Bertrand G. Berube got a job in May that some people would envy: orders to come up with a better way for the General Services Administration to allocate its money and personnel, and six months to do it.
But to Berube, who for seven years has been blowing the whistle on GSA officials, it's a do-nothing job that is one short step away from the exit door.
Berube, a member of the Senior Executive Service, is now on notice that he is about to be fired for unsatisfactory performance.
"But," he says, "the fact of the matter is the people who run this agency don't want to hear what I have to say. They rebel against the thought that they might have to ask for more money to protect lives."
GSA Administrator Gerald P. Carmen has a different view. The Berube case, he said, "goes to show what can go wrong with the personnel system in the government. It's a no-win type situation, where he has gone beyond being a whistle blower to being, I guess, what I would call, a gadfly."
Berube has been keeping a critical eye on the GSA for most of his 21 years in government. After he butted heads with GSA administrators in the Ford and Carter administrations, it looked as if he might be brought in from the cold when President Reagan took office.
When Carmen arrived at the agency, he promoted Berube and two other well-known whistle blowers with more than the usual fanfare. Berube was named regional administrator for the National Capital Region, a position he says was "the best job in my career."
But his honeymoon with Carmen lasted only a year. Berube began attacking procurement actions and the impact that staff and budget cuts were having on the agency. Last January, he was detailed to a job supervising building management policies--a demotion, in his eyes.
"Instead of 7,000 people under my control, I was given 57," he said.
His new supervisor, Public Buildings Commissioner Richard O. Haase, said Berube had "a demoralizing effect" on staff and "should have been able to use the people he was given to effect changes that would affect GSA operations across the country."
"They never gave me that chance," Berube retorts. "They repeatedly shot down my ideas. Every single thing I suggested was turned down."
In that job, Berube wrote a memo that said budget and staff cuts had "generated several years' backlog in basic equipment maintenance and repair . . . . GSA buildings have been allowed to deteriorate to a point where some. . . are unsafe for human occupancy, are inadequate to meet the mission needs of the occupying agencies, do not meet OSHA requirements and . . . would be condemned if owned by private industry."
Carmen took the unusual step of calling a news conference to let Berube air his charges and then respond to them. Then in May, he detailed Berube to a new job that Carmen said was designed to give him a crack at solving some of the 43 problems listed in his memo.
Although Berube regarded that job as another demotion, Carmen said, "After all, the Senior Executive Service is supposed to be a group of people who are mobile, who will work at a task and solve it."
Berube quickly discovered that there was a catch to the new assignment: he could probe only those issues that were not under review by another part of GSA, such as the inspector general's office. His list of 43 dwindled to one: resources allocation. "I've been ostracized," Berube said. "No one will give me the information I need to do my job."
Now Robert J. DiLuchio, Berube's current supervisor, has written a memo to the man who used to be his boss, telling him that his "approach to this project is that of an employe unwilling to be either supervised or managed." Berube was charged with having "dissembled information to create false impressions upon others and defied enough direction to be insubordinate."
"This is a warning to you," DiLuchio wrote, "that this will no longer be tolerated and will be dealt with appropriately if improvements are not immediately made."
"That means they're going to find a way to fire me," Berube said. DiLuchio agreed this week: "We're looking to put an end to this. He's out, as far as I'm concerned. He has not improved his performance."
DiLuchio said the deadline for reviewing the notice of unsatisfactory performance "is at the beginning of September. Then, within three weeks, we'll be able to take further action. It's dragged on too far."
Despite the chilling effect Berube's firing could have on the bureaucratic ranks, Carmen said, "I want to encourage people with ideas, criticisms or anything to bring them up--to me directly if they want. The door is open.
"The agency's mission can be derailed by people who can't work within the system," he said, adding that he has had nothing to do with Berube's performance review.