POGO Refuses to Rescind Obama’s Transparency Award

Blowing the Whistle on Those Who Falsely Claimed to Act on our Behalf

By Julia Davis

WhistleIn response to the petition from numerous groups and whistleblowers, Danielle Brian of the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) authored a blog on POGO’s website. While POGO’s response doesn’t contain any earth-shattering revelations, some of the attempts to justify the “Transparency Award” recently given to President Obama warrant a response.

POGO recently pondered whether they should buy a 30-second video spot on the CBS videotron in Times Square. They asked whistleblowers for feedback about the billboard. Unfortunately, they didn’t ask for feedback when it really mattered - prior to bestowing a Transparency Award upon President Obama. Now, in light of the mounting pressure to rescind this award, POGO dismissively refers to our opposition as a mere “distraction”.

Looking Forward, Moving Backward

POGO disingenuously claims that the Bush administration is at fault for the ongoing investigations and prosecutions against whistleblowers, undertaken by the current administration. In POGO’s blog describing the conversation with President Obama on the day when he received a “Transparency Award”, Danielle Brian wrote: 

"I noted, however, that the current aggressive prosecution of national security whistleblowers is undermining this legacy… The President shifted in his seat and leaned forward. He said he wanted to engage on this topic because this may be where we have some differences."

POGO claims that the ongoing prosecutions of whistleblowers simply happened to “ripen” just in time to be pursued by this administration. Such an assertion rings hollow in light of this administration’s decision not to file charges against the Bush regime under the guise of “looking forward and not backwards”, stating that this is “a time for reflection, not retribution". Apparently, this serene forgiveness applies to those responsible for war crimes, torture, and illegal spying, but not to the whistleblowers.

Contrary to POGO’s deeply flawed arguments, it is within this administration’s discretion to decide who gets prosecuted. These decisions have been chilling so far. Lucy Dalglish, Executive Director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said:  "The whole point of the prosecution is to have a chilling effect on reporters and sources, and it will." While such prosecutions are ongoing, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, OpenTheGovernment.org, Project on Government Oversight, OMB Watch and the National Security Archive saw it fit to endorse these actions through a Transparency Award. By definition, an award is something that was earned, is deserved and encourages more of the same. That is hardly the message our supposed transparency advocates should be sending. 

Rewarding Speeches – Not Deeds

The same organizations who chose to give an award to the President see many problems in the level of transparency encouraged by the current administration. POGO’s Danielle Brian writes, "there are many things to bemoan in the Obama Administration’s implementation of its open government goals." When there are many problems with the implementation of stated goals, what matters more - stated goals or the results? Actions speak louder than words and this administration's actions against transparency are very alarming. 

The Price of Face Time

If giving an award is the only way these NGO's can get an audience at the White House, why aren’t they going public with this revelation? Why is this issue such a low priority for our elected officials, especially after whistleblowers were promised adequate protection? 

POGO’s Danielle Brian writes, "So no, I do not regret taking the opportunity to meet with the President and get him to discuss the prosecutions of national security whistleblowers, and I am not going to withdraw our support for the award." It seems to be the height of hypocrisy to discuss the ongoing prosecutions of national security whistleblowers, while presenting a Transparency Award at the same time! Will they hand out an award every time a whistleblower is prosecuted and they would like to discuss it? What kind of a message does that convey?

The Sight of Goals

POGO is urging everyone not to lose sight of our common goals. What are they, incidentally? Do the political favors, donations and grants take precedence over the welfare of whistleblowers?

POGO states that petitions are useless, stating in relevant part: "Come join us. Do something concrete to force government to open up. Don't just carp and blog and petition. Petitions are not going to change the iron law of bureaucracy that all governments will default to secrecy to protect their turf, no matter what".

This position contradicts POGO’s tendency to circulate petitions, seeking support from whistleblowers and the public. It’s apparent that this statement was designed to call our petition a useless distraction, since it doesn’t agree with the course of action taken by POGO and other NGO’s in issuing an unwarranted “Transparency Award”. Handing out an award implies that the goals of transparency and anti-secrecy have been met with sterling precision. Nothing could be further from the truth in the current situation, while the war on whistleblowers continues to intensify.

Through our petition, whistleblowers are blowing the whistle on those who falsely claimed to act on our behalf. 

Whistleblowers have spoken. Our voices deserve to be heard. The Transparency Award should be rescinded for the sake of achieving true government transparency.

Julia Davis

Department of Homeland Security Whistleblower

*** This article represents the views of this author and not any organization, group or individual.

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  1. “looking forward and not backwards”, stating that this is “a time for reflection, not retribution.

    Think for a moment about all of the people who’ve been tortured, killed or somehow scarred for life under Bush II and his staff. Try telling them to look look ahead and now’s not the time for retribution.

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