Amidst all of the news about horrific mismanagement at Arlington National Cemetery (including headstones discarded into streams, dumping human ashes into dirt, and more than 200 mislabeled graves) a new article in the Washington Post has pinpointed Gina Gray, a former public relations officer at the cemetery, as the source of the disclosures and the inspiration for the Pentagon’s Inspector General report.
GAP featured Ms. Gray on our television show,Whistle Where You Work, in 2008 to discuss mismanagement at the cemetery and being firing for blowing the whistle on unfair media restrictions.
Interestingly, Ms. Gray’s story perfectly illustrates something GAP has noticed in the cases of many whistleblowers: often they have additional, frequently worse, allegations that, while end up being proven correct, cannot be proven immediately.
In Ms. Gray’s case, while she was could prove and disclose and prove the unfair media restrictions – particularly, reporters not being allowed to cover the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq even when granted permissions by their families – her other allegations took until now to come to light. It took the Pentagon’s inspector general report to raise awareness of the incredible misbehavior of officials at the cemetery.
The point is that original whistleblower complaints often lead to much bigger uncovering of wrongdoing – sometimes directly related to the original whistleblower, sometimes by others. Take the case of employees blowing the whistle on Paul Wolfowitz, former head of the World Bank. GAP was in the middle of the scandal surrounding Wolfowitz, and received many disclosures from numerous whistleblowers inside the Bank. Initially, GAP received an anonymous communication from a Bank staffer that included a report from the Bank’s office in Amman, Jordan. According to the report, one of the few Iraqi Bank consultants had been shot and nearly killed in Baghdad, but the incident was not reported to Bank staff, despite a policy that required it. The lack of communication, coupled with the fact that Wolfowitz apparently intended to expand Bank-funded projects in Iraq dramatically in the near future despite the deteriorating security situation (along with a Bank policy that prohibits the institution from financing projects in countries at war), led GAP to contact a reporter, who immediately wrote about the situation.
This whistleblower’s disclosures proved to be just the very tip of the iceberg. GAP began to receive communications from other whistleblowers regarding extensive malfeasance involving Wolfowitz and his top lieutenants.
The Arlington National Cemetery case and the Wolfowitz case are clear proof of the need for comprehensive whistleblower protections. If employees are more empowered to come forward with their concerns, we can begin to fight not just the tip of corruption and fraud, but instead the whole iceberg.
Beth Adelson is Communications Fellow for the Government Accountability Project, the nation’s leading whistleblower advocacy organization.