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Leading with Integrity: Ethics in Action and the Importance of the Whistleblowers Whose Loyalty Is To the Truth
By Bunnatine Hayes Greenhouse
Remarks at the http://MIC50.org conference.
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. For more information on this organization, I have provided some contact information for your conference attendees.