Nuclear weapons contractors repeatedly stifle whistleblowers
One thing that seems universally true: those who are engaged in wrongdoing really do not want that fact known. That’s particularly seen in the case of whistleblowers, such as Thomas Drake, Edward Snowden, and a long list of others. And it’s not just government: if anything, private corporations, which normally lack an office corresponding to inspector general, really hate it when people expose their wrongdoing (for a recent example, see how Fox has reacted to Gretchen Carlson’s whistleblowing regarding Roger Ailes).
But when nuclear contractors are engaged in wrongdoing, it’s even more a threat to the public than, say, airbag manufacturers doing wrong. Patrick Malone and Jeffrey Smith report at the Center for Public Integrity:
At laboratories and factories where American nuclear weapons are designed and built, and at the sites still being cleansed of the toxic wastes created by such work, contractor employees outnumber federal workers six to one. That makes them key sentinels when something goes awry, a circumstance that officials say explains why they get legal protections when whistleblowing.
That’s the theory. It turns out that the Energy Department has actually handed most of the oversight over these protections to the contractors themselves, robbing workers at key nuclear weapons sites of confidence that pointing out security and safety dangers or other mistakes won’t bring retaliation, according to an audit released by the Government Accountability Office on July 14.
The Energy Department’s decision to embrace contractor self-regulation of its whistleblowing protection system means in many cases that those overseeing it work for the contractors’ top lawyers, who must defend the contractor against employee claims of wrongdoing, or for those officials responsible for deciding about job cuts, the report disclosed.
The result has been a climate of widespread anxiety: At four of five nuclear weapons sites where DOE conducted surveys from 2012 to 2014, roughly a third of the employees said they disputed a claim that “management does not tolerate retaliation,” the report said. More rosy contractor-run surveys were marked by “leading or biased interview questions and problems assuring confidentiality during interviews,” the GAO said.
At the Energy Department’s Hanford Nuclear Site, for example, a contractor employee reported that in the first iteration of one such survey, specific responses could be linked directly to those participating, and after revisions, the employee had heard managers “were pressuring employees to give favorable responses.” Many of the results were deleted before being analyzed, the employee said – part of a series of flaws that DOE overlooked.
The report disclosed that despite some highly-publicized instances of retaliationagainst whistleblowers in the nuclear weapons complex, and many public statements by DOE and contractors of support for transparency and technical dissent, DOE has only three times punished contractors who retaliated against whistleblowers in the last 20 years. One of those punishments was just a stern letter.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Washington, who requested the GAO report with two Senate colleagues, said at a Capitol Hill press conference about it that “in my view, the department is guilty of willful negligence at best, and at the worst, actively aiding the violation of whistleblower rights.” The government’s costly cleanup of the Hanford site, located in Wyden’s home state, has been tainted by repeated allegations of retaliation against whistleblowers.
When DOE allows “contractors to grade themselves on how well they treat whistleblowers,” Wyden said, it’s a rigged test and “there is no failing grade.” . . .
Self-investigations (as when police departments investigate police misconduct while keeping in mind the department’s reputation, or when the Catholic church investigated its pedophile priests while keeping in mind the church’s reputation) are usually little more than a cover-up. Self-evaluations are even more susceptible to distortion, both consciously and unconsciously.