine said.

Greenhouse feels certain she would prevail if her case went to court. "If I had not done what was in my oath of office to do as the person who was the procurement executive, I could have been wearing . . . prison stripes," she said.

The Pentagon did not respond to a request for comment on her case.

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