13 May '97
THE BROKEN WHISTLE
Ready for a horror story?
In 1992, U.S. Air Force civilian employee John White blew the whistle on hundreds of thousands of your tax dollars being wasted on a harebrained educational scheme designed not to improve things but to make an Air Force officer look good and stand out.
John White's reward has been a double ration of harassment, abuse and economic hurt. It's the old story: blow the whistle and get the shaft.
It ain't supposed to be this way. Over the years, Congress has passed several laws to encourage government employees to sound off about waste, corruption and wrongdoing and to protect them after they have blown the whistle.
But as usual what the lawmakers propose, slippery government uniformed and civilian bureaucrats dispose.
White, as Director of Education at Nellis AFB, Nevada, had the guts to say that an educational program (Quality Education System) endorsed by Colonel John Welde, was a costly lemon that wouldn't fly. White had 30 years experience in education and Welde had zilch. But Welde was a colonel on the promotion fast track and didn't like being put down by a civilian.
For sounding off, White was fired as director of education and demoted to filing clerk 3d class. In retaliation, he was ordered not to talk with anyone concerning Nellis' Education Services. This "house arrest" lasted for nine months, until Senator Richard Bryan stepped in and ask why this high ranking civilian was emptying wastepaper baskets.
White filed a grievance under the Whistleblower Protection Act and now, five years later, the case has taken on a life of its own and he is still battling the Air Force legal system. After the Office of Special Counsel, the federal agency intended to assist whistle-blowers, told him to get lost, White had to retain an attorney. So far, his legal fees have exceeded $133,000, which have wiped out his family's life's savings and caused them to hock their house.
With White's case, the Air Force refused to admit to any wrongdoing and is seemingly dedicated to zap him financially and emotionally. In fact, even though White was declared a "protected whistle-blower," the chief Air Force labor attorney Phillip G. Tidmore branded him as "disloyal" and "obstreperous".
But when Tidmore cajoled the Office of Personnel Management to intervene, this
alarmed the Government Accountability Project, a non-government watchdog on waste and abuse. They stated White's case had set a "valuable precedent for whistle-blowers" and filed a brief on White's behalf, terming Tidmore's appeal "childlike."
Tidmore, unable to refute the facts, petitioned the US Court of Appeals to further delay White's case and to run up more attorney costs. In a similar case, trial Judge Lonnie Bartholomew chided Air Force attorneys for their endless appeals, and told them they should not be surprised at having to pay very high attorney fee awards ($100,000 and more). Tidmore, with an endless amount of your dollars allocated supposedly to defend America not harass an American, continues to savage White.
In September 1996, after White had won in court, Tidmore refused to settle. White's attorney, disgusted with Tidmore's attitude, asked that this pitbull be withdrawn from the case due to a conflict of interest and for saying, "there would be no resolution of this case and that any awards, including attorneys' fees, would be further appealed in retribution for Mr. White's actions and his prosecution of the whistleblowing complaint."
White got his job back but is still sweating more legal ambushes. Meanwhile, ironically, the QES program has been modified to include all White's recommendations that caused him to fall on his sword in the first place.
All of the Nellis Base officials who carried out the assault on White have been promoted. No one has been nailed in accordance with the law for whistle-blower retaliation. Welde is now a Major General. And yes, Tidmore is still out there zealously working new legal maneuvers, all done at taxpayer expense.
Any potential whistle-blower who knows about the White case will not easily blow another whistle. They'll think about John White and say, "But for the grace of God there go I". Congress needs to fix the Whistleblower Act or raise the white flag on cleaning up a very wasteful military machine.