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IamA a Federal Government Whistleblower, I blew the whistle about contract fraud, regulatory report fabrication, and worker exposure to toxic chemicals at NIH, AMA!

Aug 21st 2017 by spendology • 9 Questions • 6118 Points

The Associated Press is launching Future of Work, a series of stories exploring how technology and global pressures are transforming workplaces across the U.S. and around the world. The first installments went out this week and focus on workers’ relationships with robots, and how automation is changing the availability and nature of employment in manufacturing.

There’s a paradox in how we think of modern American manufacturing jobs.

While it’s true that many of these jobs have gone overseas, U.S. manufacturers have actually added nearly a million jobs in the past seven years, and federal statistics show nearly 390,000 such jobs are unfilled.

But this isn’t the kind of assembly-line work your parents and grandparents did. More and more factory jobs now demand education, technical know-how or specialized skills to run robots. Many of the workers laid off from low-tech factories lack such qualifications, and training opportunities are limited, particularly for older workers. Japan is way ahead of the U.S. in introducing robots to the workplace, but it hasn’t resulted in some of the job reductions observed in other nations. It has also not created the surge in higher-skilled employment. So, it turns out, there are plenty of manufacturing jobs. There just aren’t enough of the right kind of workers to fill them.

Here’s your chance to talk about this with some of the Associated Press journalists who reported these stories in text, photos, video and graphics across three continents. We are writer Dan Sewell and photographer John Minchillo in Cincinnati: business writer Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo: economics editor Fred Monyak in Washington: and enterprise editor Jeff McMillan in Philadelphia. Ask us anything!

Proof:

This AMA is now closed. Thanks to everyone who offered questions!

Q:

was that all worth it? I mean people tend to forget about it after sometime, and we are usually back to square one.

A:

Do you think robots should be taxed?


Q:

It is worth it to have my integrity and the knowledge that I did the right thing. In hindsight, I am grateful that I could survive this experience and make it through to the other side.

A:

Some people do. The idea of a tax on companies that automate human jobs out of existence isn’t being considered at the federal level. But the notion has begun to emerge in a few politically progressive pockets of the country. Officials in San Francisco, for example, are calling for a tax on companies that automate jobs and put people out of work. It’s too soon to say if the idea will go anywhere, even in San Fran. Some Silicon Valley tech entrepreneurs say they’re being unfairly targeted. So prospects for the idea remain hazy. (Monyak)


Q:

Has anything changed as far as the contract fraud or the exposure to toxic chemicals? What chemicals were you exposed to?

A:

Is there anything else about Japanese culture or policies they're developing that makes them more accepting of robots at work? Thanks!


Q:

I wasn't exposed to anything. I used a contract I managed to hire a industrial hygeniest and high voltage professionals to take air and wipe samples in electrical transformer vaults in NIH Building 10, Clinical Research Center. We were looking for polychlorinated biphenyls(PCB)-a cancer causing toxic chemical. The EPA outlawed the manufacture of PCBs on 1979. 70% of NIH electrical transformers in Building 10 are PCB contaminated. After I completed the study,l and sent it to my supervisor and the Division of Environmental Protection I found out oil from those valuts spilled into construction areas.

A:

Traditional Japanese culture sees life in inanimate objects. Also the Japanese government supports the development and use of robots. (Kageyama)


Q:

Have you filed a complaint / filed for protection with OSHA since the the toxic substance control act is also covered under by OSH Act therefore subject to whistle blower protections?

https://www.osha.gov/OshDoc/data_General_Facts/whistleblower_rights.pdf

Edit: Sorry, I didn't read the full story. Yes you did.

A:

Are you worried about reddit and other internet sources eliminating your jobs? I see more MSM content that originated here, every day.


Q:

Yes, I filed a complaint with OSHA and they refused to do so much as investigate the matter.

A:

I worry about everything that could eliminate my job, from Reddit to robots. That's why we try to keep evolving forward as journalists. And we believe that in the flood of information today, there's a great need for journalists who can dig out information and verify it with the help of editors. (Sewell)


Q:

In the movies we see shady guys in parked cars outside whistle blowers' homes, did you experience anything that you felt was a threat to your personal safety or did the threats all fall under the "career suicide" umbrella?

A:

I live in Reno Nevada and I've met a few people now that work at Tesla and Panasonic...these are part of the new economy that your topic today is centered around. Do you think companies like these moving to Western Nevada will create a tech hub for us here?


Q:

It was career suicide but also lots of intimidation from my supervisor, contractors and co-workers. They did their best to make my life shit including going from being an engineer managing 12+ engineers, researchers and biosafety professionals, and designing/testing biosafety labs to pushing paper and looking over my shoulder.

A:

Companies decide to move operations to a region based on many factors, including state and local government policies, existing infrastructure, workforce numbers, and many other competing interests. This very specific question demands more investigation on a local level. This is an interesting topic to explore! (Minchillo)


Q:

Where there different groups of co-workers hating you on a spectrum. Like from those involved, but were also just regular co-workers pulled in to give you a hard time?

How did they talk to and engage the neutral coworkers? Did you get support from some? Did good co-workers quickly follow your supervisors take on it?

A:

Right now most of the automated jobs are things that don't require a massive amount of reflexes and instant response times. Eg maybe a robotic nurse preventing an elderly man from falling down.

Any idea about where that level of robotics is at the moment, and how soon we can expect them to actually significant affect a larger proportion of the work force ?


Q:

After years of enduring psychiatric evaluations, time and leave scrutiny, reassignments, negative performance reviews, warnings, reprimands, and suspensions - I went to Human Resources with evidence and a complaint of working in a hostile work environment.

They laughed at me and told me that ongoing investigations into contract fraud (that weren't actually happening) would have to conclude before any action could be taken.

A:

In Japan, robots are starting to be used to take care of the elderly, such as helping in picking up things and shampooing their hair and other tasks. In auto plants, some robotics parts are getting designed to be soft and gentle to the human touch so they can be present in the same space. (Kageyama)


Q:

God damn I'm glad you did the right thing. I know it sucks on your end but thank you.

A:

Right now most of the automated jobs are things that don't require a massive amount of reflexes and instant response times. Eg maybe a robotic nurse preventing an elderly man from falling down.

Any idea about where that level of robotics is at the moment, and how soon we can expect them to actually significant affect a larger proportion of the work force ?


Q:

Thank you! Sometimes I imagined that it was all worth it because I'd get a thanks from a fellow citizen. Dreams do come true. As Deadpool would say, i gave it "maximum effort" and it was "worth it"!

A:

We did see robotic systems in plants that self-adjust (with humans monitoring) and to your question, a lot of growth is expected in the next decade with use of robots in the kind of service roles you mention becoming a major area, as the needs increase for aging Baby Boomers (like me) (Sewell)


Q:

In your opinion, what would be taking it too far as a whistleblower? There has been a lot of debate recently over the role of leaks in the U.S. Government, especially from within the whitehouse, with many praising leakers and many others condemning them. Political affiliations aside, do you believe in absolute transparency for the people of the U.S., or is there a line that shouldn't be crossed

A:

Did anyone say they liked working more with robots than humans?


Q:

Taking it too far is focusing more on payback rather than justice. I believe in absolute transparency. The problem is that some leakers like the Pentagon Papers are praised while others like Edward Snowden are vilified. I think one can look at the intentions of the whistleblower and how the leak.

At the end of the day, it can be extremely easy to marginalize a whistleblower using taxpayer money and resources. Hence, it is critical that we have an independent news media that whistleblowers can utilize to get the story heard.

Of course, I went through all of the "appropriate" sources including the Inspector General, the Office of Special Counsel, the Merit Systems Protection Board, the Department of Justice, etc., only to find that these orgs would coordinate to work against me.

One solution is for whistle-blowers to become journalists. I was already an entrepreneur (I went through approval processes while working in government) so I launched Box Breaker Media to start getting the story out.

A:

Some people said they liked that robots did their jobs without much trouble, never call off sick, etc. At least one person said he's still a little afraid of them, though, because there is always the possibility of a malfunction. (Sewell)


Q:

Did you appeal your firing to MSPB?

A:

How do you see automation in 50 or 100 years?


Q:

Yes, but MSPB is a Kanagaroo Court. They are supposed to decide on cases in 120 days but one of my cases to over 1 year to close. It's been closed since April 21, 2017 but the Administrative Judge, Kassandra Robinson Styles, has not issued an initial decision. A settlement conference was held with the Agency attorney and the judge and their basically trying to "wait me out" until I settle.

Justice delayed is justice denied.

A:

A very rapid acceleration in automation is expected over the next decade, and jobs to monitor, operate and maintain will grow with that. Further in the future, the impact on the human role remains to be seen. Most economists expect that there will continue to be a human role; how much 50- to 100 years from now is hard to predict. (Sewell)


Q:

The other user who replied to your comment is wrong. The US District Attorney acts as the Federal Government's representative in court, regardless of what side they are on. So the same person in charge of prosecuting criminals is also in charge of defending the federal government in lawsuits.

It doesn't make much sense, but that's how it is -- hence the frustration. It's also duplicated at most other levels of government including state attorney generals, county district attorneys, and city/town attorneys. It even gets loopier at these lower levels as they are usually elected officials, introducing a whole other slew of conflicting interests.

A:

What is the very best cheese?


Q:

You can also go to your Congressperson. I contacted mine, someone from the office asked me what they wanted me to do, I told them, they said they couldnt really do anything and I never heard back.

A:

My favorite is Camembert but there are many great kinds of cheese in the world (Kageyama)


Q:

Do you think you would have been employable in the private sector if not for your business? What about now? I'm guessing there wasn't any compensation award as part of this process, right?

A:

I have a resume posted that I occassionally get a couple callbacks on. Federal Government jobs are unattainable until my record is cleared. I do know that a lot of jobs in DC that require a security clearance or background check will also be out of reach. There is no award or compensation. I habe 2 MSPB cases that are closed but the judge, Kassandra Robinson Styles, refuses to issue an initial decision. The goal is to wait me out so that I'm forced to withdraw or agree to a settlement with the Agency. I'd happily agree to something if they'd only offer more than a Fuck you and peanuts.


Q:

Any old colleagues thank you afterwards?

A:

Nope.


Q:

So what happened to all the people who were guilty in this? Did anyone get fired as a result of the whistle blowing? Reassigned at least? I'm sure there are levels of culpability ranging the amount of direct action they took as opposed to others who had a more passive roll in the cover up. I'm sure they didn't clear out the whole office but it sounds like almost everyone in the office would be guilty to some degree.

A:

No, nothing happened to anyone except me. Human Resources protected senior managers and contractors while Agency attorneys work to make sure the Agency pays as little as possible. Also, these people could have been prosecuted under the False Claims Act (goes back to tue Civil War) but there is this thing called "materiality" established in a recent Supreme Court case (Escobar)--you can't sue a company for defrauding the government if government officials are aware of the fraud.


Q:

Right now I am dealing with an EEO conplaint. It is taking forever and my situation is not improving. Apparently the investigation started. Any tips on what i can do besides wait?

A:

One thingis that once you've gome to EEO, there are not a lot of things to do to imprpve your situaion other than a detail or a new job. Harsh but true.

First off, get a lawyer if you can. EEO is only one avenue. Think strategically and long-term. Break the EEO process down inti phases: informal - formal - ROI - EEO AJ/Final Decision- Appeal. What outcomes would you like to see? Know which decisions you may want to make at each phase.

Also, time is the Agency's friend but it can be yours as well. Eventually, some cases can end up in either the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals or district court (only some discrimination cases). You cnlan have better odds there.


Q:

Why was it necessary to blow a whistle? How was this covered?

A:

I was involved in projects where I observed contract fraud, conflicts of interest, worker exposure to toxic chemicals and fabrication of engineering regulatory reports. In some cases, I was asked to sign off/approve--I refused and alerted a superior.


Q:

Would you choose to do it all over again? Or do you have a different way you would've handled things?

A:

Even with the Clairvoyance one of the best things I could do would have been to change jobs before any whistle had to be blown but that wouldn't have stopped the bad actors.

I've played the events back in my head and I realize that in my absence there would have been no conscience or voice of reason. Also, I could have looked the other way like everyone else but I was being set up as the fall guy or cat's paw. Better to die standing up than live on your knees.


Q:

are there any protections to keep whistleblower anonymity that are in place or lobbied to be put in place as far as you know?

A:

Yes, but they are vastly insufficient.


Q:

Why did you let yourself be known? Couldn't you do it anonymously? Why not take it to the Federal Government about the fraud instead of your own company? It sounds like they were in on it.

Did any workers thank you for letting them know their vicinity had toxic chemicals so they knew to stay away?

A:

There is catharsis in making myself known. I did it anonymously and that didnt stop thw retaliation--I was we eventually fired. I worked at the Federal Government and exhausted all avenues for makong disclosures and it resulted in retaliation and getting fired.


Q:

When working at a BSL4, what was the biggest vulnerability?

A:

Everything. There is BSL-4 and ABSL-4 (A for animals). You have a system of interlocked doors, PPE/positve pressure suits, breathing air systems, microchem showers systems for decontamination, communication systems, supply and exhaust fans, building automation software, power and backup power...any one or more of these systems could fail partially or fully. BSL-4 and even BSL-3 are high stress environments.


Q:

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A:

Thank you so much!


Q:

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A:

Thank you for your service! I'm hoping that more people are emboldened to do the right thing and speak up. Silence allows bad shit continue happening.


Q:

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A:

I really appreciate that. I have considered that I could be on easy street if I had shut my mouth and just looked the other way--but my spirit wouldn't sit well with that.


Q:

Did the Government send the contractor the information about the IGCE? I am trying to put the pieces together about the "contract fraud" portion of your story.

A:

I was isolated from co-workers. I revives time and leave scrutiny. I was forces to switch offices with the division's administrative assistant. I was so isolated in my assignmentsthat every time I saw a coworker people thought I had left NIH.


Q:

Did the Government send the contractor the information about the IGCE? I am trying to put the pieces together about the "contract fraud" portion of your story.

A:

I was isolated from co-workers. I revives time and leave scrutiny. I was forces to switch offices with the division's administrative assistant. I was so isolated in my assignmentsthat every time I saw a coworker people thought I had left NIH.


Q:

I ask because I worked briefly at a BSL4, and my biggest fear was puncturing a positive pressure suit. I wanted to know if I was paranoid or if everyone felt that way?

A:

It's a concern but duct tape solves a lot of problems.