The Making of a Martyr: Ms. Bunnatine Greenhouse
Let’s talk about Halliburton, no-bid contracting and a kick-ass public servant named Bunnatine Greenhouse who needs liberals who say they care to make some noise on her behalf. Her picture is right here:
Mrs. Greenhouse (it seems she likes to be called Bunny, but since I was raised right and she’s old enough to be my mama, Ms. Bunny will have to do) has a big, big problem.
Ms. Bunny's problem is that, despite having been the highest ranking civilian member of the Army Corps of Engineers; one of highest ranking woman in federal government service; and despite having had a distinguished and untarnished career as one of this country’s highest ranked procurement officers; she is about to be ignonimously shitcanned “for cause”. Apparently, Ms. Bunny’s personal Waterloo is coming in late September, when her “performance plan” runs out.
Besides, in this case, if Ms. Bunny is not canned, Ms. Bunny’s hell raising over KBR’s no-bid contracts in Iraq will never stop being a thorn in the side of the Department of Defense, Dick Cheney…or President Bush.
A little history of the problem for those not in the know despite the avalanche of articles written about Halliburton and KBR right around last year’s presidential election:
In early 2003, Kellogg Brown & Root aka KBR (a fully owned subsidiary of Halliburton Corporation, and the former stomping grounds of Vice President Richard aka “Dick” Cheney) was awarded several contracts in anticipation of the invasion of Iraq. Anyhow, one of those pre-war KBR contracts was for restoration of Iraqi oilfields, which our brilliant strategists just assumed would be set on fire by Saddam and his minions as they were going down to defeat. It was called the “Restore Iraqi Oil” (RIO) Contract. What was notable about these contracts is that they were no-bid. A no-bid contract is one where a company just gets picked for the job. Just Because. With no competitive bidding process. With no preceding Request for Proposals/Requests for Quotation (the central process for all government contracting; since government contracts are paid with your and my tax money, that money is supposed to be freely available for all qualified businesses to compete for – publicly.)
KBR got billions of dollars ($7bn, in the case of the RIO contract that has become Ms. Bunny's downfall) in “sole source” contracts in this fashion during the lead-up to the Iraq invasion. (Last election cycle, folks tried to make an issue of Dick Cheney’s relationship/involvement in that process. It got drowned out in the noise machine. Go figure – but part of it may be that because, if you believe Ms. Bunny’s story, folks were focusing on trying to find the smoking gun in the hand of the wrong neocon). I’m not going to spend a lot of time rehashing the details of either KBR or RIO because frankly, the details have been blogged to death by folks far better than I, and can be found with the most straightforward google search – or search on DailyKOS, Atrios, or a number of other prominent sites. I will just link this Waxman Letter to Condi just so that folks can get an example of the type of stuff that went on in Iraq in the name of KBR contracting, most of which is seeing the light of day only through the steadfast commitment of Representative Henry Waxman, and most of which is still being completely ignored by the media and by the American People – who have the audacity and the nerve to vote for corporate criminals like Bush and Cheney and against honest Democrats because we purportedly are irresponsible with the public fisc!
According to Ms. Bunny, the negotiation and preparation of the RIO contract was unique, in her 20 years of procurement work, for several reasons: (a) it had been assigned to the Army Corps, which has no experience in procurement of this type; (b) despite that assignment actual control over the process of negotiating and agreeing to contract terms remained with the Army and the Office of the Secretary of Defense (last time I checked he was named Donald Rumsfeld.); (c) KBR was an integral part of internal Army Corps discussions about the contract, something that is anathema to the process of objectively selecting a government contractor; and (d) the contract was written so that any contractor who wanted to bid for the work going forward after the minimum term had to submit a bid that conformed to KBR’s already existing plan/proposal – a requirement that could never be met because KBR’s proposal had not been disseminated to any of its competitors, and KBR had not authorized it to be shared with anyone.
Apparently, Ms. Bunny had expressed some disquiet with each of these issues as things were progressing. But, in the end, the country was on the brink of war, and Ms. Bunny is a good American. So, Ms. Bunny (who I really wish I could meet – how she worked this was so wonderfully Sapphire; and yes as the name of my blog tries to reflect, being Sapphire can be a *good* Black woman thang at times, when it comes to calling it as we see it, and to hell with what people think) decided to object to the only thing she could object to at the time: – the contemplated 5 year term of this sole-source, no-bid contract, divided into 2 mandatory years and 3 1-year renewals. Ms. Bunny did something to ensure that it would never be said that she hadn’t objected, should that ever be said. (This is just me with my lay psychology on, but I suspect at the time Ms. Bunny was also concerned about making sure later that nobody could say she didn’t do her job; I’ve been there when it comes to needing to CYA.) She did something extraordinary.
Instead of sending a memo, which Ms. Bunny says have a tendency to come up missing, Ms. wrote her objection on the original, document-number controlled, fully executed copy of the KBR RIO contract itself. Just so that as the contract documents continued up the chain of authority, her superiors in DoD would know that she had at least tried.
Here’s Ms. Bunny’s opinion about the RIO contract, in her own words:
I caution that extending this sole source contract beyond a one-year period could convey an invalid perception that there is not strong intent for a limited competition.
And, just to make sure that it would not be overlooked in subsequent compliance checking, she neatly wrote it right next to her (required) signature on the contract. Just in case.
You Go, Ms. Bunny.
This is when the right-wing Republican hubris part of the story kicks in. I suspect in retrospect that her superiors wish they’d just shredded that version, reprinted it, and gotten it resigned.
Except they didn’t. They first instead tried to persuade (pressure) her to withdraw her objection.
She said no.
That’s when the powers-that-be over Ms. Bunny’s head at the Army Corps made a serious tactical error.
They tried to stand on her neck and demote her, after giving her the first negative performance evaluation she’d ever had working for government. The jist of it? Not that Ms. Bunny was lousy at procurement, not that Ms. Bunny was no longer a workhorse fully committed to the mission of maximizing public benefit from federal government procurement, but instead that Ms. Bunny “was hard to get along with” and “nobody liked her.”
I can see why not, given that they’d been riding herd on her for speaking her conscience in connection with Kirkuk Oil Fields contract and she’d made clear that her job was to honestly and prudently manage public funds, not to get in bed with KBR just because some pretty powerful people -- including those in the Vice President's office -- wanted her to.
Ms. Bunny’s demotion was going to be to a desk job in which she no longer had the responsibilities or staff or budget she’d been managing to nothing less than stellar reviews for the preceding 15 years.
(Yes I know, all lovers of ABW’s out there: MIS-take. Someone obviously didn’t tell these folks about going after Black women whose backs are up and trying to pressure them to do anything. Free copy of ABW's Guide to Life courtesy of me to the Army Corps of Engineers; and an extra, autographed copy to Dick Cheney).
So, since it was clear how things were going to be, Ms. Bunny -- dedicated, public servant -- got a lawyer. And the Army Corps backed off - at least for a while.
However, on June 27, 2005, as part of the ongoing investigation into KBR’s contracts and what appears to be $1,000,000,000 (yes that’s billion with a “B”) in KBR bills that Pentagon auditors admit are extremely shaky (you can read about it here, Ms. Bunny testified before the Democratic Policy Committee looking into the Halliburton/KBR feeding at the public trough.
Three days before this, Ms. Bunny had been warned by the General Counsel's office at the Army Corps that testifying “would not be in her best interest.”
But she didn’t care. As Ms. Bunny told the Democratic Policy Committee:
I have been involved with government contracting for over twenty years. . . .I can unequivocally state that the abuse related to contracts awarded to KBR represents the most blatant and improper contract abuse I have witnessed during the course of my professional career.
You can read all her testimony by taking this link and then clicking on the adobe acrobat link called Bunnatine Greenhouse’s Testimony
One thing you have to give the Army Corps credit for - they keep their promises. Ms. Bunny's testimony indeed was not "in her her best interest." Personal interest, that is. However, with a lawyer in tow and a stellar performance record with the Pentagon, yet having a situation where Ms. Bunny had defied her superiors' commaand that she not testify in a public hearing, the Army Corps was left few options with which to go after her for what was now a highly public assertion about the cronyism that was favoring Dick Cheney's favorite company.
They took the only one they had, it seems -- because it appears that shortly after her June testimony, Ms. Bunny was placed on a 90-day "performance plan". As anyone who has ever worked at a large company or government agency knows, "performance plans" mean only one thing in Human Resources lingo: you have 90 days to "shape up or ship out." At least officially. Unofficially in Ms. Bunny's case, since there has never been any discussion, debate or even hint by the Army Corps that Ms. Bunny's work was inferior and needed improvement (and lots of written evidence suggesting otherwise), it means that Ms. Bunny's stellar career with the Pentagon is coming to an end.
They put Ms. Bunny on a performance plan immediately after her testimony, in anticipation of firing her for cause. How do we know she will be fired “for cause”? Because I have never seen an employee who was “performance planned” who wasn’t. “Performance planning” as any truly honest employer will tell you, is generally done for one reason and one reason only – so that there is a written record of “cause for termination” and the employer’s attempts to “correct” presumptively inadequate (I’ll go over that presumption in a minute) employee performance. It is most often used when you have a situation with a protected employee (and, as a civil servant, Ms. Bunny is indeed one of those; she is also Black and female, two suspect classifications when it comes to employment discrimination) whose previous written performance evaluation records do not support a finding that the person is doing their job badly. Or, in the case of Ms. Bunny by all accounts before October, 2004, when the written record proves that they were doing an exemplary job.)
So, almost without a doubt, Ms. Bunny is soon going to be going to court.
The trouble with going to court, however, is that it is notoriously unsympathetic to whistleblower claims despite federal whistleblower laws, which are intended to protect federal workers who come forward to protect us all. I by no means am an expert on these laws -- this is not my area of practice. But it seems to me that the biggest trouble with the whistleblower law as it is written is this: it essentially requires the employee under fire to prove the wrongdoing.
This might be tough in Ms. Bunny's case, since unbeknownst to her (she was out that day; she reports they knew she would never sign it; something that given her position would have been required) the Army Corps issued a waiver to KBR relieving it from the cost reporting requirements that otherwise governed the RIO contract, after the Pentagon auditing arm confirmed that KBR and Hallburton was overcharging and underperforming. Given this waiver, Ms. Bunny's objection to the contract based on its time provisions might not be enough. In theory, the decision to enter into the RIO sole source contract was an act of discretion, in this case one that was taken in what will no doubt be referred to as the exigency of war. It does not appear, standing alone, to be per se illegal. Again, I am not an expert in this area, but the whistleblower laws do not appear to protect workers objecting to merely foolish or theoretically improper acts - only to clearly illegal ones.
At a minimum, Ms. Bunny's case is likely to involve not just her proving that she was retaliated against for complaining but also that she -- legally -- had something to complain about, especially after the waiver was done.
So Ms. Bunny needs our help. Right now, only Representative Waxman appears to be on the case. More in Congress need to intervene and demand that the circumstances of the waiver be examined, that KBR be required to come forward despite the waiver by the Army Corps. Recognizing that a Republithug congress is not likely to do this, we should at least make enough noise to keep this issue front and center. Not just because Halliburton/KBR is growing fat off the public teat (all while feeding our soldiers rotten food!). But also because those few who are brave enough to stand up -- like Ms. Bunny -- are being hung out to dry.