Banished to the basement: Not all whistleblowers receive windfalls

For some whistleblowers, reporting misconduct in the workplace is worth the risk of termination and other retaliation. In addition to exposing wrongdoing, they may receive a portion of a large settlement; the Department of Justice reports that in fiscal year 2013 it paid out more than $345 million to the "courageous individuals" who exposed fraud and false claims by filing a qui tam complaint under the provisions of the False Claims Act.

But that is only one part of the story, especially if the whistleblower works for a federal agency. In many cases, government employees who stick their necks out receive a traditional federal punishment: banishment to windowless offices, often in the basement, far away from coworkers and friends, The Washington Post reports.

Paula Pedene, a former chief spokeswoman for the Phoenix Veterans Affair Hospital, is currently in exile, serving time in the basement for complaining to VA executives four years ago about mismanagement at the Phoenix facility. Although her claims proved correct--the VA's inspector general investigated and found an $11 million shortfall in the hospital budget--it was just the beginning of Pedene's troubles, according to the article.

Two years after the investigation and voluntarily retirement of the former hospital director, the new administrators banished Pedene to the basement for allowing her husband, a non-VA employee, to upload photos of a VA-sponsored Veterans Day parade for a PowerPoint presentation she was working on.

During the investigation into the allegations, she was stripped of her title, and she lost her Blackberry, her email address and moved to the hospital's library. But Pedene believes the punishment outweighs the crime and is the result of the new administrator's suspicions that she couldn't be trusted.

"They took her out from there like she'd sold nuclear secrets to the Iranians," said Sam Foote, a former doctor at the Phoenix VA hospital, who blew the whistle in April on the secret waitlist at the facility that has since become a nationwide scandal.

The Post couldn't get an official comment from the Phoenix VA on Pedene's situation. A spokeswoman said she couldn't answer the question as the decision to shift Pedene's position was made by hospital director Sharon Helman, who is on leave in the wake of the VA scandal, which occurred under her watch.

But a House Veterans' Affairs Committee spokesman told the newspaper that the committee is looking into the case, as is the Office of Special Counsel, which is charged with protecting federal whistleblowers. The Office of Special Counsel declined to comment, citing privacy concerns.

To learn more:
- read The Washington Post article
- here's the Department of Justice announcement

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