Whistleblowers: Who guards the guards?

Monday - 4/16/2012, 2:00am EDT

Thanks to the never-ending saga at the General Services Administration, feds at all levels are on high alert. Employees in dozens of agencies have been told to blow the whistle if they know of (or think they know of) wrongdoing, stupidity, etc. Waste, fraud and abuse — always top targets — are at the head of the parade.

But what if the crook, cheater or bonehead is your immediate boss? Or the head of your agency? Who guards the guards?

Serial stupidity by a very, very small band of employees and officials has given GSA and the rest of the government a black eye that will last until the next one comes along.

But what if you learn of something wrong, embarrassing or stupid and it turns out that the perp is your boss? Or the inspector general? Although most strive to be above reproach, some strive harder than others.

What if you are part of the one-big-happy-family judicial branch of government and the problem child is the judge you work for? That would be a problem.

Many people have had a boss — up to the commissioner level in some cases — who bent or broke the rules.

Maybe the boss's crime was not actually a crime. Maybe it was being too cozy with contractors. Or wasting government funds. Or ordering an over-the-top, out-of-town team-builder session. Maybe the boss is playing favorites. Maybe employees who don't play along don't get promoted. Or get pushed out or transferred because they are not "team players."

The federal government is a big outfit with lots of good apples and a few very bad ones. And when its dirty laundry is aired it is usually on television or in the newspapers, confirming the suspicions of enraged taxpayers — who may themselves be doing the same thing with company money.

A major TV network recently tracked down and fired a whistleblower who may or may not have been doing the Lord's work. Whether he was a crank, a traitor or a journalistic saint depends on who's doing the judging.

When it was the buzzword du jour a couple of years back, I vowed I would never say or write the word "transparent." I take that back.

Anyone who has ever spent time in the corporate world knows that the private sector demands that the government be above reproach; open, honest and — gulp — transparent. But don't try that at the company where you work.

So if you know of problems in the workplace, the advice is to blow the whistle. Even if the villain is your boss. All will be well. Won't it?

Maybe.

Meantime, it would be interesting to find out from feds on the frontline (that would be you) how you feel about blowing the whistle. Do you believe you will be protected? Honored? Or will you be risking your reputation, and maybe your career, by sounding the alarm?

Either way, someone should be watching those guards, too.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

By Gillian Brockell

Have you ever wondered why spinning makes you dizzy? Blame it on Sir Isaac Newton. His first law of physics — that objects resist change in their state of motion — provides the explanation. According to Mental Floss, we have fluid in our ear canals that we use to sense motion. When you spin around, the fluid, and the signals it sends to your brain, gets disrupted. So, next time someone is acting like the world revolves around them, just tell them they are defying the laws of physics.

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