Letters

Whistleblower Woes

I would appreciate a more in-depth explanation of what William Rudman means by "loyalty to one's employer is a duty" in "Crying Foul Over Free Speech" (July 15). Specifically, where does that loyalty end? As an attorney, he is surely aware that taken too far, loyalty can subject an employee to severe penalties where knowledge of illegal activities exists and they are not reported. These seven words might make sense to a political appointee, but others need an explanation.

Samuel Wall
Saddle Brook, N.J.

"Crying Foul Over Free Speech" pooh-poohed the effects of the recent Supreme Court decision, Garcetti v. Ceballos, holding that public servants have no First Amendment rights in their role as government employees. William Rudman's point is that government workers who uncover wrongdoing should "simply . . . follow the rules" of the existing, limited whistleblower laws. Moreover, he says, public servants "must accept some limits on freedom-loyalty to one's employer is a duty."

The true employer of government workers is the American public, not the political appointee sitting atop an agency organization chart. Public service bears a deeper loyalty that Mr. Rudman apparently overlooks.

The Supreme Court curtailed constitutional protection for government workers who convey concerns up their chains of command-in other words, the very people who are exhibiting loyalty to the agency. Paradoxically, the court held that civil servants enjoy First Amendment rights only when they act outside their work role and go public.

Thus, an agency professional who tries to resolve problems in-house risks being fired while that same person who plasters the issue across the front page of the paper is constitutionally protected. From the standpoint of government efficiency, it makes no sense to protect statements made in public but to punish those same statements when uttered within the confines of the workplace.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the Ceballos majority, downplayed this anomaly, stating, "Giving employees an internal forum for their speech will discourage them from concluding that the safest avenue of expression is to state their views in public." Justice Kennedy, of course, misses the real anomaly, that any government agency willing to suppress employee speech through discipline or termination is surely not interested in being "receptive to employee criticism." Placing suggestion boxes in the corridors of power will do little to dissolve this quandary.

The boogeyman raised by Mr. Rudman is that we do not want to constitutionalize the government workplace. That argument does not hold water for two reasons. First, the Ceballos ruling now requires federal courts to wade in and discern whether employees are speaking in their roles as citizens or as part of their job, in some instances a most elusive distinction. Second, the government workplace is already constitutionalized with procedural due process guarantees, buttressed by civil service rules. All the Ceballos court did was remove constitutional involvement in matters of public interest, limiting the role of the Constitution to policing private interests.

Perhaps even more troubling is the central premise of the ruling; public employees per se have no citizenship status because their speech is owned by the government. This judicial reduction places public workers on a constitutional par with prisoners, an equation not likely to enhance the romance of public service.

Many whistleblower statutes also exclude disclosures made within the scope of duties. Thus, internal agency communications often lack any legal protection whatsoever.

The unquestionable main effect of the decision is to make it much easier to punish civil servants for uttering inconvenient facts. Public employees now will understandably be far more reluctant to voice concerns that might not be favored by their political "management," making for very chilly cubicles, indeed.

The only door the Supreme Court left ajar is for Congress and state legislatures to enact stronger and broader whistleblower protection laws. The need to remedy the ragged, Swiss-cheese fabric of legal protections for those "who commit the truth" arguably has never been greater. But, in the meantime, candor inside government will become an even rarer commodity.

Jeff Ruch
Executive Director
Public Employees for
Environmental Responsibility
Washington

Mission Critical

The article "More Than a Slogan" (July 15) came to my e-mail box on the same day a paper letter came to my snail mail box telling me that the interest rate I pay on my graduate school student loans has more than doubled, and will be re-evaluated each year for possible increase. I work as a middle manager at a technical federal agency, so I am quite aware that it is a common and often fun practice to skewer the messenger for the stinkin' message that is delivered, and that is probably the case with this one.

My three student loan providers are probably not responsible for the significant increase, and the Education Department's Federal Student Aid office also might not be responsible-in fact, maybe Congress changed the law. However, since it has become increasingly more expensive for me to pay back a guaranteed student loan, your article on mission statements was appropriate. The student loan office's new slogan-Start here, go further-and your editorial question-Start here and go further . . . into debt?-happen to be very true for students. It will make a difference in my decision-making: Do I really want to send my children to that more expensive school? Do they really need a university education? Do I really need to finish my graduate studies? Is the additional significant cost really worth it?

It must be particularly hard for the dedicated federal workers in that office to answer the phone these days. I'm not sure a new mission statement would help me if I was one of those employees, and as one of the recipients, it doesn't make it easier to pay more than twice as much for their guarantee.

James Wilkinson
Anchorage, Alaska

Crime and Punishment

"Downfall" (July 1) shared a story of corruption by senior federal procurement employees who betrayed the public trust due to their greed. It made me think about why someone who works hard to reach the level of Senior Executive Service then begins to make bad choices.

There are two types of federal executives in the capital region, those who are real and those who are posers. They both are very good at their roles and are paid the same. The difference is, hopefully, the criminal flaws of posers are exposed early in their careers, and they are removed from federal service long before they enter the ranks of SES.

I try not to spend much time thinking about posers, but rely on the system to ferret them out. My question is why the "real" people reach SES and then begin to slip-those individuals who have famed work ethics and are known for always protecting the public trust, including serving as excellent stewards of taxpayer dollars. In particular, I wonder why an SESer like Darleen Druyun toward the end of her federal career made bad decisions. I worked indirectly for Druyun, along with many other acquisition professionals in the Air Force, and respected her decisions as our senior acquisition executive. She might have had the reputation of being the "Dragon Lady," but at the end of the day, I always believed her decisions were in the best interest of the Air Force and the public. When she pleaded guilty to fraud, I felt betrayed by her and still do not understand what happened. I never have gotten a chance to learn her side of the story.

Stuart Hazlett
Alexandria, Va.

Sadly, the sense of victimization, not accountability, seems to have been raised as the rationale for corrupt behavior. I understand the psychological need to justify one's poor behavior; however, that does not excuse it. Bravo to Defense Criminal Investigative Services' Joseph McMillan. He told it the way it is in the last paragraph of your article: "They were prostituting the very function [they] were supposed to be protecting."

James N. Phillips Jr.
Assistant Administrative Officer
VA National Center for Patient Safety
Ann Arbor, Mich.

Corrections

In the July 15 issue, a photo caption in "Terrorism and Diplomats" misstated the amount of funding for making State Department posts overseas more secure. Congress has appropriated considerably more than $1 billion since Sept. 11.

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