Taking on Trump administration, labor defends whistleblowers in the federal government
Government workers and their union say that without whistleblowers and "leakers" the public would not learn about attempts by the head of the EPA, Scott Pruitt, for example, to actually destroy environmental protections. Pruitt, pictured here with President Trump, has made moves that harm the environment, moves that only became public because of "leakers" in his department. | Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

WASHINGTON—Without whistleblowing feds, there would have been no exposure of Richard Nixon’s crimes in Watergate.

Without a whistleblowing agent in its Minneapolis office, the FBI’s failure to “connect the dots” before the Sept. 11, 2001 al-Qaeda terrorist attacks would have stayed secret.

And without several whistleblowers, whom their union defended against management retaliation, the Veterans Affairs Department’s managers would still be covering up their long wait times for patients.

Those items are among the evidence that David Cox, president of the largest union of federal workers presents as he once again is going to bat for whistleblowing feds.

Cox defended the whistleblowers in a mid-August blog just as both the GOP Trump administration and the GOP-run Congress head in the other direction – threatening whistleblowers rather than protecting them.

President Donald Trump routinely denounces” leakers,” and Trump Attorney General Jeff Sessions threatens their prosecution, Cox says. That’s on top of prior prosecutions by the Democratic Obama administration.

And Congress passed a Veterans Affairs Department law making protecting the whistle-blowers, a key function of the union, harder, robbing senior workers of due process rights.

“As those three examples illustrate, federal workers serve as a vital watchdog against waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement occurring in our government agencies,” Cox said.

“Every civil servant takes an oath to support and defend the Constitution – and that includes ensuring our taxpayer dollars are spent wisely and to the benefit of the people.

“That’s why the current war on whistleblowers waged by President Trump and others in his administration is not only disgraceful, but downright dangerous to our democracy.”

It’s also dangerous to the planet, Cox says, as he focuses in on whistleblowers who defend the scientific consensus that human activity contributes to global warming.

“We have a right to know Trump administration officials ordered U.S. Department of Agriculture employees to stop using terms like ‘climate change’ and ‘greenhouse gases’ — since it could be a deliberate attempt to discredit scientific evidence humans are contributing to our warming planet,” Cox said.

“But without USDA staff sharing those conversations with the press, we might still be in the dark.”

And citizens have a right to know why Trump’s Interior Secretary involuntarily reassigned a career scientist who spoke publicly about the danger of climate change to the Alaskan native communities he served. The scientist was dumped into an accounting office.

“And it’s in the public interest to know” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt “is pushing to undo dozens of environmental regulations, largely without the input of the agency’s scientists and other career employees. Yet we wouldn’t know the scope of this regulatory rollback if EPA employees didn’t come forward,” Cox said.

“Federal employees have a right – and even an obligation – to speak out on issues that affect taxpayers and citizens. And by the same token, journalists are just doing their job when they reach out to federal workers for information on the activities of political appointees,” Cox said. The only exceptions, he admitted, would be in obvious cases of classified information or jeopardy to national security.

“A free and open press is one of the fundamental tenets of our democracy. So is having a non-political civil service that’s beholden to taxpayers, not their political bosses.

“Whistleblowers aren’t the problem. But the White House’s preoccupation with them certainly is,” Cox concluded.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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