Washington, DC–Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s plan to create a new Department of Defense Personnel System suspends protections for whistleblowers, waives ethics rules and authorizes no-bid service contracts, according to an analysis released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
In mid-April, Secretary Rumsfeld submitted “The Defense Transformation for the 21st Century Act” to Congress, proposing a series of changes in departmental organization and military personnel rules. The bill would sweep aside an array of civil service and government accountability rules in the name of “flexibility”:
Personal Service Contracting. Ability to execute no-bid contracts, without financial limitation, for any overseas or “national security” operations;
Firing and Transfers. Elimination of rules for employee due process, whistleblower appeals and conflict of interest rules; and
Appointment of “Experts.” Authority to hire experts deemed “advantageous” by the Secretary on a non-competitive basis.
“This is a classic bait and switch where the preamble says it will protect whistleblowers and respect ethics rules while the fine print waives all the safeguards,” commented PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization represents Department of Defense whistleblowers. “Due process and fundamental fairness are not threats to national security.”
Coming on the heels of a separate personnel system approved for the Department of Homeland Security, the Pentagon bill goes much further in granting unilateral power to hire private contractors under any terms the Defense Secretary deems “necessary.” “This plan should be called the Halliburton bill of rights,” Ruch added, referring to the controversial Iraq reconstruction contract let by the Army Corps of Engineers. The plan also authorizes formation of volunteer auxiliaries to perform “any non-combat function, power, duty role, mission or operation authorized by law.”
The bill contains exemptions from anti-pollution and wildlife protection laws for domestic Pentagon operations, and would repeal scores of reporting requirements by which Congress keeps tabs on Pentagon actions. “Given the unmatched history of Pentagon boondoggles, this agency needs more accountability not less,” Ruch concluded. “The personnel experiment at Homeland Security has not even begun and here Secretary Rumsfeld–without citing a single example of where the Pentagon has been thwarted by the current system–asks to run the Department of Defense with less restrictions than governed an Enron Corp.”