A Field Guide to Government Whistleblower Retaliation


"You can probably handle the truth, but we can't, frankly."
Credit: cool revolution / photo on flickr

The scandal over the absolutely horrible treatment of patients by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has a secondary scandal: VA employees who have attempted to blow the whistle on the agency's corruption have faced retaliation.

The Washington Post spent time with the woman who used to be the spokesperson for the hospital in Phoenix (the one that had been Ground Zero for the scandal, but problems have been exposed at hospitals across the country). She is no longer the hospital's spokesperson. She is now essentially a living joke about government bureaucracy:

[Paula] Pedene, 56, is the former chief spokeswoman for this VA hospital. Now, she is living in a bureaucrat's urban legend. After complaining to higher-ups about mismanagement at this hospital, she has been reassigned — indefinitely — to a desk in the basement.

In the Phoenix case, investigators are still trying to determine whether Pedene was punished because of her earlier complaints. If she is, that would make her part of a long, ugly tradition in the federal bureaucracy — workers sent to a cubicle in exile.

In the past, whistleblowers have had their desks moved to break rooms, broom closets and basements. It's a clever punishment, good-government activists say, that exploits a gray area in the law.

The whole thing can look minor on paper. They moved your office. So what? But the change is designed to afflict the striving soul of a federal worker, with a mix of isolation, idle time and lost prestige.

The Post describes her workday in the basement, which is exactly what you'd think it is—she's a second receptionist in a basement library where the visitors rarely need any help at all.

The Washington Post attempted to get an explanation from the VA on why Pedene is being treated the way she was. The hit a wall, partly because the person responsible for sending Pedene to the basement has been put on leave because of the big scandal, and partly because of the typical "no comment on personnel matters" response that thwarts any journalist trying to figure out what happens to any human being who works for any government from lowly garbage collectors, to police officers, to city managers.  

Read the whole thing here.