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How KBR Killed My Career

My name is Bunnatine Greenhouse; I am the  former Civilian Procurement Executive and Chief of Contracting for the United States Army Corps  of Engineers and in that position I was responsible  for awarding and managing over $23 Billion in  government contracts each year.  I was hired as the  Procurement Executive for the Corps in 1997 as  an SES with the Protocol of a 1-star general, and  with a TALL ORDER: To revolutionize  Contracting in the Corps and rid the Army Corps  of Engineers of the casual and clubby contracting  practices that were the hallmark of an entrenched  “good old boys” power structure – a power  structure that stemmed hundreds of years.

I would like to thank Mr. John Heuer, Ms. Barbara  Stanley and Mr. David Swanson and the entire MIC  AT 50 Committee for allowing me the opportunity to  share my story about standing for what is right even  when it had tremendous adverse personal and  professional consequences.  Know that I do not  regret the decisions that I made or the course that  they set me on.  Know also that I am a person deeply  committed to ensuring that Integrity and  Accountability in Government Procurement is  Paramount.

My goal today is to quickly bring you my  STORY from three perspectives: one, my work as  a Civil Servant; two, what makes me “ME”; and  three, to challenge you to take your responsibility  in helping to move Civil Servants and the  Military, who are committed to truth and  protection of the Public Trust from Second-Class  Citizenry.  I shall begin with some of the “Woes”  of Civil Leadership!

When I took my oath of office as a Civil Servant  Senior Procurement Executive, the first African  American Female SES in the Corps, I pledged to  conduct the Government’s  business of  contracting with the highest degree of integrity,  impartially, above reproach, and with preferential  treatment toward none, and by following this oath  and my belief in Honesty, Integrity, Personal  Responsibility and Accountability, led me to be  branded as a whistleblower on the notorious  “no bid”   five year contract with the Halliburton subsidiary,  Kellogg Brown & Root.

Due to past problems in contracting, Congress  had enacted laws requiring contracting officers to  ensure that small, minority and women owned  businesses were able to compete on the same  playing field with large businesses.  That level  playing field must exist with the largest contracting  efforts; even during compelling emergencies and  contingency operations.

I was a Civil Servant! When I took responsibility  of being the civilian head of contracting for the Army  Corps of Engineers, Federal Law demanded that I  would conduct business with the highest degree of  integrity.  Apparently, I did something the Army  did not expect.  I took my oath of office seriously  and refused to bend the rules for the well  connected and powerful.  I didn’t do anything  special.  I did my job with the courage and  fortitude to stand up for what is ethical, regardless  of the consequences.  I did my job so that when I  went home I could look myself in the mirror and  know that I did the right things for the right reasons.   Today, there Must Be A Greater Focus in our  government on Accountability and the Realities of  Leadership and Ethics.

In my experiences in contracting, I have seen  many tragedies that are the direct result of a lack  of integrity, lack of transparency, and a lack of  accountability.  I resolved that I would not stoop to  these kinds of practices.  My only concern was for  the best interest of the public trust for which I had  been given a small charge to protect.

After my best qualified selection as the  Procurement Executive for the Corps, I was shocked  to learn that improper contracting practices were  the norm with the corps.  In my charge by LTG Joe  Ballard, the then Commander of the Army Corps of  Engineers, I quickly turned to my courage and  determination for the strength to revolutionize the  contracting process by bringing fairness and integrity  to the process.  I was to “right-size” every large  effort to make sure effective competition prevailed  for the best value of the government and all  stakeholders in the process; I was to make sure that  all impediments were removed that would inhibit  competition.  Not only was this my job, but my  duty to the nation.

However, a white male dominated military  thought it was absurd that a black woman would  hold them accountable to the rules.  I encountered  hostility, blatantly tied to my race and gender, but I  did all I could do to create a system of checks and  balances that would make it increasingly difficult for  the inappropriate and clubby contracting practices to  continue.

The Commanders of the Corps could not  tolerate that my checks and balances hindered  their ability to broker those clubby contracting  deals.  Congress passed the Defense Acquisition  Workforce Improvement Act (DAWIA), which these  commanders found difficult to follow.  DAWIA  mandated that professional contracting officers were  in control of the contracting process. This  contradicted the previous policy of military  commanders being the Contracting Officers and in  control of both requirements operations and  Contracting, while the professional Contracting  Officers served only as Administrative Clerks.  My  heart bled at an early Offsite in 1997, when a  Contracting Officer stated, “We feel like we are in  the kitchen cleaning up after all of the mess is  made, but we are never invited to the table.”

Under my tenure, civilian contracting  professionals became capable and ready to  independently and successfully support the  business side of any and all operations.  However,  many were still prevented from doing so because of  the intimidation and interference by their Military  Commanders.

Regardless, Change was happening in the  Corps under my leadership!  The change was hard-fought and difficult but it was happening.  Even  though I was faced with a hostile environment, I  continued to conduct my job with integrity.

My annual performance reviews written by the  Deputy Commander and Commander of the Corps  who brought me in to reform contracting by  changing the system, spoke the truth of my work  ethic.  These evaluations observed that — and I quote:

“ethics are above reproach”;   “Unquestionable loyalty, integrity, and  dedication to mission; Not Timid- has the  fortitude to tell it as it is; Courage in  Convictions, Candor, sage judgment and  Passions, Always Evident”;  “Unsurpassed as a contracting and acquisition  expert and Professional Advisor …  Has no  equal when it comes to technical, acquisition  strategy and business cases analyses”;

I do not say these things to trump my own  horn.  I say these things so that you understand  that I know what it is like to work with people  higher up then you requiring that unethical  practices should be followed.  It is easier to say  nothing and go along with the crowd.  However, if  enough people rise to do the right thing, change  can happen.  Your work ethics will not go  unnoticed and the people willing to tell the truth  see the examples that you have set.

I was removed as the Procurement Executive  after holding that position for eight years, not for  impropriety but for being unwilling to continue  the improper practices of clubby contracting,  without compliance to the Law.

I was never asked to defend my actions or in-  actions in managing the contracting process; all  contracting commitments at the end of each of my  eight fiscal years were successfully completed on  time; and most importantly, I professionalized and  developed a contracting workforce, second to none.   Let there be no mistake, I was removed from  my office and demoted out of the Senior  Executive Service and Contracting because I did  my job too well!!

After the change of the Chief of Engineers I was  hired under, my skill set of complying with the  laws and regulations was no longer wanted by the  Army Corps Command.  I was considered too  powerful and viewed by Commanders as an  obstacle standing in their way, by refusing to return  to the “good old days” when contracts were  awarded based primarily on relationships.

Things came to a head with the ramp-up to  the Iraq war when I questioned the actions that  would lead to the improper award of billions of  dollars of no-bid, no-compete contracts to  Halliburton subsidiary, KBR.  This type of no-  bid, unfairly awarded contracts often opens the  floodgates to corruption and lack of the best value  for our soldiers and government.

The no-bid contracts awarded to Halliburton  were immorally exclusionary and contrary to  contracting guidelines at every level and they  undermined the level playing field that I had  strived to create.  In fact, the favored treatment  toward Halliburton represented the most blatant  contract abuse I witnessed during the course of  my career!

I could not remain silent.  I raised my  concerns with my command structure; I raised my  concerns directly to representatives of the  Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of the  Army.  When my efforts reached a dead end, I did  the only thing left for me to do: I hand-wrote a  comment next to my signature on the original  copies of critical procurement documents  associated with the award of a five year  Compelling Emergency, $7 Billion dollar no-bid,  no compete Restore Iraqi Oil contract to  Halliburton.  My hand-written comments  challenged the duration of the award.  That I had  the audacity to document by hand-writing my  concerns directly onto the Halliburton  procurement documents was the last straw  – I had to be removed.

The Army initially attempted to remove me on  October 5, 2004.  However, I had the great fortune  of being represented by Mr. Michael Kohn,  General Counsel to the National Whistleblower  Center.  With his help, I was able to stop the  system from grinding me down.  The then Acting  Secretary of the Army was forced to send a letter to  Mr. Kohn stating that I could not be removed until  the Department of Defense, Office of the Inspector  General, could investigate my allegations and  (I  Quote) “a sufficient record is available to address  the specific matters.”  However, to this day, the  DOD IG never contacted me and no  investigation of my concerns was ever  undertaken.

In June of 2005, I was asked to appear before  the Democratic Policy Committee to discuss the  no-bid Halliburton contracts and I agreed to do so.   The Acting General Counsel of the U.S. Army  Corps of Engineers visited me to inform me, in no  uncertain terms, that to appear before the  committee would not be in my best interest.   I  ignored this threat to my professional career;  appeared before that congressional committee and  stated that the contract abuse related to Halliburton  was the worst abuse I witnessed during the course  of my professional career.  I was thereafter  swiftly removed from the Senior Executive  Service.

I was removed from a position in which I had  been described as having work ethics, “second to  none;” and recognized as the most knowledgeable  and critical thinking contracting professional ever  within the Army Corps.  I was first replaced by a  Civilian SES who was not a Contracting Careerist and had not served a day as a Contracting Officer  and had to receive a waiver for the experience and  training requirements of the DAWIA Law and she  retired and then the Head of Civilian Contracting  became an Army Colonel, who lacked the full  complement of training and experience necessary  to competently do the job.

My removal from office caused a chilling  effect throughout the contracting community  and the SES corps.  I took great pride in the fact  that my past accomplishments were viewed with  enthusiasm within the federal contracting  community.  Unfortunately, my removal  clarified to the federal contracting community  that those who battle contract abuse will not be  thanked, but fired.  In fact, it sent a chilling effect  to anyone who works to stand for what is right and  promotes ethical practices.  Because I would not  take their initial offer to retire immediately with  the SES Status, the Army Corps set me as an  example to show that people who desire to do  the right thing and report corruption would  suffer greatly.  My response was: SO BE IT!

In my transition from the SES, I was directed to  report to the Army Corps’ Civil Works  Engineering and Construction Division where I  was supposed to function as a “Program Manager”  with no approved duties other than to support the  Colonel who had replaced me as the Chief  Contracting Officer; Hurricane Katrina had struck  New Orleans.  The response to the Katrina  disaster was one of the largest contracting civil  works efforts the Army Corps had ever faced;  despite my credentials and work experience, I was  excluded from the Katrina management meetings  that were held in my new office area, behind closed  doors.

I was born and raised in Louisiana and a  member of the Louisiana Hall of Fame for  Women in Government, and I can assure you that  it pained me greatly that I was not permitted to  assist with the Katrina disaster.

After my demotion, I experienced isolation; I  received repeatedly inappropriately down-graded  performance reviews; my top secret clearance was  withdrawn; others took credit for my work; no  training opportunities were identified since I had  no Engineering and Construction mission  responsibilities, being in an “overhire”  unauthorized and unfunded position, but most  importantly, I had been prevented from returning to the contracting career field and to  the SES.

HOWEVER, there was some solace, In July,  2006; I was honored with the Cliff Robertson’s  Sentinel Award that bears the inscription: “For  Choosing Truth Over Self.”  Also, in December,  2005, I received the Joe A. Callaway Award for  Civic Courage, as a Whistleblower in the Nation’s  Service, with a partial citation which states:  “Bunny Greenhouse defies pressure to go along  to get along, choosing to protect the public trust  at high personal cost.  Her integrity and  unwavering adherence to principle stand as a  beacon to all public servants and represent the  best in our democracy.”

What Makes Me “ME”!  Again, what are the  values that I am not willing to Compromise?  Integrity  Honesty  Personal Responsibility and Accountability  Not turning my head and denying Misconduct  My Work Ethics

What Kept Me Positive In the Midst of the  Storms?  I refused to look at the dynamics of the  Storms of Life  I struggled to see the rainbows and I  believe that “Big Storms bring Gigantic  Rainbows”  I also believe that “It’s not the  Mountain in your path that holds you  back, but the pebbles in your shoe” – I  always focus on managing the pebbles  as I move ahead from day-to-day!!

But most of all, I was just “Bunny Greenhouse”,  an ORDINARY PERSON!  I find it humbling to  be honored & celebrated for Simply Doing My  Job; during a job I was privileged to do as a Civil  Servant, but it is gravely disappointing to be  punished for having the courage to do the job  strictly to the best of my ability; for the best  interest of our government! However, it is alright  with me since I know that it has been for some  bigger purpose than Bunny Greenhouse!!

My actions as a “whistleblower” were in  congruence with my ethics, civic, moral, and  religious values and I shall never compromise my  belief that integrity in government is not an  option, it is an obligation”.

The fact is that “speaking truth to power,”  destroyed my career and caused me great personal  hardship, BUT my duty was clear to me. Regardless  of any personal risk, A Patriotic American must stand  up for what is right.

My Charge now & to you is to urge Congress &  the Obama administration to demand  accountability for the type of arrogance I  experienced and the Federal Government must  pass an effective Whistleblower Law; much better  laws are needed to protect federal workers who  are committed to protecting the public trust at all  costs; the Government Must commit to removing  the lack of accountability among the persons who  engage in misconduct; and Must find that balance  between Civil & Military Leadership so that  Civilians are not prevented from executing their  duties to protect the Public Trust, but will be  permanently removed from second-class citizenry.    The Federal Workforce should not be gagged  when improprieties are hurting our economic  welfare.  There is a “No Fear LAW, so why is  there no protection against Retaliation in the  Workplace?   Why is it always the whistle-blower  that ends up in court?

THE GOOD NEWS FROM MY PERSPECTIVE:  * Public Support was tremendous; emails &  letters voicing their support of my actions had a  major impact on the government.  Remember  United we Must Stand and United We Shall Make  a Difference!  * There have been some sweeping legal reforms  that will bring a halt to the gross abuses I brought  to the conscience of our government.  The Army  has publicly decided not to give anymore  “Sweetheart Contracts to Halliburton –WoW!   * My portrait is now being painted for Robert  Shetterly’s Collection, called “Americans Who  Tell the Truth”, where he travels to schools and  libraries to speak to students about civics &  government.  * I appeared in the Rachel Maddow Documentary  September 1&2 on the Decade After 9/11 & the  Wars.  * I am appearing in a French Documentary on 26  September the Decade After 9/11, also.  *A CEO of a Large Company in California wrote  to seek my interest in being nominated for the  recently vacated Special Inspector General for  Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).  * Former Contracting Officers who were forced  out of government are writing to me about their  disappointment of “being replaced by privateers,  highlighting the outsourcing & the change from  federal bureaucrats following the law to politicos  demanding that their favorite companies get the  bids vs. competition.”

For more details on my struggle, and  whistleblowing in general, a great resource is the  National Whistleblower Center, which provides an  educational website at www.whistleblowers.org.

This article is adapted from remarks at the http://MIC50.org conference.

 

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