Washington, DC – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is threatening disciplinary action against one of its economists for answering media “questions concerning any past, present or future projects,” according to an e-mail released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).The directive was issued to Dr. Donald Sweeney in connection with his being awarded a “Service to America Medal” for exposing the Corps’ manipulation of economic studies to justify building unneeded large-scale projects on the Mississippi River.
The Service to America Medal is a newly created award sponsored by the Partnership for Public Service and Government Executive to honor extraordinary acts or achievement by career civil servants. Dr. Sweeney received the medal and a $3,000 honorarium last night at a black tie gala featuring White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card. Despite high-level participation by Bush Administration officials, the Corps of Engineers has ordered Dr. Sweeney not to comment on any of the events leading to his award.
“This gag order illustrates how corrupt and out-of-control the Corps has become,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch whose organization provides legal representation for Dr. Sweeney and nominated him for the award. “Although Don Sweeney is being honored for service to America, his own agency treats him like a prisoner-of-war – allowed to reveal only his name, rank and serial number.”
In a Nov. 7 conference call between Ruch and Corps lawyers, Mississippi Valley Division Counsel Annette Kuz contended Dr. Sweeney’s comments about his own case would be “disruptive” to the agency and the basis for disciplinary action against him. Dr. Sweeney informed the Corps he would attend the event on his own time and planned to speak as a private citizen. Dr. Sweeney has decided to disregard the gag order.
In February of 2000, Dr. Sweeney filed a disclosure with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel detailing efforts by top Corps commanders to “cook the books” on economic studies. His allegations were validated in a Pentagon investigation and review by the National Academy of Sciences. Two Corps generals and a colonel were disciplined.
Despite the furor, the project, reconstruction of the lock system for the Upper Mississippi River-Illinois Waterway (second in cost only to restoration of the Everglades), is now proceeding without incorporating any of the Dr. Sweeney’s critiques. At the same time, the issues Dr. Sweeney raised are central to an ongoing congressional debate about the need to reform Corps civil works planning.