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Project on Government Oversight

Coast Guard Blogger Fired

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March 19, 2008

From POGO's blog:

Our sympathies go out to Mike McGrath, a contributor to "An Unofficial Coast Guard Blog," who reports being fired from working for one of the Coast Guard's contractors in part for his blogging. McGrath comes from a Coast Guard family -- he has had a career working for the Coast Guard on and off since 1981 and a father with a 24-year career. On Coast Guard Report he describes what happened:

Was told that my position would have been downsized anyways within the next few months, my behavior on the blog sites just made it easier to make me the first to go.

I don't mind if someone wants to let me or any other contractor go because they have to reduce headcount, or some other "Business" reason - that makes perfect sense to me and I understand as a contractor that these contracts come and go with the wind - that's the risk we take as contractors and is the nature of our world.

What I take issue with is that CG leaders over-reacted to and I believe misinterpreted some of my blogs and comments - this drove them to handle my departure the way they did. While I won't go into the details, let me say that there are certainly more professional ways of handling a person's departure, rather than the explosive Friday afternoon yelling session with the contractor companies' senior folks via conference call, then having said contractor company send a letter in the mail to let said contractor know he is no longer employed, then firing off a late Friday afternoon email that in essence says go home and wait for said letter - which is exactly the way I interpreted the whole situation - and by the way all without letting said contractor know that any of this was going on.

Did I mention that I just had my performance evals completed within the last 2 weeks, scored perfect all across the board, got a raise (which I will never see) and that there was no indication from anybody that there was anything wrong occurring; no feedback, no counseling, no pointing out of where I might be violating any written policy, nothing - no indication whatsoever. Yeah, now you know why I have such heartburn with all this.

In January, McGrath described being told by his superiors to "back off" on his blogging:

I was sort of encouraged (with some very strong negative overtones) to be careful about posting my personal information and my opinions on these blogs....I just wanted to report that I now understand what it feels like to have that experience; and to state emphatically that I won't be backing down.

McGrath's last blog entry before being fired described his frustrations with an unfinished Coast Guard investigation into an incident in which his son died. Another blog entry was critical of efforts to reorganize the Coast Guard. Yet, in his blogging he frequently expressed his love of the Coast Guard and a sincere desire to make it better.

As the world wide web has grown, more and more employees at government agencies and contractors have taken the risk of expressing their opinions and exposing the inner workings of their institutions on blogs as well as on YouTube. Some of these individuals are also whistleblowers who expose corruption or possible harms to the public.

Government agencies and companies are all too happy to fire someone like McGrath in order to send a message to other employees to keep their mouths shut. Left unchallenged, these jack booted thug firings ultimately may help to keep the public in the dark about institutional corruption and risks to the public. Unfortunately, in an Orwellian turn of events, the Supreme Court ruled two years ago that government employees have no free speech rights to discuss their official work.

Other contributors to "An Unofficial Coast Guard Blog" aren't backing down. In fact, they believe that efforts to silence Coast Guard critics are backfiring. Mike McGrath says he's starting to write a book about his experiences with the Coast Guard.

Correction: POGO corrected this entry from its original - "26-year career working for the Coast Guard" was changed to "career working for the Coast Guard on and off since 1981" and "permanently brain damaged" was changed to "died." 

Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO’s investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.