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Being a Whistleblower is a ‘Kafkaesque Nightmare’

May 24, 2010

People who should be getting medals are instead being retaliated against.

Story from aolnews.com

Sharon Weinberger

(May 24) — Several years ago, Franz Gayl began began pushing the Marine Corps to field urgently needed protective equipment to troops in Iraq. He thought he was just doing his job.

Instead, Gayl, a civilian scientist employed by the Marine Corps, says he has been stripped of his professional responsibilities, denied educational opportunities typically available to federal workers and subjected to a criminal probe he says was instigated as part of the professional retaliation against him.

Franz Gayl, a Marine Corps whistleblower

Franz Gayl / AP
Franz Gayl is pictured in 2006, when he was a civilian science adviser in Iraq.

Tom Devine, the legal director of the nonprofit Government Accountability Project, a Washington-based organization that represents federal whistle-blowers, including Gayl, says that despite legislation that is supposed to prevent retaliation, in reality, people like Gayl face a “Kafkaesque nightmare.”

At the center of Gayl’s original complaint was what he saw as the mishandling of the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle, a replacement for thin-skinned Humvees that proved dangerously vulnerable to improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. In the early days of the Iraq war, those homemade bombers quickly became the leading killer of U.S. and coalition forces.

An urgent call for the MRAPs was signed off on in February 2005, around the time when deaths from the roadside bombs were spiking. But it took more than 16 months for the Marine Corps to actually begin the process of buying and fielding the new equipment.

When the Marine Corps officials in charge of buying equipment didn’t seem to be acting fast enough, Gayl made his case for better equipment through reports.

Gayl’s complaints reached Capitol Hill staffers, eventually leading to congressional inquiries and an inspector general investigation of the matter. In 2007, he filed for formal whistle-blower protection.

Since that time, Gayl said, he has faced reprisals. He said he has been removed from dealing with critical technology matters, like MRAPs, and that there was an investigation into information he provided to Congress. Gayl has held on to his job, but his work situation has gone from bad to worse, he says.

Most recently, the Marine Corps denied him what would normally be a routine request — permission to attend a prestigious graduate studies program. He was also stripped of his formal responsibilities as the Marine Corps science and technology adviser, the job he was hired to do in 2002, after retiring from active duty with the service.

The heart of the problem is the weak laws that are supposed to protect federal employees (ALL WHISTLE BLOWERS NEED TO BE PROTECTED) from reprisals when they reveal wrongdoing, according to Devine. “The current law isn’t worth the paper it’s written on, and that’s a rosy assessment,” he said.

Devine helped shape the Whistblower Protection Act of 1989. “My baby grew up to to be Frankenstein,” he joked.

Gayl points out that the uniformed Marines have something called “request mast,” which allows Marines to take a grievance directly to their commanding officers. “What is lacking,” he said, “is a civilian version of request mast.”

The Marine Corps did not respond to the specific details regarding Gayl’s case, such as its decision to deny him permission to attend university training. But a spokesman told AOL News there has been no retaliation against Gayl.

“His job description is currently being updated to emphasize the deputy branch head duties and responsibilities,” Maj. Carl Redding, a Marine Corps spokesman, said in response to written questions. “It has been determined that the requirement for a science and technology adviser is no longer needed.”

Gayl would not lose any pay in his updated position, Redding added.

“Mr. Gayl has the opportunity to express his concerns through a number of organizations within the federal government designed to address his complaints,” Redding wrote. “Those organizations include his command’s Human Resources and Equal Employment Opportunity office, the inspector general, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management and the U.S. Office of Special Counsel.”

Gayl is by no means the first national security whistle-blower to suffer professionally. Coleen Rowley, then an FBI agent, wrote the bureau director in 2002 to complain about how requests to search the computer of Zacarias Moussaoui, who was convicted in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks, were denied.

This week, the Government Accountability Project is highlighting national security as part of its National Whistleblower Assembly in Washington, D.C., which includes speakers such as Gayl, Rowley and Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers and is often regarded as the father of modern whistle-blowing.

“The cutting-edge issue [this year] is whether national security employees should have free speech rights, same as EPA, DHS type of regulatory agencies,” Devine said. “Franz is a poster child of the life-and-death consequences for this country if we silence whistle-blowers instead of listening to them.”

Gayl, for his part, faces a Catch-22. He can appeal this latest action by the Marine Corps, but, like other whistle-blowers, he might wait wait years for the cases to be resolved. In the meantime, he said, he continues to face professional retaliation.

As for the vehicles that Gayl helped champion, the MRAP is now the norm for the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan. The vehicle is widely credited for preventing thousands of deaths.

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