U.S. Aid Whistleblower Wins Ruling
Environmental Violations in Multi-National Bank Projects Suppressed
Washington, DC — The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) removed its sole analyst overseeing environmental compliance in multi-national development bank projects to prevent him from reporting violations to Congress and watchdog organizations, according to a ruling released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
The federal civil service court, called the Merit Systems Protection Board, ruled last week that John M. Fitzgerald, a former environmental analyst with USAID, made disclosures of legal violations and mismanagement protected under the Whistleblower Protection Act and that these disclosures played a role in the decision to abruptly abolish his position in September 2002. This ruling means that Fitzgerald is entitled to a full hearing to determine whether he should be reinstated and awarded damages.
Under a statute commonly called the “Pelosi Amendment,” after its author, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the U.S. delegations to international lending institutions, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, are forbidden from supporting any financial aid to projects that have not undergone environmental review. The agency charged with monitoring environmental compliance is USAID.
Fitzgerald’s whistleblower complaint, filed by PEER, charges that USAID caved to pressure from U.S. Treasury officials determined to secure approval for financing of questionable energy projects in Africa, South America and Eastern Europe. Treasury officials struck sections written by Fitzgerald from draft USAID reports to Congress that –
- Nearly half the money loaned by multilateral development banks received no environmental review at all;
- Many of the reviews are incomplete and do not meet the law’s standards. For example, the Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline – the biggest development project in Africa – lacks plans for dealing with oil spills, invasive species from tanker ballast and other foreign commerce and the absence of support infrastructure for large-scale petroleum operations; and
- Reviews are often completed after-the-fact, with little consideration of alternatives and are not readily available to outside groups or native populations. As a consequence, unnecessarily destructive projects in Asia, Africa and South America are improperly receiving U.S. support in obtaining loans.
“This case is about the Bush Administration censoring the information available to the Congress and the American people, who are paying for these loans,” stated PEER Executive director Jeff Ruch, noting that since Fitzgerald’s departure the required bi-annual reports to Congress have ceased. “These reviews are supposed to prevent needless environmental catastrophes in countries desperate for investment.”
Fitzgerald’s complaint names USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios, three other agency officials, as well as US Treasury Deputy Secretary John Taylor as defendants.