29 July 2011

The Protected Disclosures Act has been in force for well over ten years in New Zealand. Why then are there remarkably few occasions when informants seek the security promised by this statutory process? Are we discouraged because of the way the media reports whistleblowing elsewhere in the world? Do people becoming aware of problems in their workplace share their concerns with someone they know and trust rather than putting faith in formal arrangements?

The 2010 State Services Integrity Survey found that only 40% of respondents were satisfied with the action taken by their agency in response to reported misconduct. Where misconduct relates to senior officials many lack confidence that appropriate action will be taken. A consequence is the encouragement given to agencies to promote their Protected Disclosures policies.

In the United States whistleblowing is surrounded with much drama. The outcome is often a public profile for the whistleblower, followed by career disintegration. A case this week has seen the vindication of whistleblowing, even if the process has been somewhat protracted and the US Army does not come out with any glory.

Bunny Greenhouse may well become an icon, the whistleblower of the decade.

This week after six years of litigation the US Army has settled her claim, compensating her with almost $1m for her losses. As a senior procurement executive, she strongly objected to massive, secret, non competitive, cost-plus contracts being given to Kellogg Brown and Root, a Halliburton subsidiary, in the run up to the Iraq war. Her agency closed ranks. She was demoted and notice of her dismissal withdrawn only because of media attention.

She testified at a Congressional committee about corrupt practices, in the face of advice from her agency that it would not be in her interests to do so. Subsequent legislation remedied the arrangements she disclosed and the Army ended its relationship with Kellogg Brown and Root. But she was removed from the senior executive service and lost her top secret security clearance. She sued for this retaliation. The case settled this week and she has been assured of a full career and benefits.

The National Whistleblowers Center has described Greenhouse as an American hero. “Whistleblowers like her save the taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars and are on the front line fighting fraud and corruption. They need to be rewarded and supported.”  Many would be dispirited after this sort of experience. Greenhouse however has commented that she was simply doing her job and protecting the public interest … ” I firmly believe, regardless of the many injustices to me as a professional, that integrity in government is not an option, but an obligation.”