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The following article is the Anchorage Daily News Compass piece authored by Alaska Forum board members Stan Stephens and Walter Parker and also by whistleblower attorney Billie Garde.



Witch Hunt In Washington


(Note: The following opinion piece is a slightly modified version of a similar piece that ran in the Anchorage Daily News (5/16/00) under the title, "Young Forgets Whistle-Blowers' Value, Risk.")

Recently, a subcommittee of Chairman Don Young's House Resources Committee began to hold hearings on the activities of a watchdog group, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO). Those activities included a lawsuit filed by POGO against Mobil which alleged that the oil company was shortchanging the government on royalty payments for oil leases on federal land. POGO filed the lawsuit under the False Claims Act, which allows a group or individual to sue a private company they believe is defrauding the government; the Act also grants them a portion of any fine levied as a result. Representative Young took umbrage with the fact that POGO, upon being awarded a $1.1 million settlement in the case, paid two whistleblowers $380,000 each for their decade-long work in bringing Mobil's abuses to light. Never mind that Mobil settled the case for $45 million, all but admitting that they indeed had been stealing from the federal government for years (the lawsuit revealed that the oil industry as a whole underpaid royalties by over $300 million). That apparently didn't phase Rep. Young in the slightest. By the way, it should be mentioned that the two whistleblowers are federal employees, one of whom works for the Interior Department - certainly not Rep. Young's favorite agency. It is highly unfortunate that Rep. Young has paid attention solely to the issue of the payments made to the whistleblowers. Ignored in this entire affair is the fact that the two whistleblowers saved the American people hundreds of millions of dollars. And now they are being retaliated against in the most draconian manner by Rep. Young. Unfortunately, this conforms to the pattern that so many whistleblowers have seen before - instead of having their allegations investigated, they find themselves the target of investigations and in most cases outright harassment and intimidation. Back in February, Rep. Young issued subpoenas to POGO asking for, among other things, copies of the Executive Director's home telephone records. It is remarkably odd that Alaska's congressman, who prides himself on his patriotism and strict adherence to the Bill of Rights, would so invade the privacy of a U.S. citizen. Would that the Department of the Interior issued a subpoena asking for Don Young's home telephone records! The resulting outcry from the "congressman for all Alaska" would resound from Washington, DC to Fort Yukon and back again. Twice. Last year, another incident in the Southwest raised the hackles of Rep. Young - as well as free speech advocates everywhere. Rep. Young, angered by the actions of the U.S. Forest Service, subpoenaed employees of that agency forcing them to identify the environmental groups they belonged to. He stated at the time that he feared the U.S. Forest Service was becoming "a captive agency." Presumably what he meant was that the agency was in the wrong for employing individuals with whom he didn't ideologically agree. Had every employee been a card-carrying member of the NRA, that no doubt would have passed muster with Rep. Young. The recent actions of the House Resources Committee bring to mind an incident in the early 1990's that many Alaskans are sure to remember. Following the Exxon Valdez spill, Alyeska Pipeline Service Company hired a security firm called the Wackenhut Corporation to investigate a number of environmental activists, with the hope of ferreting out a whistleblower. Wackenhut proceeded to place taps on telephone lines, illegally purchase bootleg copies of phone records, sift through trash bins, and even set up a phony environmental law firm hoping to gain the trust of key individuals. When these actions were exposed, a Congressional inquiry was held with hearings before the House Resources Committee (of which Rep. Young was then the ranking minority member). The Committee rigorously denounced the actions of both the security firm and Alyeska. Rep. Young agreed, though some would say with little enthusiasm, that whistleblowers who risk their careers and in some cases their personal safety should not suffer retaliation, harassment, or intimidation; but should instead have their allegations properly investigated. One must wonder if Rep. Young has forgotten those events of only a few years ago, now that his actions so closely resemble the very whistleblower retaliation he admonished. Further inquiry into the POGO matter reveals that indeed Rep. Young's allegations are baseless. He condemns the payments to the whistleblowers, yet ignores that POGO sought professional legal and accounting advice on how to report the payments to the IRS. He also ignores the fact that POGO informed the Justice Department of their intention to make the payments before they did so. Whistleblowers are a unique and integral part of exposing fraud, deceit, and malfeasance in both industry and government. Very often, they are risking ostracism from their colleagues, unjust firings or transfers, and other forms of reprisal. They deserve our support in their efforts to make workplaces safer, the environment cleaner, and both industry and government less riddled with graft and corruption. It seems that our congressman needs once again to be reminded of that.




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