PEERMail: Whistleblowers Turning the Tide

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From the unfolding impeachment inquiry to court cases across the country, whistleblowers are a growing and critical force for keeping us a nation of laws.

Blowing the whistle takes courage because these truth-tellers put a lot at risk, from their careers to their marriages, and, sometimes, their sanity. Of its nature, whistleblowing initiates a life-changing journey – a journey for which these courageous public servants need support.  PEER is honored to play that role, acting as Sherpas for those seeking to scale professional Everests to speak truth to the highest powers.

Some of these journeys entail legal action. True to the tradition of settling on the courthouse steps, this month Bureau of Land Management restored Craig Hoover, a veteran range conservationist just days before his complaint of illegal removal was set for trial. PEER represented Craig and we are honored to have done so.

Other battles play out in the court of public opinion, like PEER client Dr. George Luber appearing this week on CBS News to detail how the Centers for Disease Control is sidelining climate science.

But for every whistleblower whose fight has gone public there are a score more casting their profiles in courage in the shadows.  In many of these cases, PEER’s role is to ensure that the message is delivered to maximum effect, without delivering the messenger.

This strategy recognizes the value to the body politic of keeping conscientious professionals within public service and not incinerating careers in a blaze of publicity. At PEER, a key ecosystem is the health of the agencies themselves — keeping them transparent enough so that important facts can be glimpsed and not so autocratic that reasonable differences of opinion are tolerated.

Today, these bureaucratic ecosystems are under tremendous stress.  The emergence of waves of whistleblowers is both a sign of distress and an indication of inherent strength.  Helping to heal those public workplaces in the next administration is an increasing focus at PEER.

Right Whale Victory.  In a stinging opinion, a federal judge has excoriated NOAA and directed that it immediately implement vital protections for the highly endangered North Atlantic right whale.His decision recited examples of suppressed scientific work by NOAA’s own staff documented in a PEER complaint. No individual scientists were named, but their message was forcefully delivered without delivering the messengers for retribution. 

Life in the Abyss.  Can you imagine what it is like to be a senior manager inside today’s Department of Interior? Well, we asked Interior’s Senior Executive Service in a new survey. Read what people are saying from inside the belly of the beast. 


Can’t Handle the Truth.  A PEER study showing widespread presence of PFAS, the forever chemical that does not break down in the environment, in the plastic backing and glass blades coating artificial turf is giving the turf industry conniption fits.  Industry groups have issued fulminating statements nitpicking the study but – most importantly – not denying high levels of PFAS in their products. The main limit on public awareness, however, is industry’s extensive use of confidentiality – under the claim of a trade secret – to shield details of chemical formulations from release. PEER is working to roll back these inappropriate claims of confidential business information, but the secret is out.  Meanwhile across the country, citizen testing of artificial turf and other PFAS-containing products has been unleashed.    

Too Conflicted to Function. The new EPA Regional Administrator for New England comes from industry and touts himself as a “proud member” of the “Dow Chemical family” on his Twitter account. Under ethics rules, he is forbidden from participating in any EPA matter involving his former employer, Dow. PEER has uncovered his recusals that bar him from working on nearly one-fifth of the 123 total Superfund sites in New England.  Ironically, the recusals have a big exception – PFAS, which is yet another proud offspring of the Dow Chemical family. 

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