Selected Impact and Accomplishments for 2012
Toxic Water at Camp Lejeune
A Navy and Marine Corps cover-up hid more than three decades of devastating water contamination at Marine Corps base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina—a toxic secret that affected as many as one million Marines, civilians, and family members stationed there. Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger, a retired Marine who served as a drill sergeant at the base, doggedly worked to uncover the details of this contamination after his nine-year-old daughter died of leukemia. POGO was honored to help Master Sgt. Ensminger, breast-cancer survivor Mike Partain, and the other victims in their quest for truth in this disaster that spanned 1953-1987. We worked with filmmakers to bring attention to the documentary on Camp Lejeune, Semper Fi: Always Faithful, and also with bipartisan Members of Congress to pursue documentation of the contamination kept secret by the Navy and Marine Corps. Thousands of pages of documents were finally made public with the help of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and other allies. That disclosure was followed by another milestone in the fight, as President Obama signed into law legislation, which POGO advocated for, that delivers long-overdue health care to the victims. Yet, unbelievably, the whole truth is still not known and information is still being withheld. We will continue to work to ensure the Department of Veterans Affairs properly implements the new law, to expose the whole truth about what happened at Camp Lejeune, and to hold those responsible accountable.
America’s Shame: The Crisis of Modern Slavery
Modern slavery is a worldwide crisis, and one that our taxpayer dollars fuel. Billions of dollars in Pentagon and State Department contracts end up in the hands of federal contractors and subcontractors with deplorable labor practices. Foreign nationals, most of whom live in poverty back home, are lured to Iraq or Afghanistan by recruiters who promise a good paycheck and a better life for the workers and their families. Once in country, though, they find a life of forced labor, working for a small fraction of the pay they were promised, living in squalid conditions, being made to pay excessive fees to the recruiter, and being forced to stay because their travel documents were confiscated to prevent them from leaving the worksite. Those scenarios paint a picture of slavery and exploitation rather than of democracy and freedom.
POGO has been working to end this shameful practice. Last September, we finally saw government action towards a true zero-tolerance policy on such human trafficking: President Obama issued an Executive Order that orders contractors to stop misleading or fraudulent recruiting practices, charging recruiting fees, seizing or destroying employee identification documents, and failing to pay employees’ return transportation costs. Congress then passed a law that put the President’s order into statute and gave the enforcement some additional teeth. POGO worked with bipartisan congressional champions such us Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Rob Portman (R-OH), and Representatives James Lankford (R-OK) and Gerry Connolly (D-VA) to advance the legislation. POGO also drew much-needed attention to the issue by testifying and reporting on abuses.
POGO is now working to ensure the agencies and contractors properly implement and enforce these tough new anti-trafficking laws.
Changing the Pentagon Spending Debate
Since its founding, POGO has fought to reduce wasteful spending at the Pentagon. This past year was no different, and POGO played a pivotal role in changing the debate over the Pentagon’s enormous budget. Through our efforts, and those of other like-minded groups and individuals, the previously sacrosanct Pentagon budget was kept on the table of areas that should be considered for cuts. We not only argued that wasteful spending should be curtailed, but also that there were specific cuts that could be made without adversely impacting national security.
Along with our partners at Taxpayers for Common Sense, we released recommendations for saving nearly $700 billion in taxpayer dollars at the Pentagon. And POGO’s investigations into the F-35, Littoral Combat Ship, top-heavy military officer corps, and high cost of service contracting helped change the national debate about Pentagon spending.
POGO also helped lead a coordinated campaign bringing together groups as diverse as Americans for Taxpayer Reform and Campaign for America’s Future—many of which have never joined together publicly before—urging President Obama and Congress to “Spend Less, and Spend Smarter at the Pentagon.”
Most importantly, all of this work helped pave the way for victories such as a vote in the House to freeze Pentagon spending and then, as a result of sequestration, the reduction of Pentagon spending by roughly $500 billion over the next ten years.
POGO will continue to work with our partners to more effectively and accountably meet national security needs and twenty-first century realities.
Improving Protections for Whistleblowers
Last year we achieved several hard-won victories for whistleblowers and taxpayers. After more than a decade of campaigning for enhanced whistleblower protections for the brave federal workers who safeguard our health, safety, security, and taxpayer dollars, they have finally been enacted. On November 27, 2012, President Obama signed the long-beleaguered Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA) into law. The WPEA closes many loopholes and upgrades protections for federal workers who blow the whistle on waste, fraud, abuse, and illegality. POGO helped lead an unprecedented coalition of supporters from across the ideological spectrum which, along with the efforts of the committed co-sponsors of this legislation and their dedicated staff, made its passage possible.
Then, the President did what Congress did not in the WPEA and gave many national security and intelligence community whistleblowers protections for the first time. Though it doesn’t provide sufficient independence, due process, or enforcement, there finally is a framework for free-speech rights and some remedies for these whistleblowers.
POGO also helped get expanded whistleblower protections for federal contractors and grantees. Modeled on the excellent Recovery Act, Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) championed strong enhancements to defense contractor protections and a four-year pilot program for government-wide protections enacted in the defense authorization bill.
But, while these are remarkable advances for whistleblowers and taxpayers, there also have been many threats initiated by the Obama Administration and some in Congress. We will be vigilant in addressing these and ensuring the progress made in law this year is properly put into practice.