Army Settles Bunnatine Greenhouse Lawsuit

Bunnatine Greenhouse, right, with attorney Steve Kohn

Fans of whistleblower Bunnatine “Bunny” Greenhouse are celebrating the resolution of her lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  In a court-approved settlement, Greenhouse will receive $970,000 for lost wages, compensatory damages and attorney fees. But, “No settlement is going to make me whole,” Greenhouse told the Washington Post.  (Photo: Bunnatine Greenhouse with attorney Steve Kohn)

Greenhouse is “happy to get on with her life,” writes Joe Davidson, “but sad that she did not complete her federal career as she had planned.”  She retired on July 22, “without her SES status and top secret clearance.”

Greenhouse, was USACE’s chief contracting officer, a Senior Executive Service position, when she criticized a potentially wasteful no-bid contract to a Halliburton subsidiary, Kellog, Brown & Root.

Testifying before Congress in June 2005, she called the contract the worst case of government abuse she had ever witnessed in her 20-year career. Just two months after that testimony, Greenhouse was demoted at the Pentagon, ostensibly for “poor performance.” (Democracy Now!)

Reportedly, racist comments also were a problem, and Greenhouse filed a complaint of race and gender discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  She began receiving low performance evaluations that review panels concluded were unwarranted. (“A Web of Truth,” Washington Post)

A workplace attack led to settling her case rather than proceeding to trial, Greenhouse told Amy Goodman. Unkown to her, someone had stretched a cord across part of her workspace, beneath her filed cabinet.  She tripped over the cord and seriously injured her knee.

And now the kneecap on the left side doesn’t move at all. And so, I knew then to ask my commander to either work from home or from a telework, official telework site, or move to another agency. And they refused to do that, saying that I had to settle my global case rather than that. So, that’s the sad part of it, that I had to, you know, stop the venture of going before a jury, because my physical welfare had finally come into jeopardy. (Democracy Now!)

Physical attacks on whistleblowers are fairly common.  It has become almost routine to revoke a whistleblower’s security clearance, a dependable end-run around existing legal protections for civil service employees.  Abuses like these keep capable, honest people out of the government positions where they are most needed.

The implications for American taxpayers are huge.

According to Nobel Prize-winning economist Joe Stiglitz, the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan alone will exceed $5tn. With a cost like this, why isn’t war central to the debate over the national debt?

Why, indeed?  And why aren’t whistleblowers–government’s best protection against waste, fraud and abuse–also central to the debate?  Think of the billions that could be saved by filling in the gaps in whistleblower protections for employees who oversee defense contracts.  Isn’t that preferable to cutting programs that serve the sick and elderly?

Photo by Linda Lewis (cc)