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The Wages of Whistleblowing

Why Bunny Greenhouse Sits in a Corner

by SHERWOOD ROSS

Bunnatine Greenhouse sits in a cubicle in a far corner of an office in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers(USACE) headquarters in downtown Washington, D.C., where, she says, "I am treated like a non-person." Months crawl by yet her immediate supervisor just can’t seem to find the time to meet with her to discuss a work assignment. The taxpayers of the United States of America pay her salary, but, oddly, no demands are made of her.

That’s a sad plight for a dynamic woman executive who is the cover girl of the July/August issue of "Fraud Magazine." She’s not written up for being on the wrong side of the law, only on the wrong side of the Bush White House, now a law unto itself. "Fraud" is published by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners and Ms. Greenhouse is the recipient of the association’s coveted 2006 Cliff Robertson Sentinel Award. She’s been showered with honors and the subject of laudatory press. In another America in another time, an Administration might well have been proud of her.

Instead, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has trashed the American Dream of this African-American woman who rose by her own bootstraps from poverty in Rayville, La., to become the highest U.S. contracting civilian in USACE. Hers was the responsibility for passing on $23-billion in contracts annually. A personnel file stuffed with gold star evaluations attests to her zealous guardianship of the public’s money.

So why is the woman everyone calls "Bunny" made to sit in a corner, punished like a spoiled child? As she told "Fraud" editor Dick Carozza, it’s over her refusal to sign off on billions of dollars worth of no-bid, no-compete contracts that are enriching Halliburton Corp., the government contractor previously headed by Vice President Richard Cheney.

In the run-up to the Iraq invasion, Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root(KBR) was named sole source contractor for the Restore Oil Contract, a contingency plan to douse any oil well fires that might break out. Greenhouse discovered there were other bidders qualified to do the job besides KBR.

KBR officials showed up at a USACE planning session on the award when none of their competitors were allowed in the door. After KBR presented its planning update, the session continued over other budget projections that could clearly give KBR insider knowledge of future Iraq campaign operations. Greenhouse wanted KBR out of the room. It’s a conflict of interest to have a prospective award recipient involved in the planning stages for missions not yet officially announced, she said.

Greenhouse’s worst fears were realized when KBR, in an action mocking the competitive bidding process, got a no-bid, five-year award when a one-year contract would have sufficed in an "emergency." Greenhouse penned her reservations directly on the contract documents. Otherwise, she said, "there would have been a major risk the five-year strategy never would have been revisited, and no follow-up on limited competition would have been instituted as promised to the American public."

Under the original contract Greenhouse was asked to sign, even if Halliburton fouled up, it couldn’t be dumped. After she cried foul, she was demoted from her top contracts’ oversight job in the Senior Executive Service to a mere program manager.

It should be noted, before the Halliburton rip-off, Greenhouse single-handedly wrought a revolution in the Defense Base Act insurance law that saved the Pentagon $20-million in its first six months of operation. Over time, her action may save taxpayers hundreds of millions spent on insurance premiums to cover military contractors working abroad.

Looking back, Greenhouse says, "I was never accused of having engaged in any act of impropriety. I was never called on the carpet to defend my actions or inactions for any business judgment I made during the contracting process."

Three Congressional Democrats wrote Rumsfeld asking if it wasn’t a fact Greenhouse’s demotion was retaliatory. The Defense boss, so eager to bring justice to the people of Iraq, did not deign to respond about injustice in his own office. Now, Greenhouse says, every action toward her is designed to inflict as much humiliation as possible.

Greenhouse told "Fraud" she is proud to be called a whistle-blower. (She’s got a plaque from the Giraffe Society for people who stick their necks out to show for it.) She defines this as one who "exposes government and corporate misconduct, violations of the law, threats to the public safety, or actions that violate the law." And she concludes with words Mr. Rumsfeld might underline: "Integrity in government is not an option: it is an imperative." Being a true American, she plans to sue.

Absent the honest oversight of bunny Greenhouse, Iraq has become what one official who served there called "a free-fraud zone." Billions, not millions of dollars, likely have been stolen from both the Iraqi and American peoples.

In the words of Rep. Henry Waxman (D.-Calif.): "The largest single recipient of Development Fund for Iraq funds was Halliburton. The company vastly overcharged to import gasoline into Iraq and to provide other oil-related services. These overcharges, which exceed $200-million, were billed to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. But U.S. officials arranged for over 80% of them to be paid out of the DFI."

And this undoubtedly explains why Bunny Greenhouse sits in a corner: it’s to keep her out of the way. Come to think of it, if contracts are rigged to shut out Halliburton’s competitors, can you imagine how the Bush White House rigs contracts to sell Iraq’s oil?

The Greenhouse affair reminds me of the old Chaplin comedy set in Nazi Germany when a man who being set upon by the Gestapo yells he is going to call the police. It’s just as hilarious for Bunny Greenhouse to expect legal contract regulations to be observed by a Pentagon waging an illegal war of aggression. The motivation of the totalitarian state is, after all, greed: greed first, greed last, greed always, and nothing less than greed.

SHERWOOD ROSS writes for newspapers and magazines. Reach him at sherwoodr1@yahoo.com.