|The plight of whistleblowers – those employees who sound the alarm about anything from dangerous conditions in the workplace to missed or ignored intelligence regarding our nation’s security – is a story that seems to grow stronger and with more frequency every day. My guess is that those stories have always been there; I suspect I am just paying closer attention to them now.|
You see, I joined the “ranks” of whistleblowers more than one year ago when, on December 2, 2003, a major newspaper printed a story in which I confirmed for them what many of us already knew – we, the members of the United States Park Police, could no longer provide the level of service that citizens and visitors had grown to expect in our parks and on our parkways in Washington, D.C., New York City, and San Francisco. The world changed for all of us on September 11, 2001, and the expectations of police agencies across the country grew exponentially overnight. As the Chief of the United States Park Police, an organization responsible for some of America’s most valued and recognizable symbols of freedom, I knew it was my duty, as chiefs of police across the country do every day, to inform the community of the realities of the situation.
For being candid -- for being "honest" -- while still being supportive of my superiors, I was, without warning, stripped of my law enforcement authority, badge, and firearm, and escorted from the Department of the Interior by armed special agents of another Federal law enforcement entity in December of 2003. Seven months later, the Department of the Interior terminated me.
Frighteningly, the issues I brought to light about our citizens' and visitors' safety and security and the future of these American icons have not been addressed -- other than to silence me. In fact, there are fewer United States Park Police Officers today than there were more than one year ago when I was sent home for daring to say that we weren't able to properly meet our commitments with existing resources. Other security concerns I raised internally have also gone un-addressed.
Imagine the outcry if I had previously stayed silent and if one of those symbolic monuments or memorials had been destroyed or the loss of life had occurred to someone visiting one of those locations. I did not want to be standing with my superiors among the ruins of one of these icons or in front of a Congressional committee trying to explain why we hadn't asked for help.
Despite the serious First Amendment and security implications of my case for each American, there has been no Congressional intervention, no Congressional hearings, no demand of accountability by elected officials for those who took action to silence me and who have ignored all warnings about the perils to which I alerted them. Following my termination and the publicity that accompanied it, it is unlikely that any current Federal employee will be willing to speak up with straightforward, accurate information about the realities of any danger we face.
Our legal appeals continue, and some of the administrative charges placed against me have already been thrown out. Through it all, it is becoming clear that Federal employees have little protection for simply telling the truth.
My story is told on a website, www.honestchief.com, established by my husband in December 2003 and maintained by him so that the American people could “witness” the issues in this case. The website has provided transparency to my situation by making key documents available for viewing, including the transcripts of depositions of top officials and their testimony during a key administrative hearing.
Suppression of information is spreading – gag orders, non disclosures agreements, and the government’s refusal to turn over documents. In agencies that span Federal service, conscientious public servants are struggling to communicate vital concerns to their true employers – you, the American public. Is anyone listening?
Teresa C. Chambers
About the Author
Teresa Chambers devoted nearly 28 years to law enforcement service. She most recently served as Chief of the U.S. Park Police, responsible for protecting national parks, monuments, and parkways in the Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and New York City areas. Park Police officers also provide protection for the President and others as well as myriad functions in the agency’s role as one of only a few uniformed federal law enforcement agencies.
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