Federal Whistleblower Wins Settlement after Exposing Government Contractor in Iraq

A federal whistleblower, Bunnatine "Bunny" Greenhouse, has just won a major victory with the U.S. District Court in Washington. On Monday, July 25th, the court approved an award to Greenhouse in the amount of $970,000, which represents full restitution of wages, compensatory damages and attorney fees.

The case involves Kellogg Brown and Root (KBR), a subsidiary of Halliburton, and the settlement is with the Army Corps of Engineers. Greenhouse was an employee of the agency and took issue with KBR using its own cost projections for a "multi-year no-bid, no competition contract." After her initial objection with KBR, she took the contract issue to Congress. The result of her communication with Congress was that she was removed from the Senior Executive Service and her top secret clearance was revoked.

It all started in February of 2003, a short time prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. A Pentagon meeting agenda included the subject of an approximately $7 billion government contract award to Kellogg Brown and Root for the purpose of restoring Iraq's oil facilities. Greenhouse was in attendance in addition to officials from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's office and aides to retired Lieut. General Jay Garner. To her dismay, also present were several representatives from Halliburton. Her issue with the presence of the Halliburton representatives was with regard to the sensitive nature of the discussions and the obvious potential for conflict of interest with KBR, with Halliburton representatives in the meeting being privy to internal discussions about the terms of the contract. She requested, with a whisper to the presiding general, that the Halliburton employees be asked to leave the meeting.

Greenhouse then raised other concerns including the fact that the contract had never been put out for competitive bid and the five-year term was not justified, that the contract term should be opened to competition after only a one year term. When the contract came back for approval, the term was still five years. The war was looming and she had no choice but to approve the terms, but added a handwritten reservation voicing her objections and stating that a no-bid contract with greater than a one year term could imply, "there is not strong intent for a limited competition."

These objections did not become public until October of 2004. In January of 2004, the government had replaced the noncompetitive contract with two competitively bid awards. Interestingly, Halliburton was awarded the larger of the two, worth up to $1.2 billion. As early as 2004, she had received a lot of trouble for issuing concerns about the deal and was warned to stop interfering and then was threatened with a demotion. At the time, her lawyer sent a letter to the acting Secretary of the Army, charging that her superiors had tried to silence her. The letter states that over the seven years previous to the Halliburton contract, Greenhouse had voiced reservations about many procurement documents, but only after the Halliburton issue was she warned to stop. The letter also states that Robert Griffin, the major general who warned her, later gave a sworn statement in which he admitted her reservations on contracts had "caused trouble" for the army and that it was "intolerable" and "had to stop." The letter also states that he threatened to downgrade her.

Greenhouse said in a statement, "I hope that the plight I suffered prompts the administration and Congress to move dedicated civil servants from second-class citizenry and to finally give federal employees the legal rights that they need to protect the legal trust."

After suffering terrible working conditions, including a fall on a rigged trip cord in her office that resulted in a painful injury to her knee, Greenhouse retired with 29 years of service with the federal government. This retirement was earlier than she had planned and she retired without her SES credentials and top secret clearance.

Stephen Kohn, president of the National Whistleblowers Center, claimed that she was "an American hero." In a statement released by his office, he said, "She had the courage to stand alone and challenge powerful special interests. She exposed a corrupt contracting environment where casual and clubby contracting practices were the norm. Her courage led to sweeping legal reforms that will forever halt the gross abuse she had the courage to expose."

Her case illustrates the need to protect federal whistleblowers. Although legislation that would improve these protections has been in front of Congress for years, it has never gained any final approval.

Beyond the Call of Duty, Time Magazine, October 24, 2004

A Bittersweet Win for a Federal Whistleblower, The Washington Post, July 26, 2011