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whistleblowers

Farewell to FWS – Goodbye to Gag Orders

By Brian Czech - CASSE, February 2018

Open letter to FWS, sent directly to FWS employees on February 7, 2018:

Friends, colleagues, and past FWS co-workers,

I once considered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to be the world leader in conservation, and was proud to sign on! But that was a long time ago: 1999 to be precise. Today, something is awry at FWS headquarters, and that’s what drove me to retire on October 31. Within the leadership ranks of the National Wildlife Refuge System, especially, ethical lapses have led to corrupt tendencies. The mission has suffered and careers have been impacted; none more than mine, which was perennially crippled by gag orders.

The prohibited topic? The trade-off between economic growth and wildlife conservation, also known as the “800-pound gorilla.” The trade-off was the focus of my Ph.D. research in the 1990’s, when I documented the causes of species endangerment as a who’s who of the American economy. I presented these causes in Science, elaborated in Bioscience, and detailed the sociopolitical context in a book on the Endangered Species Act.

The gag orders were ironic, because my background on the 800-pound gorilla was one of the reasons FWS hired me to begin with. As the first “conservation biologist” for the National Wildlife Refuge System, I was told to “think big,” “long term,” and “outside the box.” Beginning in 2001, though, I was strung along by Refuge System chiefs who said “It has to be talked about, but now is not the time.” I waited patiently for the right time to come, occasionally re-testing the waters and invariably getting re-gagged.

While the gag orders started in 2001, the harshest one was issued in 2011 while a previous director awaited his Senate confirmation hearings. I was prohibited from saying “anything having to do with economics.” Another ham-handed order was issued in 2016 as the presidential primaries heated up. All the orders – along with reprimands, suspensions, and various other forms of coercion – were designed to buffer appointees, chiefs, and deputies who were petrified by the politics of economic growth. Such abject fear belied the talents of one appointee who boasted, “I can drink politics with a firehose.”

Not all FWS or DOI programs are inclined to evade the topic. Rather, a clique of Refuge System chiefs has squashed every reasonable effort to raise public awareness of the trade-off between growth and conservation. Now we are paying for this lack of awareness across the landscape.

Lest anyone think the gag orders reflected a technical disagreement, I quote a long-time Refuge System chief: “Everybody knows there’s a conflict between economic growth and wildlife conservation. It’s just not our role to talk about it.” Thankfully such shirking doesn’t infect every agency. Imagine the Surgeon General acquiescing, “Everybody knows smoking causes cancer. It’s just not our role to talk about it.”

Furthermore, the chief was off-base with “everybody knows,” unless he considered “everybody” to be FWS, where we’ve all witnessed the growing economy usurping, eroding, or polluting habitats. He failed to acknowledge the widespread misinformation outside FWS. Politicians, seeking to appease, mislead the public with, “There is no conflict between growing the economy and protecting the environment.”

The gag orders weren’t politically affiliated, either. The win-win rhetoric of “no conflict” was common to Democratic and Republican administrations alike. It was patently false in a bipartisan way, “everybody knew it” (at least in FWS), and sound science had refuted it. Yet to this day the win-win rhetoric constantly re-appears in public forums from the local town hall to the halls of Congress. It attracts wishful followers of all kinds, enough of them to keep economic growth atop the pedestal of domestic policy.

If the gag orders stemmed from neither technical disagreement nor political fealty, then why were they issued? In my opinion the answer is an indictment of an agency gone astray.

EPA Forces Staff to Attend Anti-Leak Classes as Attack on Environment Continues

By Jessica Corbett - Common Dreams, September 21, 2017

As the Trump administration continues to gut regulations meant to protect public health and the environment, the Associated Press reports Thursday that Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) staffers are being forced to attend anti-leaking classes this week as part of a wider effort by the White House to stem the flow of unauthorized information reaching the public.

The AP, which obtained training materials from the Environmental Protection Agency's hour-long anti-leaking class, reports how "a three-page fact sheet sent to EPA employees as part of the training warned that leaks of even unclassified information could have serious consequences to national security."

The document reportedly provided examples detailing how government secrets previously have been revealed through espionage, hacking, or leaks to the press, and noted that "enemies of the United States are relentless in their pursuit of information which they can exploit to harm U.S. interests."

The mandatory anti-leak training follows Attorney General Jeff Sessions' announcment last month that the Justice Department was launching an intense war on leaks, and planned to investigate and possibly prosecute government employees who share unauthorized information. Sessions' comments, as Common Dreams reported, were immediately denounced by press freedom groups, journalists, and civil libertarians as "a direct attack on the First Amendment."

Though leaks have been a part of all presidencies in recent memory, since the beginning, "the Trump White House has gushed," and multiple federal agencies—concerned about the long-term consequences of the administration's policies—have followed suit, including the EPA.

The agency has made headlines in recent months for being too cozy with the fossil fuel industry and purging federal scientists, which has reportedly spurred internal strife at the EPA and even provoked some staff to publicly resign in protest. In April, the EPA removed pages about climate change from its website.

And while the Trump administration attempts to suppress important information as it champions deregulation efforts, many of its moves to cut environmental protections have been blatant and public.

Disillusioned Shell Whistleblower Runar Kjoersvik

By John Donovan - Royal Dutch Shell Plc.com, March 17, 2017

We have published a series of articles about Runar Kjoersvik, the Norwegian safety expert who in 2014 was dismissed by Shell on trumped-up charges.

Evidence was gathered in a covert surveillance operation as part of a vicious campaign conducted against him by Shell Norway senior management.

Runar was twice elected by his fellow workers, first as a SAFE Union representative and subsequently as the Main Safety Delegate.

His election was not a fluke. The employees who elected him at the Nyhamna Gas Plant in Norway knew Runar was fully qualified. He had attended several Norwegian law and HSE courses where he learnt how to protect legal rights according to rules, regulations and Norwegian Law. He also earned a diploma of strategic leadership from college university.

So in general, he had very skilled training and a long education that has led him to different managerial positions in several international companies giving him flawless feedback prior to his time at Shell.

He was, therefore, confident that his skills for managing the Main Safety Delegate position were first-rate and genuinely believed he could do a good job both for his co-workers and for A/S Norske Shell.

Senior plant managers congratulated Runar on achieving the Main Safety Delegate position and told him:

You will now be able to make an influence on Shell in a greater perspective, you will get to know the organisation, and make an influence through the work environment committee. This will be very positive for your future development and career.

Runar was also impressed by Shell’s claimed core values: honesty, integrity and respect for people, set within codes of conduct and ethics.

The future looked good. A responsible job and a decent employer.

The promising outlook did not last very long.

10 ways movements can encourage and support whistleblowers

By Anthony Kelly - Waging Nonviolence, March 23, 2017

Whistleblowers from within institutions, corporations, government departments, police or military can be critical to movement success, and their testimony is often the key to exposing and resisting injustice and creating change.

Institutions clamp down on and deter whistleblowing for good reason. Whistleblowers can shake major institutions. They can feed vital information to movements, can warn activists about impending threats, can expose corruption, public health dangers and reduce the power of governments and deep state agencies. Disclosing secrets and releasing information poses high risks and personal costs and always takes a fair degree of courage. To expose an injustice, whistleblowers will have to trust who they are communicating with.

Nonviolent politics has long recognized that societal institutions, even rigid hierarchies such as the police or military, are not monolithic, but are in fact riddled with dissent. Institutions are made up of individual human beings. Despite well-developed cultural, legal and bureaucratic mechanisms used to enforce internal obedience and discipline, whistleblowing and other forms of internal resistance are surprisingly common.

So, what can activists, organizers and movements do to encourage and support whistleblowers?

Free-Speech Restrictions Leave Federal Workers Anxious About Challenging Trump

By Mike Ludwig - Truthout, February 14, 2017

Recent internal memos on how and when federal employees can speak their minds has left those frustrated by President Trump in murky waters, according to advocates.

For climate scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or rogue members of the National Park Service, this uncertainty around their ability to speak without fear of reprisal is causing confusion and despair as the Trump administration assumes control and attempts to assert its version of the facts, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a watchdog group that represents civil servants at agencies like the EPA.

"There will be a number of instances where people are speaking their minds and the rules aren't all that clear," said PEER Director Jeff Ruch, who counsels government employees about their rights. "And you have a chief executive who is somewhat thin-skinned, and that may trickle down through his appointees," who could punish employees for actions perceived as dissent.

Ruch said there seems to be a "level of mutual mistrust" between civil servants who staff federal agencies as nonpartisan workers and President Trump, who promised on the campaign trail to gut agencies like the EPA, and announced a hiring freeze for many agencies shortly after taking office.

"The hiring freeze was not an economic measure but an effort to drain the swamp, as if [federal employees] are a malignant force and, if you can bleed them off, then government will be better," Ruch said. "And a lot of this could be offensive to some of these career civil servants."

Some civil servants have dared to challenge Trump. Since the National Park Service's Twitter account was temporarily shuttered after it questioned White House statements on the size of the crowd at Donald Trump's presidential inauguration, dozens of "alternative" federal agency accounts (such as AltEPA and AltFDA) have opened and amassed followings that rival their official counterparts.

These accounts identify with the anti-Trump resistance, and are unofficial. Many make it clear that tweets and posts are not coming from government employees in their official capacity, if from government employees at all. Ruch said PEER has been fielding questions from operators of these alternative accounts, which often challenge Trump's public statements and draw attention to the latest climate science.

Agency employees who speak out against Trump are treading on difficult ground, particularly since federal civil servants have limited rights to free speech in the workplace. In 2006, the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment does not protect public employees for statements made while acting in their official capacity, making it risky to speak out against a new administration that has been openly hostile to the media and anyone else who challenges its narrative.

Moreover, the Hatch Act of 1939 prohibits the vast majority of federal employees from participating in certain political activities on the job, including advocating for and against political candidates. Trump has filed 2020 campaign paperwork and is considered a political candidate. This means that federal employees are prohibited from speaking for or against his reelection in their official capacity, according to a memo circulated by the US Office of Special Counsel last week.

Ruch said making a statement as simple as, "This is a disaster, we've got to get rid of this guy," around the water cooler at a federal office could apparently cost a federal employee their job.

Federal employees do have First Amendment rights as private citizens, but that doesn't protect them in the workplace. Not too long after the White House's snafu with the National Park Service's Twitter account, the EPA sent out an agency-wide memo advising employees about the difference between addressing the public as an EPA employee and in their "individual personal capacity."

EcoUnionist News #120

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, September 7, 2016

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Stories:

Ongoing Mobilizations:

The Thin Green Line:

Just Transition:

Bread and Roses:

An Injury to One is an Injury to All:

Whistle Blowers:

EcoUnionist News #119

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, August 31, 2016

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Stories:

Ongoing Mobilizations:

The Thin Green Line:

Just Transition:

Bread and Roses:

EcoUnionist News #118

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, August 24, 2016

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Stories:

Ongoing Mobilizations:

The Thin Green Line:

Just Transition:

Bread and Roses:

An Injury to One is an Injury to All:

Whistle Blowers:

EcoUnionist News #117

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, August 17, 2016

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Stories:

Ongoing Mobilizations:

The Thin Green Line:

Just Transition:

Bread and Roses:

EcoUnionist News #115

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, August 2, 2016

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Stories:

Ongoing Mobilizations:

The Thin Green Line:

Just Transition:

Bread and Roses:

An Injury to One is an Injury to All:

Whistleblowers:

Wobbles:

Other News:

For more green news, please visit our news feeds section on ecology.iww.org; Twitter #IWWEUC; Hashtags: #greenunionism #greensyndicalism #IWW. Please send suggested news items to include in this series to euc [at] iww.org.

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