Saturday, May 2, 2015

You Know What We Do with Rats?

It’s awkward at best, often creates a hostile work environment, undermines authority and creates and confusion and discomfort in future working relationships. It also corrects egregious wrongs, exposes bureaucrats steeped in misfeasance and malfeasance and often saves taxpayers massive amounts of hard tax dollars. It called whistleblowing, and has stirred a rat’s nest of controversy as Congress grapples with legislation to protect those government employees who’ve taken risks to expose waste and wrongdoing and who are usually severely punished one way or another by their superiors for the effort. Their records follow them thereafter. And nowhere, it seems, has that retaliation been more pronounced than within the Department of Veterans Affairs’ hospital system.
Folks are trying to make a difference: “‘Incredibly, even as the department has reached legal settlements with whistleblowers who endured retaliation, those who retaliated against them have gone unpunished,’ said a statement from the office of Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee… He wants to change that with legislation that could set a precedent for the rest of government. If his proposal becomes law, it could be a breakthrough in providing protections for whistleblowers…
“The [proposed] Veterans Affairs Retaliation Prevention Act provides penalties for supervisors who take revenge against whistleblowers. Retaliators would be suspended for at least 14 days for the first offense and fired for the second… It also would give preference to transfer requests from whistleblowers. One important provision would require supervisors to notify whistleblowers about the specific actions taken to address their complaints. This should help stop some of the coverups.
“A coalition of good-government groups praised Miller for proving ‘a major breakthrough in the struggle [of] VA whistleblowers to have credible rights when defending the integrity of the agency mission.’” Washington Post, April 28th. Sounds good… until the “loophole-finders” peer around the statute’s weak spots.
As remedies mount to protect whistleblowers, the defensive reaction from the very superiors who are under attack could be to use the same “protection of whistleblower” to become “whistleblowers” themselves… except the whistle they are blowing is usually against the original whistleblower. Huh? Yup, there is a distinct possibility of the targets of the original whistleblower’s revelations of wrong doing and waste turning around and making the same claims against that poor soul who stood up in the first place. Why? If the new proposed protections for whistleblowing attach to protecting any whistleblowing alleged, the victims would get the same rights against the original whistleblower. Catch-22. Possible? Who knows?
The VA hates the proposed legislation as well: “The department appreciates the committee’s efforts, but ‘we believe the specific whistleblower disclosure and protection procedures provided by this bill would be unworkable,’ a VA statement said. The legislation also would duplicate other long-standing ‘remedies and programs specifically created to address claims of improper retaliation in the workplace. ... We believe these current whistleblower protections are effective, and VA is working closely with OSC [Office of Special Counsel] to ensure the Department and its employees are gaining the maximum benefits from its remedies and protections.’…
“Advocates worry that a provision of the bill could be turned on whistleblowers. This bill, like a law aimed at VA Senior Executive Service members that passed last year, slashes due process rights for those accused of wrongdoing. It allows them one week to appeal termination or a disciplinary transfer. This severely stunted process could be used against those it is designed to protect. Advocates say that retribution sometimes takes the form of accusing whistleblowers of retaliating against others.
“‘That provision can be a two-edge sword,’ said Tom Devine, legal director of the Government Accountability Project, which signed the good-government groups’ letter to Miller. ‘We’re nervous that sacrificing due process could deprive whistleblowers of an opportunity to defend themselves against Machiavellian charges.’…But Devine also says there ‘needs to be something dramatic to send a message ... there needs to be severe consequences’ for retaliating against whistleblowers… ‘It’s a work in progress,’ he said.” The Post.
Oh, we see this kind of behavior all over the government, but the military connection seems to have the worst issues: “Nearly two-thirds of women in the military who filed sexual assault complaints last year said they faced retaliation, according to a Pentagon report released on [May 1st].
The study found that the number of sexual assaults in the military declined last year, echoing the conclusion of a Defense Department report released in December. But the new study said that the number of attacks in the fiscal year that ended in September may have been slightly higher than the figure in the December report.” New York Times, May 1st.
All this stuff kind of reminds me of how it works within prisons and gangs, a tradition well established with the Mafia. Interesting comparison, no? Hey, when you were growing up and your sibling snitched on you, how did you feel? What label did you give them for such nasty efforts? Precisely. Even if they beat the crap out of you?
I’m Peter Dekom, and it is human nature to cling to one’s turf and fight like hell to defend it from others… even though such efforts are completely contrary to your job description and deeply offensive to your duty to your country.

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