Two whistleblowers who exposed misconduct further endangering Katrina victims are honored today

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Two courageous individuals will each receive meritorious awards today for blowing the whistle on two separate instances of misconduct that put Hurricane Katrina victims in unnecessary jeopardy, reports Government Accountability Project colleague Jess Radack on the Daily Kos today. Maria Garzino, a mechanical/civil engineer and team leader with the US Army Corps of Engineers, will receive the Public Servant of the Year award from the U.S. Office of Special Counsel for exposing the intentional installation of faulty pumps in flood-prone areas of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.  Dr. Ivor van Heerden will receive an award for civic courage for speaking out against systematic incompetence and negligence in planning and preparing for Gulf coast hurricanes, despite resistance from his former employer, Louisiana State University.  Click on details for the crosspost.

Cross-posted from the Daily Kos

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Jesseyln Radack is the Homeland Security Director for the Government Accountability Project.

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Two Whistleblower Awards Illustrate Need for Post-Katrina Fixes

by Jesselyn Radack

Wed Dec 16, 2009 at 08:47:22 AM EST

Today, two completely different entities have decided to honor Katrina whistleblowers.

The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) is awarding twice-vindicated whistleblower Maria Garzino with its Public Servant of the Year Award (link to GAP’s press release, and link to the OSC’s press release today (.pdf).) Garzino blew the whistle on defective hydraulic pumps installed after hurricane Katrina. 

Meanwhile today, the wholly unrelated Shafeek Nader Trust for the Community Interest is awarding the Joe A. Callaway Award for Civic Courage to Dr. Ivor van Heerden. Dr. van Heerden resisted pressure from Louisiana State University keep quiet when he saw public-endangering screw-ups on hurricane protection.

These concurrent awards from completely different entities demonstrate that whistleblowers are the unsung heroes of why hurricane Katrina caused the disasters it did, and how to prevent them in the future.  Whistleblowers bravely bring to light the wide breadth of Katrina misconduct and the ongoing need to correct it.  We must ensure that whistleblowers are not only awarded for their courage, but that the public safety issues they raise are corrected.

The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) is awarding twice-vindicated whistleblower Maria Garzino with its Public Servant of the Year Award. Garzino blew the whistle on defective hydraulic pumps installed after hurricane Katrina.

[ CSW posted on this case in August 2009:  New Orleans pumps unsafe on Katrina anniversary, report concludes: Army Corps preparedness cover-up? ]

Meanwhile today, the wholly unrelated Shafeek Nader Trust for the Community Interest is awarding the Joe A. Callaway Award for Civic Courage to Dr. Ivor van Heerden. Dr. van Heerden resisted pressure from Louisiana State University to keep quiet when he saw public-endangering screw-ups on hurricane protection.

These concurrent awards from completely different entities demonstrate that whistleblowers are the unsung heroes of why hurricane Katrina caused the disasters it did, and how to prevent them in the future.  Whistleblowers bravely bring to light the wide breadth of Katrina misconduct and the ongoing need to correct it.  We must ensure that whistleblowers are not only awarded for their courage, but that the public safety issues they raise are corrected. 

The Public Servant Award is the highest honor bestowed by the OSC. Ms. Garzino is well deserving of this award as she went above and beyond, to huge lengths, through all the proper channels, in order to protect the people of New Orleans and American taxpayers. Ms. Garzino served as the Pump Team Installation Leader for a project that installed new hydraulic pumps designed to move floodwater away from New Orleans in an emergency.  She blew the whistle when she discovered the pumps were completely defective and would not protect the city. After Ms. Garzino provided the OCS with detailed information, the OCS vindicated her, concluding that not only could the Army Corps of Engineers have saved taxpayers some $430 million by using proven equipment, but that the city of New Orleans is still lacking adequate flood protection. More about Ms. Garzino here.

The Shafeek Nader Trust for the Community Interest’s Joe A. Callaway Award recognizes “individuals in any area of endeavor who, with integrity and at some personal risk, take a public stand to advance truth and justice, and who challenge unsatisfactory conditions in pursuit of the common good.”  Today that award goes to Dr. Ivor van Heerden, who served as deputy director of Louisiana State University’s (LSU) hurricane center. Dr. van Heerden stood up in the face of enormous pressure from LSU and warned of inadequate flood protection in New Orleans. Dr. van Heerden paid the price: in April 2009, LSU announced Dr. van Heerden’s contract would not be renewed after 2010. His book “The Storm: What Went Wrong and Why During Hurricane Katrina — The Inside Story from One Louisiana Scientist” describes his ordeal.

Congratulations to Ms. Garzino and Dr. van Heerden!  Whistleblowers deserve these awards because, as Katrina shows, their contributions are both unique and invaluable. It is commendable that both OSC and the Shafeek Nader Trust are rewarding whistleblowers for their brave work.  Now it is time to make the whistleblowers’ work matter. These courageous whistleblowers deserve change and accountability. 

We have yet to see that change for Ms. Garzino. Those defective junk pumps Ms. Garzino blew the whistle on are still installed, and the city of New Orleans does not have the hurricane protection it was promised when the Army Corps received the taxpayer dollar funding to build the pumps.  Many of the other follies post-Katrina have very real ongoing consequences.  Just this month the House Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing on restoring health care in New Orleans, and this year saw new developments exposing dangerous formaldehyde in FEMA trailers.

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