Commentaries

Daily Progress Commentary

From The Daily Progress – Charlottesville, Virginia 

With the current national — indeed international — media frenzy surrounding the White House and apparent whistleblowers, I will try to shed a little light on the whistleblower concept while delicately avoiding political landmines.

What are my qualifications to speak to this issue? I am a whistleblower myself. I formerly served as the first program manager for the Anti-Harassment Unit at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security headquarters in Washington.

I then was asked (cajoled, really) to engage in conduct that I found to be inconsistent with both my oath as a public servant and my personal honor. I vehemently refused management’s request, and I subsequently reported the matter to Congress.

Like many whistleblowers in the public and private sectors, I suffered fierce retaliation, bullying and harassment.

Yet unlike many whistleblowers, I fought back legally and prevailed to my full satisfaction. I subsequently authored a book sharing my experience as a whistleblower and rendered insights on how one might combat workplace bullying, harassment and retaliation — whether or not one is a whistleblower in the conventional sense.

Despite public rhetoric in some circles branding a whistleblower as a “traitor” or “spy,” whistleblowers do not deserve such nefarious labels. Indeed, whistleblowers are a unique breed of honorable men and women who value service above self, and whose staunch commitment to serving the public good often places them at risk of losing their employment, health and even families. The whistleblower will certainly lose his or her “friends,” as people run and hide in fear rather than stand by the person they once called friend.

Nevertheless, the whistleblower stands tall because he or she feels compelled to do the right thing. This is not at all a new concept. Honoring and providing protection for whistleblowers has a long history in the U.S.

The true whistleblower — as opposed to someone whose sole agenda is to cause public embarrassment to another — is the noblest of souls. Think about it this way: As a hardworking taxpayer, would you want to see your tax dollars subjected to fraud, waste or abuse at the sole discretion of public officials who have no fear of accountability?

In the private sector, would you want your loved one to drive away from a garage with shoddy brakes because the company placed profit over safety, with no fear of accountability? Would you want a pharmaceutical company to issue a loved one unsafe drugs, having bribed health inspectors to write fraudulent reports with no fear of accountability?

And what of your children? It is a sad fact that institutions designed to educate or provide spiritual guidance have harbored officials who would prey on innocent children. Among the fearful and silent adults, who would hold the child molesters accountable for their crimes?

Enter the whistleblower. This is the man or woman whom fraudsters fear will keep them accountable to the public. To the people. To the rule of law.

And so, as you wade through the political tsunami these days surrounding a possible whistleblower, there will of course be those who will vilify whistleblowers and, conversely, those who will elevate whistleblowers to sainthood. In the existing political climate, whether the whistleblower is feared or revered may very well come down to one’s political agenda.

In truth, the legitimate whistleblower is neither a saint nor a villain. This is simply a man or a woman who, notwithstanding inherent human flaws, believes in doing what is right for the common good.

It’s not about politics — liberal or conservative. It’s about honor and courage — hopefully not obsolete principles.

References:

Understanding the Whistleblower

With the current national – indeed international – media frenzy surrounding the White House and an apparent whistleblower, I will try to shed a little light on the whistleblower concept while delicately avoiding political landmines. As to the torrential downpour of news flowing out of Washington, DC, I offer no comment. I leave that drama to the political pundits. 

First, what are my qualifications to speak to this issue? Succinctly, I am a whistleblower myself. I formerly served as the first-ever Program Manager for the Anti-Harassment Unit, United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Headquarters, Washington, DC. 

I was “asked” (cajoled really) to engage in conduct that I found to be both inconsistent with my oath as a public servant and my personal honor. I vehemently refused management’s request, and I subsequently reported the matter to Congress. Like all whistleblowers in the public and private sector, I suffered fierce retaliation, bullying and harassment from DHS management. 

Yet unlike many whistleblowers, I fought back legally and prevailed to my full satisfaction. I subsequently authored a book sharing my experience as a whistleblower and rendered insights on how one might combat workplace bullying, harassment and retaliation – whether or not one is a whistleblower in the conventional sense.

Shenandoah Titus Whistleblower BookDespite public rhetoric in some circles branding a whistleblower as a “traitor” or “spy,” whistleblowers do not deserve such nefarious labels. Indeed, as I note in my book, whistleblowers are a unique breed of honorable men and women who value service above self, and whose staunch commitment to serving the public good often places them at risk of losing their employment, health, and even families when they have been abandoned. The whistleblower will certainly lose his/her “friends,” as people run and hide in fear rather than stand by their previously proclaimed friend.

Nevertheless, the whistleblower stands tall because he or she feels compelled to do the right thing. Note that, despite the current avalanche of media attention on the whistleblower, this is not at all a new concept. Honoring and providing protection for whistleblowers began in the U.S. in 1777! Yes, long before CNN and others enlightened the world that such a term exists.

The true whistleblower, as opposed to someone whose sole agenda is to cause public embarrassment to another, is the noblest of souls. Think about it this way, as a hardworking taxpayer, would you want to see your tax dollars subjected to fraud, waste or abuse at the sole discretion of public officials who have no fear of accountability? 

In the private sector, would you want your loved one to drive away from a garage with shoddy brakes because the company placed profit over safety, with no fear of accountability? Would you want a pharmaceutical company to issue a loved one unsafe drugs, having bribed health inspectors to write fraudulent reports with no fear of accountability?

And what of your children? It is a sad fact that institutions designed to educate and provide spiritual guidance, respectively, have harbored officials who would prey on innocent children. Among the fearful and silent adults, who would hold the child molesters accountable for their crimes?    

Enter the whistleblower. This is the man or woman whom fraudsters fear will keep them accountable to the public. To the people. To the rule of law. 

And so, as you wade through the political tsunami these days surrounding a prospective whistleblower, there will of course be those who will vilify whistleblowers and, conversely, those who will elevate whistleblowers to sainthood. In the existing political climate, whether the whistleblower is feared or revered may very well come down to one’s political agenda.

In truth, the legitimate whistleblower is neither a saint nor a villain. This is simply a man or a woman who, notwithstanding inherent human flaws, believes in doing what is right for the common good. 

It’s not about politics – liberal or conservative. It’s about honor and courage – hopefully not obsolete principles.

Attorney Shenandoah Titus is author of THE WHISTLEBLOWER: Defeating Bullies, Harassers & Management Gang Retaliation (available on Amazon). He is the Chief Executive Officer of WARN (Whistleblower Anti-Bullying Resource Network). Visit www.warn-honor.com for more information.

Bullying In The Homeland

“Vanity asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’ Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ But conscience asks the question, ‘Is it right?

And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular. But one must take it because one’s conscience tells one that it is right.”

–         Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I recall feeling somewhat bewildered when I first read the phrase in a national newspaper – “Homeland Insecurity.” My initial reaction was that this was a poor attempt at sarcasm. Unfortunately, I later came to see the truth behind the play on words.

For several years, I served as the first-ever Program Manager for the Anti-Harassment Unit at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Headquarters. When I took the oath in August 2012 to serve DHS and the American people with honor and integrity, it was perhaps the proudest day of my professional career. Regrettably, I soon discovered that not everyone within DHS management took the oath quite as solemnly as I had.

It is no secret that Washington, DC is a political town, and I mean that mostly in the pejorative sense. Yet I suppose I came to DHS somewhat naïve, as I fully expected to see nothing but the strongest, unfettered commitment to every employee’s basic human right to work within an environment free of harassment, bullying, and management retaliation.

I fully anticipated that enforcement of anti-harassment laws and policies would occur without fear or favor, and without regard to one’s rank, title, privilege or status. In other words, without regard to politics.

Alas, I was wrong.

It did not take long before I would acquire a new title at DHS Headquarters – Whistleblower. Asked repeatedly and cajoled by senior management at that time to communicate what amounted to a falsehood to Congress, I vehemently refused. I would not compromise my personal honor in order to protect the Department’s public relations image.

Knowing that there would be a heavy price to pay for my steadfastness, I nevertheless did not alter my ethical course. Having been a public servant in municipal, state and federal government for over 21 years, serving as the Human Rights Director of two municipalities and a police executive in Boston – upholding the public trust had always been my mantra and moral compass.

My anticipation of management retaliation was not overestimated. The acts of demoralization were brutal and fierce. Yet my resolve to remain true to my calling as a public servant was unyielding. Having risen above my ghetto upbringing to become an alum of Cornell, Harvard, earn my law license in the nation’s capital – I can teach a course on resilience.

In efforts to protect my health, I left the agency – but I did not leave the fight. On April 13, 2018, I tendered my resignation from DHS – effective immediately. On July 27, 2018, with great satisfaction I settled my whistleblower retaliation case, which read in relevant part:

United States Merit Systems Protection Board

Shenandoah Titus vs. United States Department of Homeland Security

Talking about the proverbial David vs. Goliath!

Yet the Biblically astute knows that the story ended well for David, despite the overwhelming odds. As it did for me.

I successfully obtained each of my goals! The award amount was substantial and meaningful. I do not disclose the settlement award amount because money was never my motivating factor in taking legal action against DHS.

Nevertheless, my settlement victory was poetic justice. Part of the funds acquired from my settlement award were used to author a book, and to establish a national office designed to advocate for whistleblowers and help eradicate workplace bullying and retaliation.

Reflecting on my wretched journey of managerial abuse at DHS, I feel a profound sense of sorrow. As a matter of public record, one of the principle offices responsible for the abuse I suffered happened to be, of all entities – the DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties – the very office charged with protecting civil rights.

Each morning as I approached the elevator leading to my floor, in the background stood a picture of Martin Luther King, Jr., beaming with pride as President Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The stark contrast between what Dr. King and others fought and died for, versus the abuse I would endure daily from those who were supposed to be custodians of civil rights, wore heavily upon my heart.

It still does.

Although no longer a DHS official, I shall forever treasure the opportunity I enjoyed to serve our nation. It was indeed an honor to help protect the homeland.

Yet now, upon reflection, I fully understand the media phrase “Homeland Insecurity.” And that is a sad commentary.

—–

Attorney Shenandoah Titus is a member of the District of Columbia (DC) Court of Appeals Bar and he is a Certified Fraud Examiner®.

He is the author of The Whistleblower: Defeating Bullies, Harassers & Management Gang Retaliation (available on Amazon) https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07N98RFTG

He is the Founder and CEO of WARN (Whistleblower Anti-Bullying Resource Network). Visit him at www.warn-honor.com for more information.