A SMALL but growing army of "green" whistle-blowers is putting
pressure on government natural-resource and environment agencies.
Federal employees - sometimes openly, sometimes anonymously -
are exposing what they say is the official coverup of timber theft
on national forests, speaking out against the suppression of
scientific data in national parks, and criticizing political
favoritism shown to Western ranchers and miners operating on
They also are organizing support and lobbying groups, such as
the Association of Forest Service Employees for Environmental
Ethics and the Reclamation Employee Organization for Ethics and
Integrity. Several months ago, an umbrella group called Public
Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) opened offices in
In general, the Clinton administration has welcomed such
activity even though not all its policies have met with
environmental whistle-blowers' approval.
"Their participation is a good thing," says Interior Secretary
Bruce Babbitt. "I think it's positive."
Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy, who oversees the Forest
Service, quietly met with a group of environmental whistle- blowers
shortly after his Senate confirmation earlier this year. Last week
Mr. Espy promised to investigate charges of environmental
violations in the Tongass National Forest in Alaska brought by a
Forest Service timber planner there.
Jim Baca, head of the Bureau of Land Management, has interceded
on behalf of a BLM hydrologist critical of development pressures on
water resources. After investigating the situation personally, Mr.
Baca reversed the man's forced transfer.
Assistant Agriculture Secretary Jim Lyons, in charge of federal
timber policy, has agreed to meet with 30 special agents of the
Forest Service who charge that agency managers have been covering
up the theft of timber by private companies.
"Certainly we have a lot more access now," says Jeff DeBonis,
executive director of PEER. Mr. DeBonis was a timber planner with
the Forest Service for 12 years before quitting in frustration at
what he saw as overcutting. In 1989, he founded the Forest Service
employees group, which now numbers 11,000.
Government whistle-blowing gained prominence in the 1980s,
mainly with reports of military cost overruns. Employees wanting to
report fraud and abuse in their departments gained some measure of
safety with passage of the "Whistle Blower Protection Act" four
But this kind of internal dissent in natural resource and
environmental agencies is a relatively new thing. There are two
reasons for this, says Louis Clark, executive director of the
Government Accountability Project (GAP), a public-interest law firm
that defends whistle-blowers and also helps them leak information
to the press and to members of Congress.
First, employees feel freer to do so after 12 years of
Republican administrations in which politically powerful business
interests strongly influenced policy - and, in the case of
political appointees, made that policy. …