“Let there be no mistake, I was downgraded in performance and removed because I did my job too well…My removal serves to clarify that the power structure will no longer tolerate efforts to curb contract abuse. Regardless, I still believe that Integrity in Government is not an option, but an obligation.”
Bunnatine “Bunny” Greenhouse is a former chief contracting officer for the US Army Corps of Engineers. Now she´s a whistleblower.
As a senior level contracting professional, Greenhouse knows how government contracting is supposed to work – and how it can be subverted by inappropriate contracts and sweetheart deals with favored companies. Greenhouse testified before Congress about fraud and abuse in the military contracting system prior to the Iraq War. After she exposed the fraud, Bunny was demoted from her position. Her bravery in speaking out has helped bring the issue of fraud in contracting to the attention of the American people.
Greenhouse grew up in the Louisiana Delta, where she graduated as valedictorian of her high school. She attended Southern University in Baton Rouge and earned Master’s Degrees from the University of Central Texas, George Washington University, and the National Defense University’s Industrial College of the Armed Forces. Bunny worked as a teacher before beginning her career in government service, where she worked her way up the pay scale with a combination of dedication to her job and additional education.
In 1998, Greenhouse was promoted to the Senior Executive Service of the US Army Corps of Engineers, its top level civilian rank. Lt. Gen. Joe Ballard, who hired her for the job, was quoted in The Washington Post as saying she was one of the most professional people he had ever met. Ballard hoped Greenhouse could “professionalize” the agency and cut out the informal network that had characterized the Corps contracts business. Greenhouse took the civil servants’ pledge to be impartial and to uphold integrity – and she excelled at her new job, receiving stellar job reviews three years in a row.
In the lead-up to the Iraq war in 2001, a bid from the Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR) came across Greenhouse’s desk. The contract was being pushed as an “emergency” no-bid, no-competition contract that would last two to five years. Bunny noted that there was no compelling emergency that could reasonably last for five years, and that extending a contract for more than one year was intended to block competition. She sent the bid back with a series of notes, while stating that the contract be approved for no more than one year of “emergency” status.
Behind her back, the Corps gave KBR a waiver, essentially going around Greenhouse to award the contract . Greenhouse complained about the inappropriate contract within the Corps, and then took it to Congress. She insisted that only a level playing field would enable small businesses, as well as large contractors, to bid competitively for contracts. When the Corps found out Greenhouse intended to speak to the Senate Democratic Policy Committee about the allegations in 2005, she was informed that it would not be “in her best interests.”
Greenshouse stated that she was simply doing her job by refusing to bend the rules for well-connected companies, which is why she refused to ratify what she deemed an “irregular procurement.” (A later investigation and audit by the Pentagon would find that KBR had possibly billed the government for more than $60 billion in excess fuel charges in Iraq.)
When Greenhouse first started receiving blowback from the Corps, a national whistleblower center helped her stay in her position until the Department of Defense Office of the Inspector General could investigate the allegations. However, after Greenhouse decided speak before a Congressional committee, despite being warned not to, she was immediately removed from her position. Her former supervisor, Lt. Ballard, was no longer there to back her up. Her civilian contracting position was filled by an Army colonel since no one else had sufficient experience. Government watchdog groups and Greenhouse have said the demotion was in retaliation for her reservations about awarding the KBR contract.
Through a media Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, her notes on the KBR contract were made public, opening up a public scandal about government war contracts and price gouging.
After the allegations of fraud went public, other pieces of the story began to come to light. Greenhouse had encountered other forms of hostility in her career. Citing racial and misogynistic slurs, lawyers for the case showed that there were increasing problems on the job for Greenhouse after Ballard retired, even before the whistleblowing incident. By 2009, a slew of similar whistleblowing cases had gone public and at least a dozen suits alleging corruption in Iraq reconstruction were filed against military contractors. One whistleblower, working at Camp Fallujah, accused KBR of cost exaggeration and accounting fraud – and was promptly put under guard and flown out of the country.
In July 2011, the Washington US District Court awarded Greenhouse $970,000 in lost wages and damages. In statements before Congress and to the press, Greenhouse presented a consistent and clear message about her actions as a government whistleblower. She refused to accept accolades and reminded the public that she was simply doing her job. Greenhouse describes her actions as patriotic, and has called for a federal whistleblower protection act so civilians are not prevented from upholding the public trust. As Greenhouse pointed out: “Why is it the whistleblower that always ends up in court?”
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