Monday, August 08, 2005

Whistle-blowing and Dinosaurs

Oyster, over at YRHT, links to this article that details the travails of Bunnatine Greenhouse. Mrs. Greenhouse is a high-level procurement officer of the US Army Corps of Engineers, and she is upset and confounded about the way the Gummint awards procurement contracts for the troops in Iraq.

The contract process is difficult and nightmarish at times, both confusing and perplexing. Yet, somehow, the soldiers wind up getting the bullets and the beans because leaders at every level make sure the troops are fed and supplied.

This rant isn't about contracting or supplying the troops, it is about whistleblowing, and the right way or wrong way to do that.

Professionals know that decisions are often made above our personal level of authority and our leaders look at the bigger picture and make decisions based on information that we underlings don't have at our immediate disposal. Sometimes those decisions are the correct ones. Sometimes those high-level decisions are flawed. Whatever, it wasn't our decision to make.

In a previous life, I was a government worker of some small status, supervising personnel and equipment in support of state government. I gave my bosses my best advice and watched with amusement as decisions came back down the agency, sometimes totally devoid of understanding of a particular problem. One decision paper I recieved actually ordered us to violate state law to get around a certain problem. I balked at that one and got a review started that changed the procedure before anyone actually went to jail.

There is a way to blow a whistle, and a way not to blow a whistle. Mrs. Greenhouse should be smart enough to know the difference. There comes a time when a difference of opinion with your bosses is a good thing. There also comes a time when a difference of opinion is fatal to a career.

In my personal case, that time came when I could not do what they wanted me to do and maintain a clear conscience. The choice was simple: Retire or be fired. I retired. I could have fought the good fight, giving myself unwanted stress and maybe a heart attack in the process, but it was simpler just to take my retirement and retire into the sunset. As it turns out, that was the right choice. I parlayed that career into another one, made a move, and went forward serving the people I live with. I'm making more money now than I ever made and I am truly doing the job I always wanted to do. The difference is I'm not fighting my bosses anymore. I don't feel like a dinosaur railing at the meteor that will strike me down. As it turns out, I was right and times have changed. The department continues to do the job they are appointed to do and serve the people of this state.

Elected officials are elected to do a job, and they all believe they have a mandate. They all believe their ideas are the best ideas currently on the table. Governments change over time. Career bureaucrats often have trouble transitioning from one government to another, with the various changes of philosophy that accompany those transitions, and Mrs. Greenhouse is stuck in that position.

In every case, you have to make a decision; Do you want to be right, or employed? Mrs. Greenhouse should make up her mind. This government will change, too, given enough time and a fickle electorate. I doubt that Mrs. Greenhouse can hang on long enough to see the change. I wish her all the luck as she makes that decision.

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